Carter Dome (Attempt)

The alarm went off much too early on Saturday morning. Sometimes I wish adventuring would have a 9 a.m. start time. But alas, it was 4:31 a.m. and time to rise and no promises about shining.

The almost two-hour drive to Evans Notch was uneventful. We didn’t see any deer or turkeys. That was disappointing. We usually consider seeing turkeys an omen of a good hike ahead. HA HA

It was cloudy and a cold 30 degrees when we started hiking at 8:02 a.m., We were wearing our rain coats because of the light rain that was falling. There were, however, enough patches of blue sky to give us hope that the day would be a nice one.

Trip Report:

Start at Wild River Campground off Rte 113 in NH.
Basin Trail to the Basin Rim Trail (2.2 miles) to take in the view point
Black Angel Trail to Wild River Trail (2.8 miles)
Wild River Trail to Perkins Notch Tentsite (4.9 miles)
Spend the night.

Sunday (planned–and a map to show what we actually did):
Continue on Wild River Trail to Rainbow Trail (0.2 miles)
Rainbow Trail to Carter-Moriah Trail (2.5 miles)
Summit Carter Dome (elevation 4832′)
Carter-Moriah Trail to Black Angel Trail (0.4 miles)
Black Angel Trail to Wild River Trail or Highwater Trail (4.9 miles)
Wild River Trail back to Wild River Campground (2.7 miles)


Our plan had been to continue hiking up Rainbow Trail to Carter Dome, but instead we took the shortcut back to the car. Map by Steve Bushey and Angela Faeth. White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map: New Hampshire & Maine . 2010.
Our plan had been to continue hiking up Rainbow Trail to Carter Dome, but instead we took the shortcut back to the car. Map by Steve Bushey and Angela Faeth. White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map: New Hampshire & Maine . 2010.

Our plan had been to continue hiking up Rainbow Trail to Carter Dome, but instead we took the shortcut back to the car. Map by Steve Bushey and Angela Faeth. White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map: New Hampshire & Maine . 2010.
We started up the Basin Trail ready for a wonderful weekend adventure! It was wonderful! We just were not expecting it to be so wet!

There were many water crossings on this hike. The map identified them as “brooks,” but they sure seemed like rivers to me. Especially when we were rock hopping across them! Most of these crossing were fairly typical with many rocks conveniently placed within stepping distance from each other, but some crossings were downright scary.

The first time we needed to cross the Wild River, three rivers joined just where the trail crossed. I bet the trail builders enjoyed planning that one!

We had to walk upstream a couple hundred feet to find a place that looked manageable for me to cross. One spot would look promising, but near the other side of the river there would be a gap between the rocks too wide for my short legs to manage. We kept looking. I finally gave up looking and settled on a spot that was certain to leave me with wet feet or worse.

I adjusted my trekking poles, adding about 6 inches to their length. I hoped this would be enough to help me stay somewhat stable as I moved from one rock to the next. I heaved a sign of relief when I got across that first crossing with mostly dry feet. I hoped it wasn’t too obvious that my legs were shaking.

“That was scary,” I said.

“It wasn’t scary,” Earl countered. “It was fun! It was a puzzle to be solved!”

“No, it was scary!” I repeated.

After a short verbal spar over how to convey the essence of that horrible water crossing, I relented. I offered up what I thought was a suitable compromise.

“Okay,” I said. “It wasn’t scary, it was challenging.”

Earl again insisted it was just a puzzle.


But as I thought about it, he did come up with a suitable analogy.

The problem with it though, is that his long legs could easily cover the distance between the rocks. My shorter legs had to find rocks beneath the surface to step on. The potential for these rocks to be slipperier–I don’t know why spell check didn’t flag that word, but because it didn’t, I can keep it, right? Slipperier… is slippery to the next level–and the current of the river added more risk to my step taking. He can call it a puzzle. I still call it scary!

We stopped for lunch at around 12 p.m. at the Spruce Brook tentsite. It was a wilderness re-vegetation area with signs stating not to cross behind them. I don’t know what it looked like before they did whatever they did, but it already looked like a wilderness area to me. So good job trail planners!

Throughout the morning the sky kept transitioning from stormy gray to brilliant blue depending upon which direction we were looking. It was actually pretty strange to witness. It made me better understand all that I hear and read about the changing weather patterns in the New Hampshire White Mountains.

Despite the mixed weather signals, we had a great day hiking. The pace was comfortable and the terrain offered gentle ascents and descents. No big mountains on Saturday.

At one point, Earl wanted to take my picture. I smiled my typically cheesy smile. He said, “Don’t smile. Just show your resting confused face.”

Donna's "resting confused face."
Donna’s “resting confused face.”

We had another tough water crossing of the Wild River. Once again I had to pace up and down the bank trying to find a place to cross. Earl was already on the other side waiting for me to join him.

Unfortunately, there just wasn’t a confidence-inspiring place for me to cross. I would start across and come to a gap that was too wide and the water flowing too hard. I turned back and kept looking. After three or four such attempts Earl offered to come help me across.

This hit my pride and also registered on my “don’t be stupid” meter. I could just imagine him coming to my rescue and then falling in himself. Not a chance I wanted to take. Remember, Earl is the risk taker, I am not.

I planted my right foot on a stable, dry rock. I planted my extended poles against two submerged rocks in the river. I moved my left foot to a submerged rock and held my breath. I rubbed the bottom of boot on the rock, testing it for slickness. It seemed okay. I moved my weight to my left leg. I re-positioned my trekking pole in anticipation of moving to another submerged rock with my right foot. Again, success. The third step was with my left foot to a dry rock. Woot! I was almost across. I quick-stepped it the few additional feet to the banking. As happened before, my legs were trembling with the effort.

Earl cracked a joke, but it fell flat. Fear-fueled adrenaline made me cranky. A few minutes later I was able to make my own joke about the challenges of having short legs. He laughed, but said it wasn’t fair that I could make jokes, but he could not.

We reached a surprisingly crowded campsite at 3 o’clock. Three families and their two dogs were enjoying a long weekend out in the woods. They had attempted Carter Dome but turned back about a mile from the summit. The trail was getting slippery and the wind was blowing hard.

The Perkins Notch Tentsite would have been a lovely place to spend the night if it wasn’t for the wind. It was blowing hard off the mountains. We checked for “widow-makers” before setting up the tent, but a part of me still wondered if one would fall on us during the night. Oh well, not much to do about it except hunker down.

Dinner was quick and uneventful. We were toasty warm inside our tent before 5:30 p.m. We took some time to study our map. We considered whether we wanted to continue on our planned route or if we wanted to save Carter Dome for another day. We decided to see what the morning brought before making a final decision.

We listened to the wind and rain/sleet throughout the night. I did notice that at some point in the night, the wind died down. I was hopeful that we’d be able to climb Carter Dome!

​Sunday morning dawned an hour earlier than usual, thanks to the change back to standard time. Earl peeked thru the tent’s flap at the same time that I did.

“There’s snow on the ground,” he said.

“I see it,” I replied. We turned to each other. “What do you think about today?”

“Let’s just head back to the car. We may get home in time to watch football.”

With a new motivation for hiking, we ate breakfast and packed up our gear. We started hiking back to the car at either 8 a.m. or 7 a.m. My phone and Fitbit said 8 a.m., but I didn’t know if they had reset themselves for the time change. We will in a dead zone for my cell phone, so I didn’t know what to think. When out in the woods, time really doesn’t matter, though.

Sunday had us crossing more “brooks,” and doing so successfully. Until, the final crossing…

Rather than crossing the Wild River at the scariest (excuse, me, puzzliest) point, we hiked the Highwater Trail. It runs parallel to the Wild River Trail on the other side of the river. We kept looking for opportunities to cross the river as we continued along. We didn’t see any, so we kept hiking.

Eventually we reached the point where we were close to the Wild River Campground and our car, but on the wrong side of the river. We looked ahead and didn’t see any promising locations to cross. We accepted that we were going to have to ford the river. We found what we decided would be the best spot. The river was about 30 feet wide and didn’t look too deep.

We released the latches on our packs, mentally braced ourselves for the cold water we would be walking into, and started across.
The water was icy cold, but yet it also felt warm. Weird. The not-too-deep water came up to my knees! The current was strong, but I was stronger. The rocks were slippery, but I managed to maintain my balance on them.

The experience was exhilarating!

We slopped up the trail the short distance back to the car. It was 1:24 p.m. (still not sure whether that was standard or daylight savings time).

We didn’t waste any time getting out of our heavy with water boots and socks and into dry footwear. What a wonderful feeling!

Although we did not climb Carter Dome, we had a great time out in the Wild River Wilderness. Friends and family members think we are a bit nutty for hiking during the colder months, but with the right equipment and the right hiking partner, you can have a great time hiking in the cold!


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