Monday, January 12, 2015

Wildcat D (WINTER 4K 9/48), January 11, 2015

Wildcat Mountain "D" Peak (4,062') via Stray Cat, Middle Polecat and Upper Polecat Ski Trails, January 11, 2015

Mileage:  5.5 miles (RT)
Elevation gain: 2,213'
Trailhead: Wildcat Mountain Ski Area (halfway between the towns of Jackson and Gorham, NH - GPS Coordinates: 44deg 15.8883min / -71deg 14.4298min). From Boston/Manchester, NH: I-93N to exit 23. Turn right onto Route 104 to Meredith. Turn left on Route 3 to Route 25. Turn right on to Route 25 to Ossipee, turning left on Route 16N to Wildcat and Pinkham Notch. From Portsmouth, NH take Route 16N to Pinkham Notch.
Hiked with Rich, Sandy and Joe. Once again I've convinced my friends to hike up a ski slope, an adventure that always ends with "never again" (see my trip reports for Saddleback, Sugarloaf and Scar Ridge [Loon]). 
The trick is to convince them that it'll be fun, easy, no big deal. 
If you've hiked up a ski slope in summer you know that the ground is choppy, like plowed earth with tall grass and never ending monotony. You're out in the sun or bad weather, with just "up" ahead of you.  No way to truly know which run you're on until you get to the top of it, turn around and see the trail sign (the slopes are designed for skiers after all). 
But this time was different, I told my friends.  In winter the trails are covered with groomed snow; no worry about deep grass with phantom ruts, and no fretting about winter trail conditions or wondering if the path is broken out.   We figured this was an easy "peak grab", a short round trip on consistent terrain  - not much elevation gain. 
I'd hiked Wildcat D before.  In fact, "D" was my 48th NH 4k (see previous report), a traverse from Nineteen Mile Brook trail (which included Wildcat A). And yes, we walked down the ski slope to get to the other car.
Wind is a consideration in winter and ski trails are wide open and unprotected.  We'd tried to do this hike last year but the wind was so fierce (and bitter) that we barely got from our car to the lodge. (We chose a lower peak that day.)
Today the winds were calm.  We got to the ski area around 10:15, purchased our access passes in the lodge ($10 each), and grabbed a map.  The staff gave us a rundown on the conditions of the slopes, and the summit trail (there's a short, steep trail up to the observation tower from the top of the ski runs).
Stray Cat trail starts just beyond the Tomcat lift.

Snowshoes definitely, no matter what the conditions!
The ski area designates the uphill hiking/skiing route as Stray Cat, Middle Polecat and Upper Polecat trails.  The Tomcat Triple lift wasn't running so we figured the trail was closed but we didn't know for sure until we saw it roped off at the top.  We reached Lower Pole Cat trail and continued to stay to the left, making our way uphill to Middle Polecat trail. 

Sandy and Joe heading up the slope.
There are some blind corners with narrow chutes (watch out for skiers) and a few steeper bumps but overall it was just a walk uphill with incredible views of Mt. Washington.
The wind picked up a bit as we ascended so we put our goggles on for the last push to the top of the Express Quad. From there we headed up the trail to the summit observation deck (trail is located left and behind the first aid building).
Trees are getting shorter as we near the top.
Summit trail is to the left of the first aid building (sign in distance).

"Wildcat Ridge trail, Carter Notch and Pinkham Notch."
Heading up the short but steep trail to the summit.
It was great to get on a hiking trail, if only for a few hundred yards.  It's a steep ascent, easy in snowshoes but the odd patch of ice made for a slower, more cautious descent.  It started snowing.
Nice view to the right.

The steps up to the observation deck were covered with snow (more like a ramp up).  Once on the observation deck we layered up.  A few summit photos later we were headed back down the trail and the slopes. 
Snowing on Mt. Washington.

Hiker among the skiers.
"Never again" wasn't uttered once!  Our group felt that this was not the typical drudge up a ski slope.  The skiers were friendly and interesting to watch and several were interested in what we were doing and why. 
Down at the Moat by 2:45.