- Elevation: 4,832 Feet
- Location: Coos County
- Date Hiked: May 2016
- Companions: Ayla
- Trails: Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, AT
Carter Notch with Ayla
Last Saturday at 5:30am, Ayla and I drove up to the White Mountains under blue skies. We drove into Pinkham notch admiring clear views of the summit of Mount Washington. Its was a little after 9AM as we rounded the last bends of route 16 towards our trailhead of choice and I was nervous about the parking situation given it was a Saturday with perfect seeming weather -although this is the Whites and it can change on a dime but regardless, it was late morning for weekend hiking. I was brainstorming alternative routes/other parking options when I noticed a hiker on the side of the road. I asked Ayla if she was cool with me picking him up and she was so we pulled over. When I saw him I just assumed that the parking area we were headed to was full and so he must have parked down the road at another lot and was headed toward the same trailhead as us but it turned out that he was finishing a loop he had started the day before and was simply hiking back to his car. I asked him if he wanted a ride and he gratefully accepted and then just like magic, he was parked in the lot we hoped to park in which was indeed full and when we pulled in and he was able to give us his parking spot. What a great start for us and I know he was happy to not have to hike along the highway for that last mile or two. We were also fortunate to be able to ask him for some first hand info about the trail conditions and the hut since he stayed there last night. Given that it was still self-service season at the hut I wasn’t sure about water and he told us the water had just been turned back on and the composting toilets were free to use. I also asked him about ice on the trail and if we still needed our micro spikes and he said there was some patches of ice and that he did use micro spikes. Thank goddess for that tip from him.
We shuffled thru our packs before leaving the car making our last decisions about what to leave or take. During self service season at the huts, one needs to bring a sleeping bag and their own food. But even without a tent, sleeping pad, cookpot, stove, fuel, or water filter in my backpack, it felt surprisingly heavy given that it wasn’t even fully loaded. I recently did a massive weigh-in of all my gear with Stud. We weighed every little ity bity thing that we would most likely carry on the Long Trail in August and my base weight came out to 21.2lbs. Base weight means everything before water, food and fuel which adds another 10-20 lbs depending on how many days worth of food I’m carrying. Most likely my base weight will be less anyway cause I’ll be sharing a tent, cookpot, stove and fuel so I’ll only ever be carrying some of those items. My pack felt heavy and I figured the extra weight must have been the micro spikes and the extra wintery layers I was carrying just in case it was still winter in the alpine zone.
The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail is a nice moderate well travelled path. For the first couple miles it runs along a roaring brook. I was in shorts and a T-shirt and felt warm enough to consider submerging myself in the cool brook but decided against it since I didn’t know what to expect at the higher elevations. I read online from some trail reports that there was lots of ice but it didn’t seem like ice was going to happen and then just like that when we least expected it, we turned a corner and on the other side of a big boulder was a long shady stretch of trail socked in with deep thick solid ice with no slushy top layer that our boot tread could grab onto so we sat down and pulled on the micro spikes. While we got ready for the ice, a hiker passed us who did not have spikes and he started tromping up the ice and then quickly slid backwards about fifteen feet before catching himself on a giant boulder before falling off a cliff. Our hearts were pounding and I fast forwarded to the story where our hike was over and now we were part of a rescue mission but fortunately he was fine, just shaken, and was able to bushwhack thru the brush to find a way around the ice.
Micro spikes are amazing! This was only my second time using them and its like magic being able to walk on ice and snow so easily with them. We cruised up the stretch of thick ice and then turned the corner onto a sunny stretch and the ice was gone so we took our spikes off. Then we did this dance of putting them on, taking them off, trying to hike on bare trail with them on and so on as the ice came and went. We found the hut which was on a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by high peaks. We claimed our bunks, dropped our gear, filled our water bottles, ate some lunch and looked over the map deciding on an afternoon hike. We ended up on a little section of the AT that brought us up to Carter Dome. It was a 1.2 mile stretch with over a thousand feet of elevation gain and it was rugged! It took us maybe two hours to get up to this infamous 4800 footer only to discover we were still in the trees. Some hikers told us to follow the ridge another mile to Mt. Height for amazing 360° views. So we did, but we were hesitant as it was almost 4PM and the sky was getting a little dark with rain-threatening clouds but we went on and it was so worth it. Views galore and there stood Mount Washington clear of clouds. We could see the snow chutes in Tuckermans Ravine and into Huntington Ravine as well as the auto road and the observation towers. What a beast. We shared the view with this group of hikers that we had been leap frogging with all day leading up to the summit. They were going on over the ridge to camp so we said goodbye to our new friends and climbed back down to the hut taking our spikes on and off most of the way.
Back at the hut we cooked up our noodles and drank tea and admired our neighbor’s five course dinner complete with shrimp and vegetables and boxed wine. And I thought my bag was heavy!
We crawled into our bunks and woke up to clear skies despite predictions of rain. Had our oatmeal and coffee and made our decent down to the car enjoying a foot soak in the brook at the end. Mission accomplished. Now I really want to go back and do the Wildcat Ridge but not before the ice is gone.
We drove into North Conway and ate lunch and then ran into the hiking group that we had been leap frogging with so we shared some stories before popping into International Mountain Sports (IME). IME has a goldmine of a consignment shop in the basement and it is here that I purchased my first backpacking backpack in 2010 as well as almost all of my hiking layers for about $10 a layer. I did find a Patagonia Nano Puff for $90. I almost got it but decided to pass. If it was $50 I would have snagged it.
This trip gave me a chance to try out my new backpacking backpack and I’ve concluded and confirmed that I just don’t love my new pack. You see, I got my first pack at IME. It was an Osprey Atmos 50 that was like-new when I got it very cheap. I loved that bag and I had it for about 5 years until some of the seems busted. I found out that Osprey has a lifetime warrantee and will repair your pack no matter where it came from. So I sent my beloved pack in for repairs and they couldn’t fix it so they sent me a brand new pack and were even willing to upgrade me to a slightly larger pack upon request as I’ve always felt like my pack wasn’t quite big enough for a longer hike. I ended up with a different model built for carrying a heavier load. I chose this bag cause its really comfortable. The down side is that its a good half pound heavier then my old backpack and most of that weight is in the form of lots of annoying and unnecessary clips and straps and buckles and giant zippers which make getting in and out of it kind of annoying. I am sure I could get use to it and I could also hack away at my pack and cut off a bunch of the these straps and buckles making it lighter but its hard to hack at a brand new bag even if I got it for free. So I splurged and bought myself the pack I’ve been eyeing ever since I got one for Ayla last summer and was with Stud when she got one. I borrowed Ayla’s once for an overnight hike last fall while I was waiting for my old pack to get repaired and found it easy to use and very comfortable. I used my REI Dividend in combination with a giant sale and got 40% off the exact bag I’ve wanted. Now I need to go on another overnight hike and try it out for real.