Thursday, March 19, 2009

Weekend in the White Mountains

Last weekend, a good friend of mine, Tim Rourke and I headed up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a weekend of backcountry hiking and camping. We both left work early on Friday and headed up to Pinkham Notch to stay at Joe Dodge lodge (one of the Appalachian Mountain Clubs lodges, Since Tim had never seen the Mountain Washington Hotel we made a quick stop there so he could see it. It is a pretty amazing hotel as well as being historically significant. It is the site of the Bretton Woods monetary conference in 1944 when the World Bank was created ( After that we made a quick stop at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. It is another of the AMC's lodges. It was built with the environment in mind. You can see more about it on the AMC website.
We eventually got to Joe Dodge lodge around 6:30 pm and checked into our room bunk room and went to dinner. After dinner we reviewed our gear one last time to make sure that we had everything and chatted with our roomate who had summited Mt. Washington and come back down in the same day. This is a strenuous hike in the summer let alone in the winter.
Saturday morning we went to breakfast at the lodge and then headed out on the trail. We chose to follow the Lost Pond trail from Pinkham Notch to the Wildcat Ridge trail which would take us up and over all 5 Wildcat peaks and eventually into Carter Notch where we would spend the night in a hut. The lost pond section of the trail was pretty mellow. That all changed as soon as we hit the Wildcat Ridge trail. We had to stop at the first pitch upward to put on our crampons. The snow is still about 5 ft deep with a crust that will sustain your weight on top. As we clawed our way up the first section of trail to Wildcat E we came across a group that was also climbing up except they also had their cocker spaniel. He had not problem with the steepness and ice!

Once we got over the first peak the trail rolls up and down for several miles with some great vistas of Mt. Washington and the rest of the Presidential range. It was strange to hike through the woods for several hours and them pop out at the top of the ski lift for Wildcat ski area. Not only was it strange but there is also an old lift house at the top of the mountain that looks like an abandoned building. Its too bad that it has not been taken down. We quickly got through this section on to more pleasant trails. After about 6 hours we got to a vista where we could see the Carter Notch Hut in the valley below. It is quite the sight as there is also a sizable rock slide called the Rampart almost next the the hut.

After hiking for several hours, the downhill to Carter was pretty tricky. The snow was extremely deep and both of us would occasionaly break through the crust and that leg would sink into the snow up the hip. This is called postholing. It gets old quickly... We made it down in one piece around 5pm. Just in time for dinner. The hut is full service in the summer. In the winter guests are free to use the stove to cook their own dinner. We had some wonderful pesto pasta that Tim had cooked up. The dining area is a great place to hang out after a long hike with a wood stove warming the area and all kinds of interesting people to talk to. One group had a whole gourmet dinner going complete with steak and tofu dishes and wine!

After a restful night sleep in the bunkhouse, we had some oatmeal and coffee, took a few pictures of the hut and the sunrise and headed down the 19mile brook trail. We opted for the easier hike out after our somewhat epic hike the day before. It took us about 2 hours to get to the trailhead on Route 16. Since there was no one around in the parking lot to hitch a ride up to Pinkham Notch with we started hitchhiking. After about an hour with no success, George who is the caretaker in Carter Notch came down the trail and gave us a ride back to Pinkham. Thanks George!

We got changed and then headed to the Flatbread Pizza Company in North Conway to top off our trip with some of the best pizza that I have ever had.

On the way home we drove the Kancamangus Highway over to I-91. The Kanc is a beautiful drive, especially in the winter. We saw a couple of cyclists working their way up the lengthy climb. Normally, I would have been a bit jealous but with miles of hiking behind us I didn't care.

In Woodsville, NH we stopped for a cup of coffee just in the nick of time. The Dunkin Donuts was in the process of closing for the day because they did not have enough employees to stay open all day. You would think this would not be an issue given the state of the economy.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend. The weather couldn't have been better with temps in the 20s and brilliant sun with no clouds. A perfect way to move into spring.

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