Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Winter Hike to Carter Notch Hut on the Appalachian Trail

My friend John called and asked me to join him on a winter hike into Carter Notch Hut. John’s son Ryan would be hiking with a friend and John wanted to meet them at their overnight stay at the Appalachian Mountain Club hut located on the Appalachian Trail.  John and I are life-long members of the AMC.

Mount Hedgehog – a warm-up hike

To prepare for this 3.8 mile hike into the winter wilds of the snowy and icy White Mountains, John wanted to go to the White Mountain area a day earlier for a day hike.

On Friday morning we were at the Kancamagus Highway trailhead for the Mount Hedgehog (2520 ft.) loop trail.

The five mile round loop trail was moderately difficult, meaning upward switchback trails, crossing small brooks, over and under a few downed trees across the trail, and a reasonable grade with only the final sections a bit steep and requiring climbing up and over granite ledges.

The book suggested this hike could be done in three hours, whereas we did the loop in three and a half hours. We paced ourselves stopping every fifteen or so minutes to drink water and chew trail mix. As we approached the top, wind and cold caused me to don my winter gloves. We paused at the top for magnificent views of Mt. Passaconaway, the Presidential range and Mt Chocorua (which I hiked this summer and did a blog post).

Looking down from the peak over the tree-studded valley and north toward Mt Washington, we saw dark clouds blowing our way with squalls of snow sowing seeds beneath it – and we quickly picked up our pace, not wanting to be caught on the top of the mountain. John took this picture from the top of Hedgehog and you can see the fast moving snow squall as a white-looking cloud spiraling to the ground in the valley quickly heading toward us.

The loop back to the trailhead was steep from the top and I could feel my quads aching. All in all, Mt Hedgehog was a good day hike and certainly helped prepare us for the next day’s four mile hike into Carter Notch Hut.

Carter Notch Hut

Carter Notch Hut, elevation 3,450 feet, is the most eastern of the eight AMC huts. In winter the hut is self-service, meaning a caretaker stokes the wood stove at the hut from 5 pm until 9:30 pm (unless extreme cold dictates otherwise.) Self-service includes self-cooking and hikers bring their own food and use the hut’s utensils and gas stove for cooking.

Water Carried to Hut from Lake

There is no running water but water is carried into the hut in five gallon jugs as needed for potable water (after boiling). Hikers share responsibility for getting the water through a hole in the ice from a lake near the hut.

Two bunk houses are separate from the hut, and are unheated. The bunkhouses essentially provide bunk beds and protection from rain, snow and wind. Temperatures may reach way below zero in the depth of winter, so a winter sleeping bag is advisable, such as one rated to -20 degrees F.

John and I used trekking poles to reach the hut, which were important for balance and saving our knees as we poled and stepped over and up on icy covered boulders. As we neared the Hut, the snow began to get deeper, maybe a foot or so in depth, and we gave pause to the crampons we left in our car.

We crossed four wood planked bridges of which one had obviously been washed out, most likely in last month’s northern NH flood, and in its place was an eight inch icy covered plank. You will see our balancing acts in the video as we warily crisscross three to four feet above the waters of Nineteen Mile Brook and the mountain run-offs.

The Hut Experience

We shared conversation with others hikes from Littleton, NH, Maine, and Canada.

Ryan and Peter taught me a new game at the hut, “Pass the Pigs”.

For dinner at the Hut, John made a delicious entrée of chicken pot pie. Ryan made an apple crisp that was to die for! The next morning’s breakfast was at the hands of John with bacon and eggs enjoyed with hot coffee and chocolate to prepare us for the hike out.

Ryan and Peter decided to hike the Carter Dome and Mount Height trail back to the trailhead. This is a strenuous hike, but the rewards are magnificent views from the barren peaks of four-thousand footers. John and I returned via Nineteen Mile Brook Trail with a bit of regret for not bring our crampons.

Enjoy the video as John and I never have to say, “We wish we had joined Ryan and Peter at Carter Notch Hut.”

Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” is now available as an e-Book at Kindle and Nook.

To view all pictures Click Here.

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