The A.T. follows US 2 for a tenth of a mile past the Rattle River Hostel. It is roughly 21-miles from Pinkham Notch back to the hostel and this is arguably the most popular section to slackpack on the entire A.T. The shuttle van was carrying several hikers to Pinkham Notch who planned to slackpack back to the hostel in one day, but I was not one of them. Even carrying only a water bottle, one still must walk 21-miles over some of the roughest terrain on the trail.
After being dropped off at the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, Peanut, Shiver, and I crossed the busy NH 16 and noticed a couple of hikers standing on the other side of the road who were staring at the bog we had to cross. When I got closer to them, I suddenly saw what they were staring at. There was a cow moose with her two baby calves standing in the water enjoying a leisurely breakfast! Having been unsuccessful in my bid to see a bear on the trail, I hoped to see a moose but didn’t think that it would happen so soon.
It was a beautiful morning, and it started on the Lost Pond Trail with an easy hike across and along the Ellis River. At the stunning Lost Pond, the A.T. turns onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail and that is where things began to get serious. The climb to the Wildcat Ridge is the steepest climb on the entire A.T., rising 2,000-feet in 1.5-miles with 1,000 of those feet in a half mile section. After an hour and a half of climbing, I was about halfway to the ridgeline when I took a break with Peanut and Shiver on a ledge with a nice view back towards the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center.
The Wildcat Ridge starts out with a series of peaks that are unimaginatively named peaks E, D, C, and A. Three hours into the climb, I finally reached the 4,066-foot summit of Peak E and a short distance later I arrived at Peak D. At Peak D there is a ski gondola that, for a fee, you can ride to a restaurant located at the base of the mountain. More importantly, I recognized this place as the location where Mike “Cimarron” Caetano celebrated his 89th birthday. Cimarron is a neighbor who thru-hiked the A.T. when he was 84 years old and he is an inspiration to me. During this morning’s climb to the ridgeline, I kept telling myself that if Cimarron can make this climb, so can I. I took a break at the very picnic table where he had his party and gave him a call to tell him where I was sitting. He was tickled pink to hear from me and said that he would love to be here too, but his wife keeps telling him he is too old (he is now 94 years young). Click here to view a video of Cimarron’s Wildcat birthday celebration.
Continuing along the gently rolling trail, I crossed the summit of Peak C and arrived at an overlook at the top of Peak A where I could see the Carter Notch ahead of me. Sometimes I am amazed by where my legs can carry me, and this view helps to put it in perspective. In the following picture, you can see a pond a mile away at the bottom of Carter Notch. The mountaintop (Carter Dome on the Carter Ridge) that you can see on the other side of the pond is about two miles away. So, I began my 1,100-foot “fall off the mountain” towards the pond in Carter Notch.
I took me nearly an hour of scrambling over rocks to reach the pond at the bottom, but the views there were stunning. There are no water sources along the Wildcat Ridge and so I took a side trail around the pond to the Carter Notch Hut to get something to drink. The Carter Notch Hut is the last AMC hut northbound on the A.T. and when I arrived, Peanut and Shiver were already there enjoying lunch. I didn’t hang around long because it was starting to get late in the afternoon and I was still facing a 1,500-foot climb to the summit of Carter Dome.
My intended destination for the day was the Imp Campsite, but it was still seven miles away and I knew I would make it there before dark. During the climb to Carter Ridge, I passed a nice spring and decided to load up on water in anticipation of spending the night at a dry campsite. I absolutely hate to carry extra water, but I couldn’t see how to avoid it in my current situation.
The views along the ridge at Carter Dome and Mt Height were spectacular, but I was feeling well spent from the climbing. After Mt Height, the trail started another descent, this time for 800-feet, towards Zeta Pass where I began looking for a spot to set up my tent. About a half mile past Zeta Pass, I saw a small path on my left and decided to explore in that direction. Not far from the A.T., I saw a tiny spot just large enough for my tent and decided that this spot would do for the night.
Date: August 9, 2017
Starting Location: NH 16, Pinkham Notch
Ending Location: Stealth Camp
AT Miles Today: 9.0
AT Miles To Date: 1,879.4