Closing in on the end of the list, we've been doing a lot of long, multiple peak hikes this year. So it seemed like a good time to tackle The Wildcats and throw in Carter Dome while we were at it. We didn't take on the Dome when we did the Carters, just because looking at it from the Carters it just seemed so daunting! As you all know, this is most often the case when you can see where it is your headed, and it's up!
We headed up 19MBT trail around 9am. We dropped Melissa off there, and drove down to Wildcat to drop the car. We thought we'd have a better chance hitching with 2 people than with 3. It was only about 10-15 minutes (which seems longer on the side of Rt 16 in the hot sun) when we got picked up by a nice couple out for a ride in their jeep. Part of me wanted to spend the rest of the day riding around in the back of the jeep, but we had a task at hand!
It was hot. Even though it's generally cooler in the woods and up higher, it was hot. All day hot. HUMID hot. We made it up 19MBT to the juntion with Carter Dome Trail. We decided to wait till Zeta Pass to take the first long break of the day, which proved to be a little too far. You know how it is...I really need a break and I'm losing energy, but I'm sure the Pass is right up here and if I stop now, then have it be right around the corner I'll be mad...So we waited till the Pass. We've been on the trail before so had an idea when we might hit it, it just took so little time to be wiped out in these conditions!
We stopped at the Pass and ate a lot and rested. We felt much better and headed up to Mt Hight. We considered skipping it, but it didnt' really seem worth it to miss it since we were here and had to climb Carter Dome one way or another. The hike up Mt Hight didn't start off too bad, but then got steep and rocky. The heat just wouldn't let us be and we drank a good charge of water on the way up. We still felt zapped and my head was pounding. We rested on the summit for a bit, and thats when a major charlie horse got me in the calf! Took me down to my knees, as I was paralized by it and could not move. I couldn't figure how I possibly could be dehydrated for the amount of water I had drank. My bladder was already dry and I had to pour my Nalgene bottle into that already! But the views were well worth this side trip, and the man we met with his young sun summited right after we did, so it was nice to see they made it.
Off we went to Carter Dome. Again, the hike wasn't horribly bad, easy enough under 'normal' circumstances, but there was no relief from the heat today. The "downs" weren't so bad, the "ups" were another thing. We were just about to the summit when I crested a hill and saw a chicken in the trail. Ok, it wasn't really a chicken but it sure looked like one. I assume it was some kind of Grouse. It headed into the bushes, and we saw there was another one there as well. It let us take several pictures with the phones, as I assumed it would take off before I could get the camera out. It didn't. As I watched them, I noticed something watching me and there was a beautiful male! He also let us watch him and take lots of pictures, so I took my pack off and fished out the camera. We had stumbled onto a courting I think, so we watched them for a while, then headed back along our way. We came to the summit shortly after that and took another nice break.
I finished off my water on the summit of Carter Dome, and sat in the shade for a while. My head was pounding and I felt pretty wiped. We met the first of many AT thru and section hikers of the day. These two had done 150 miles from Maine, headed for Pinkham (via the hut). We finally left for the Notch, ready for some downhill. It really was a nice change for a while. Then as I was looking down the trail, I saw a large rock and what seemed to be nothing but a gigantic Wildcat Mountain looking back at me. I figured maybe the trail was offering a fantastic view and that it must veer to the left or right here. But it did neither. The view was amazing from here, right straight down into Carter Notch, and across to Wildcat. I'm not sure which I was less thrilled about...The hike down to the hut, or the hike up out of it and onto Wildcat. Neither looked very fun : (
It's only a short distance to the hut from here, but it's pretty straight down, and steep. Very steep. There were times that I was not at all comfortable with my upward stance. Melissa did a lot of butt sliding in places, and I used my arms and hands a lot to lower myself. It took quite a while to get us all down there in one piece. We were spent by the time we finally got to the Lakes and the Hut! It had taken a good chunk of our day just to get to here. The heat and steeps had gotten the best of us.
We sat for a while at the hut. It had cooled some, but not enough to bring us back to life. We looked at the maps and pondered our escape..I mean decent. It was already almost 5:00 and we needed to decide what we needed to do. We could head out on 19MBT back to the trailhead and skip Wildcat, but the car wasn't at 19MBT. And we had come this far and suffered this much. So given the "smart" option and the "stubborn" option, we went with Stubborn and headed for Wildcat! I knew the map was deceiving, so I tried not to let that info consume me. We headed out around the lake and onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail.
About 10 minutes into our trek, we noticed the sky had gotten pretty dark. Then the rain started. Of course we had made the decision to go up instead of down! We wrapped up the cameras and cell phones, but it was too hot still for raincoats. At least for the girls. Rick put his on. The thunder, lightning and hail started soon after, and we would stop to count the time between lightning flashed and thunder claps. It sounded like it was getting closer, would move away and get closer again. We took our time, since I didn't really want to be on the summit with a thunderstorm right over head!
We finally made it to the summit and the rain finally let up. We were soaked however, so we took our dry shirts, put on our raincoats over them, and took our well earned summit pic. The next two summits ticked away quickly..up and down up and down...but it wasn't really clearing yet. On the way over to "D" peak it started to clear and the sun started to peek through.
It seemed to take forever to get over to "D" peak, and we started to wonder if we'd make it before dark. We really wanted to be at the Gondola before dark so we weren't trying to navigate rocks with headlamps. Along the way, we got a view of the sun going down beyond the presidentials. Looks like they had a clear beautiful night on the summit.
We FINALLY reached "D" Peak, just as it was getting dark. We dug out the headlamps so we wouldn't have to find them in the dark in a little bit. We hoofed it down to the Gondola from there, although we headed down the 'wrong' trail 1st. I'm pretty sure that came out by the Gondola too, but didn't want to take any chances so close to dark! We stopped at the Gondola to send message to home so they knew we were still alive, then headed off down the Polecat trail. We still had a couple hours ahead of us, especially in the dark. We were tired and beat, but appreciated the lack of rock hopping. It was steep, as ski trails need to be, but reasonable and welcome at this point in the day.
About half way down the ski slope, we heard a loud BIG crashing in the tall grass next to us. I looked to my right and saw a large moose rudely awakened from his sleep by us! I don't know who was more startled, him (or her) or us! We decided to huddle, or really just hide behind Rick, which was hard to do frozen solid. Rick was the closest to the moose, and no joke, no exaggeration, he could have reached out and touched him. Less than 5 feet away! It was so cool once we recovered from our heart attacks. The moose couldn't really decide which way he wanted to go, or what was going on exactly, but he turned and headed down the trail, stopping to turn and check us out at a safe distance.
I'm sure there was some shreiking involved, and a lot of inappropriate language. We stood there for a minute asking "OH MY GOD< DID YOU SEE THAT??" like we weren't all just standing there. We finally continued on, a little hesitant, but sure that the moose moved far away from us by then. We had talked earlier about the moose that's been on the summit cam all week, but I had forgotten all about him till that moment! I was hoping we'd run into him, maybe just not so close and in the dark!!
I didn't get a picture of the moose, but had a great day none the less. A LONG day, but great. A good adventure to check off #35, 36 and 37. We got back to the car around 10:30pm. A much longer day than expected.