MAP of the Carter-Moriah Range courtesy HTI and Photoshop.
It has been far too long since I climbed a decent mountain in NH. And I wasn't about to let some cold weather stop me! It has been an annomalously snowless winter so far in New England and the half inch of freezing rain we had on Monday isn't helping. This is not to say that it hasn't been plenty cold-- temperatures in the single digits for most of the week.
I saddled up with full gear for an emergency night out if neccessary--bivy, zero degree bag, food, stove, etc--and headed out. Weather reports called for 0-5 degrees and 50mph winds on the summits, so I was prepared for the worst. Indeed, starting at the Nineteen-mile Brook trailhead at 8:30, I was greeted by a couple miles of ice fantasy trail. I love my crampons! Makes walking across the glarest, lumpiest icy surface easier than walking along a sidewalk. Temperatures weren't too bad; probably in the 20's.
The Nineteen Mile Brook trail is a steady easy ascent which goes in 1.8 miles and then forks. My aim was to traverse the southern fork 2 miles up to Carter Notch, go over the dome with the option of stopping at the secondary peak, down to Zeta Pass and thence back via the northern fork for a total of about 10 miles. By the split, the ice was giving way to crusty snow in many places and the crampons weren't as neccessary. Never-the-less, occasional glare boulders made them prudent. By 11 I had reached Carter Notch. Gorgeous blue sky with hasty clouds and hanging, icy cliffs. Snow on the trees. The two ponds were frozen solid and emitting deep booming sounds as they warmed in the sun. The trail was covered with what looked like the output from an overactive ice cube maker. Shattered crystal littering the ground everywhere. Trees encased in frost and icy mantles. Took a brief break at the unoccupied Hut and resumed the climb.
The first half mile out of the Notch is extremely steep and very difficult going especially with the three inches of snow and inch of crust I encountered. I was sweating like a pig half an hour later when the trail leveled off to a more moderate climb through dense conifers with great views of the sunny cliffs of Wildcat A to the south. The Presidentials to the west were only intermittantly visible in a luminous haze that seemed to be at about 4500-5000'. Large quantities of ice encased each branch and bent many tortured trees, already stunted by altitude and wind, into the trail. A faint pair of tracks showed that I wasn't the first person to come this way since the ice came down.
The Summit was achieved suddenly with little fanfare. Several connected clearings and the foundation for an old fire tower. Good views on all sides. Despite the daunting weather report, the winds were about 10mph and the temperatures probably in the mid teens. Crusty snow everywhere. Rime ice on the trail signs. I consumed some calories in the form of several Kit-kat bars and headed on.
Feeling pretty good, I elected to take the longer side trail to Mt. Height, a subsidiary peak to Carter Dome and well worth the trip. Wide, bald summit with great 360 degree views. The trail makes a very sharp turn here which is marked with subtle cairns but was never-the-less non-trivial to find. A very steep descent down icy, crusty rocks began. Once again, I was grateful to my antiquated but entirely functional crampons. Each step broke off dinner plate sized chunks of crust which went skittering down the slope in front of me. Back into the conifers and at length down to Zeta Pass where the most recent phase of backpacking craze started so long ago. It all looks smaller now and diminished as such things usually do when revisitted after much nostalgia.
The time was 2 pm and I was beginning to really feel it in my legs. My right knee, particularly has been acting up since being strained in a bike ride several years ago. Swung down the Carter Dome trail dodging one memorable blow-down and arriving at length at the junction I had come up by. A final, painful 1.8 miles back along the icy, though somehow less threateningly so, trail to the car and a well-deserved caloric debauch next to the roaring fire of the homestead.
The Wilderness Journal