Sunday, February 8, 2015

South Carter Mountain (WINTER 4K 10/48) February 7, 2015

South Carter Mountain (4,430) via Nineteen Mile Brook, Carter Dome and Carter-Moriah Trails, February 7, 2015.

Mileage:  9.2 miles (RT)
Elevation gain: 2,950'
Trailhead: The Nineteen Mile Brook trailhead is located on Route 16 several miles north of Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. 
Hiked with Rich, Sandy, Norm, and Charlie.  We slept at Norm's condo at Attitash Mountain Resort.  There's nothing like getting up at a reasonable hour to drive 25 minutes to the trailhead (sure beats waking before 5 a.m. for a two hour drive).
We'd all hiked South Carter before (see previous report), but this would be my first winter hike to the summit and I was looking forward to ridge walking on the Carter-Moriah trail. 
The week's weather and trail conditions were why we decided on this particular peak.  A lot of snow was dumped in the region (three significant storms in eight days) and the trails to South Carter were more likely than others to see a good amount of traffic before Saturday morning. 
We wanted to hike on previously broken trail.  We've all done our share of trail breaking but with the amount of fresh snow (2+ feet and more) we knew our little group didn't have the force needed to bull up the 4.6 miles to the summit in unbroken conditions. 

Parking lot was full but creative hikers made a second row.

The loop up the Imp trail to Middle and then South Carter was an option, but none of us wanted to get up any earlier than we did.  As it was we were a little late and wound up on the trail about 9 a.m. 

Nineteen Mile Brook trail was well broken out.  All water crossings and potential icy spots were quite covered with snow. At the brook the flowing waters under the ice gurgled, sending shimmering ripples in what open pools remained.  We got to the junction of Carter Dome trail in no time.

No icy rock here!
Refueling at the trail junction.
The Carter Dome trail was also well tracked, with two-feet snowsides.  The trail thickened as we trekked the 1.9 miles up to the next junction; the snow was deeper, trail still broken but less defined.  Our snowshoes moved a lot of snow.   

This trail meanders and never really gives a kick. Its switchbacks mellow out the grade, though today the narrow path had us hugging the mountainside on our ascent, with an occasional slip of the right foot down the steep. 

Out came the caffeine chews to add a little more oomph to our steps.

It was great to see the Carter-Moriah trail junction up ahead.  We were on the ridge! Several other hikers milled about on their way to or from one of the Carters.  After a break we dug in to that final .8 miles to the summit of South Carter.

Photo at the junction of Carter-Moriah trail.

The way to S. Carter.  Narrow trail but broken out nonetheless!
The trail dips down and, after climbing over some branches, we were following the narrow path toward South Carter. We were on the Appalachian Trail which meant plenty of white blazes to follow (some more, some less depending on where you are on this trail).  The broken-out path was true to the AT. 

Yup, there's a nice white blaze.

It was very cool being up on the ridge in February, with short, stubby trees and glimpses of views.  Tree branches drooped low with heavy snow, making for a dreamy backdrop. Occasionally we had to push these icy branches aside to make our way through.

The path was narrow through the thickly-snowy trees.

The unmarked summit is .8 miles from the Carter Dome/Carter-Moriah trail junction, with just over 400 feet gain.  We were tired of slinging snow but the ridge was just so beautiful

It wasn't long before we reached the steep just before the summit (a definite incline after a half mile of relative flat).   

The South Carter summit is pointy, that is, it tops out - you can't miss it!  As you reach the high point, a cairn (tiny one) is off to the left in a small clearing.  Should you go by it you will immediately start descending.  Today the summit was a trampled area with a shivery little cairn off to the left.

Little rock pile is the cairn. This area is just off the trail - on your left.

And, it was a busy area!  Several groups arrived at the summit as we were putting on our jackets and getting ready to head down. There were dozens of hikers on the ridge today, enjoying the woods and weather (cloudy, with just a lick of wind).

We descended the steeps and in no time were back at the junction. We met several late starters, contemplating turning around.

A quiet, heavy white scene.
We were back at the cars just before 4 pm, more than ready to get rid of our snowshoes.  A hot meal and beer at the Red Fox Bar and Grill awaited. 

As much as we can't wait to get back to the snow on the ridge (Carter Dome and Middle Carter are now calling to us, after all), this hike was more work than anticipated.  Still, nothing beats a beautiful trek in a snowy forest!