Yesterday, Stud and I officially completed hiking the NH48 which stands for New Hampshire’s Forty-Eight 4,000 footers. A 4,000 footer being a mountain that has an elevation of at least 4,000 feet and a minimum of 200 feet prominence. I’ve kept track of our adventures here.
Part 1: The Wildcats
We drove up to Pinkham Notch Sunday morning and the notch was crawling with visitors. We got the last parking spot at the 10 Mile Brook Trailhead parking lot. The air was crisp and sharp and we quickly put on all our layers and gathered our packs preparing for 2 days of hiking and a night at Carter Notch Hut during self-service season.
We shyly put our thumbs out hoping for a quick and easy hitch down to the Wildcat Ridge Trailhead but the cars were all zooming by so fast and there wasn’t a great spot for them to stop so we started walking down the road. We walked on the shoulder of route 16 with our thumbs out and eventually came upon a wider shoulder when a car slowed down and pulled over. We jogged up to find this nice pair of young women smiling and welcoming us into their car as they quickly tossed all their hiking gear aside to make room for us in their back seat. We thanked them profusely and they said they were on their way to Pinkham Notch from Quebec to go hike Mount Washington and were happy to drop us off just a bit past that.
We waved to them as they drove off and felt very pleased with ourselves and relieved to have been able to hitch so easily and to have been picked up by such nice fellow hiker folk. We found the tunnel under the road that lead to the trail head and were met with an unexpected large river crossing to get to the trail. It was cold, I was wearing pants and my legs felt wobbly as I balanced my way across the rocks trying my best to avoid getting wet. We made it across and were on our way up the Wildcat Ridge Trail being greeted by steep rocks and instant views.
Before too long we found the summit of Wildcat D which is also a ski resort with some buildings we sat at a nearby picnic table eating our lunch, watching hikers go by and folks ride up and down the gondola enjoying the summit. From here we had superb views of Mount Washington, Tuckerman’s Ravine, Huntington Ravine and the northern presidentials. The sun and food revitalized us and we trekked on towards Wildcat Peaks B, C, and A which we hiked right over without noticing a cairn or a sign before finding a nice outcropping of rocks giving us our first views down into Carter Notch and we could see the lakes and the hut nestled down in the shadows as the sun began to dip below the mountains. We took a short break here wondering if we had already submitted Wildcat A. As the sun continued to set, so did we, feeling the temperatures drop and as we hiked on we discovered that we were descending quickly into the notch down the steep eastern slope of Wildcat Mountain which means that we had infact summitted all the Wildcats and would soon be at Carter Notch Hut where we would be spending the night.Looking back up at Wildcat from Carter Lake, it was wild to see the steep rocky pitch.
It turned out that there were only 9 hikers staying the night at Carter Notch so lucky us, we got our own room! We settled in and then hiked back to the main lodge to make our dinner. During self-service season, you bring your own food to cook in the huts and a sleeping bag. Its pretty sweet cuz it costs about $100 less than full-service season, there’s way less people, and they still give you a bunk with a mat and a pillow and full use of the kitchen. Win Win Win.We made our dinners and sat with some other hikers including an eclectic little group of straggling thru-hikers, meaning Appalachian Trail Hikers who are maybe not going to finish the trail this season but are making their way north and south and have been out on the trail for months. We were stoked for them because they got their own rooms too. The moon was huge and lit up the notch. We wanted to go see it by the lake but we were so tired. So we watched it from the porch of our cabin until we were too cold and sleepy to stay standing.Stud and I were in our sleeping bags by 7:30pm and both asleep by 8. I woke up around 5am and bundled up to go outside and relieve myself expecting Stud to be upright when I returned but when I got back, she was still cozy in her bunk so I happily got back in my sleeping bag and we waited for the other to initiate packing up to go but niether of us did and we just snoozed until almost 8am which was pretty awesome.
The hut caretaker’s hospitality was amazing. She went above and beyond. She baked some oat bars and offered them up to us all. She offered us tea and hot chocolate. In the morning, she made a pot of coffee to share. So I gave my fancy instant coffee packs to a thru-hiker who gratefully accepted them along with some other snacks from my food bag that I was happy to pass along. Stud and I labored down our oatmeal and finally set off.
Part 2: The Carters
It was 8:45am by the time we were hiking out of Carter Notch Hut and we just laughed about how late it was as we climbed up Carter Dome knowing we had plenty of time to do what we had set out to do and enjoyed the leisureliness of the day so far. Carter Dome…what a beast!We followed the ridgeline up to Mount Hight which has to be one of the most amazing viewpoints in the White Mountains. We spent some time up here soakin in the views, the sun and eating second breakfast after becoming ravenous from our climb up out of Carter Notch. We headed north and the trail between Mount Hight and South Carter descended an unexpected very steep and fast 700 feet before climbing back up another 500 feet to the summit of South Carter where a cairn was sort of tipped over by a nieghboring uprooted fir There was some nice rock seats so we relaxed here before pushing on to Middle Carter.Then things got weird….As we made our way up the ridge to Middle Carter, it dawned on us that we could just keep going instead of our original plan of turning around at Middle Carter and heading back the way we came and down and out Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, where our car was parked. We got excited about this and counted up the miles and decided that turning our 10.5 mile day into a 14+ mile day was totally do-able. But then we remembered how late it was and that there was limited day light and decided that was a bad idea. But then we thought it would be a fun adventure and we would be fine because we have our headlamps. But then we realized how tired we would be and that we wouldn’t have our car when we hiked out. But then we thought we could just hitchhike back to the car. But then we remembered it would be dark. We processed the crap out of this spontaneous potential plot twist all the way to Middle Carter and when we found ourselves on the sign-less summit we sat down and ate and went over it again and again, getting high off little doses of adrenaline thinking about going forward towards Mount Moriah. Just when we would decide it was a bad idea, we would then talk about doing it anyway. We were sitting on number 47 of the 48 peaks of the NH48 list under blue skies clear. It was hard to not just go for it and hike on to Mount Moriah. But we hadn’t planned for this and it was late. We decided to try and see if we could call for a shuttle in order to make a decision, knowing that trying to hitch down route 16 after dark on a Monday night might be impossible as would be a 5+ mile road walk down route 16 at that point. But we didn’t have enough cell service to get the call through. We talked it through a few more times (haha) and made a careful and very calculated decision to play it safe and stick with the plan which was a great choice because it meant we were off the mountains by 5PM, eating dinner at a reasonable hour and checking into the Top Notch Inn with enough energy left to shower and celebrate the eve before potentially finishing the NH48 and trying for Mount Moriah tomorrow.
Part 3: Mount Moriah – the finale!
We sat drinking coffee at 5:30am on this dark early fall morning preparing to attempt our final summit of the NH48. Such a bittersweet feeling of both sadness that this list may be coming to an end and pure excitement to be finishing.
A dramatic day from the get-go. This trailhead begins in a residential dead end and we weren’t sure where to park so we parked under some power lines hoping our car would still be there when we came back with all the windows still in tact. We knew there would be some weather rolling in later and given that this was potentially our 48th summit on the NH48 list, we were hyper focused and rather intense as we headed up the Carter-Moriah Trail in the dark with headlamps lighting our way. This trail does not waste anytime. It just starts straight up and we huffed our way up until we reached a more moderate grade and could catch our breaths before finding our rhythm. It wasn’t long before we were on a tree covered ridge and could start to see Pinkham Notch through the trees. We made our way up to the rock slabs and ledges described in the guide book which afforded excellent views of the northern presidentials. As the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped, I became concerned about my clothing choices and wondered if I had enough layers with me and wondered if I would regret the items I chose to leave in the car. The trail dipped and climbed and we were high up on the ridge for a while pushing forward to stay warm while trying to beat the potential thunderstorms. Every so often the trail would become sheltered from the wind and we took refuge in these wind breaks to refuel ourselves with water and food.
About an hour from the summit, the weather really began to change and we watched the views of the surrounding mountains slowly become clouded as we became socked in. We were both nervous about it but we pushed on moving as quickly as we could while still being careful climbing up the steep rock slabs and making sure to add and take off layers as often as necessary to stay dry and warm.
We then came upon the summit sign for Mt Moriah with an arrow to the actual summit. We looked at each other in disbelief before heading up. As we came around the corner to the exposed large rock boulder summit of Moriah the wind was whipping fiercely and we paused and looked at each other again with a bit of terror. We dropped our packs and our poles and braved forward finding the summit marker and embracing as we leaned into the wind. We took some pictures and videos and exclaimed before ducking back into the safety of the trees and finding a very sheltered protected nook just below the summit to recover and eat and drink and laugh soak in this summit and prepare for a safe decent.WThe sun was slightly visible through he stormy grey skies and it felt like it could be day or night. Climbing down the rock slabs was scary and slow but not as sketchy as we anticipated and we were able to move down the mountain quickly stopping to rest more than half way down at some exposed rock slabs where the the presidentials came back into view. As we snacked and rested our knees, Mount Madison went in and out of the clouds from across the valley and we watched as the clouds formed together and darkened over them. Not a moment later, we felt the first few rain drops and quickly gathered our packs and continued down the mountain praying that the heavier rain wouldn’t come until we were off the rocks and safely under the shelter of the lower tree canopy. We were lucky and we made it down safely and by the time the rain really picked up were were less than a mile from the car and not very wet at all.
Our car was intact where we left it and we drove south thru Pinkham Notch unable to fully absorb that we had just finished the list. We stopped at Joe Dodge Lodge to change and rest and look around their little store. We didn’t linger long because we were starting to tank so we headed to a diner for some celebratory pancakes and hot coffee which brought us back to life and we sat in the booth for a while looking at pictures, laughing and reminiscing of the last few days and the last few years of our adventures hiking the NH48 together.