Hiking the Carters
Last weekend I took myself on a camping and hiking trip to the White Mountains. I headed up to Gorham, NH and spent two nights at Dolly Copp Campground, at the foot of the northern Presidentials. This was the first solo hiking trip of any real significance that I’ve taken on, though it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I love hiking with Natasha and have a great group of other hiking partners, but in the middle of a very hectic summer, I was glad to have an opportunity for some time to myself.
Gorham is full of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers right now. Northbounders there are a few miles away from finishing New Hampshire and heading into Maine, the final state on the trail. Those heading south have made it through the challenges of Maine, are about to tackle the New Hampshire Whites, and still have almost 2,000 miles to go till Georgia. My plan was to hike a thirteen mile loop around Mt. Lethe, Middle Carter, South Carter, Mt. Hight, and Carter Dome, then down into Carter Notch and back out to Route 16, a few miles away from where I started. That doesn’t seem so ambitious when you realize that is the kind of mileage thru-hikers do every day for three to six months in a row.
The AT holds an undeniable allure. I’ve never seriously considered attempting the whole thing, but it’s impossible not to wonder whether I would be capable of doing it. I am drawn to the idea of having a singular purpose… knowing that every day my job would be to walk, to follow the one trail leading from start to finish. I want the simplicity of carrying everything I need on my back, of letting my body dictate when I wake, and eat, and rest. I want to tune into the natural world in the way that can only be achieved by spending every day in nature. I think anyone who has ever imagined walking off into the woods to “get away from it all” can relate to that. Could I hack it? Physically, yeah, I think I could. Mentally and emotionally? I am not so sure. I mostly feel like it’s too selfish of an endeavor to allow myself to consider at this point in my life. Right now I am content to pursue that communion with nature in bite-size sections. This trip was about doing so on my own.
I started my hike Saturday morning at the Imp trail off of Route 16, just across from the campground where I was staying. The beginning of the hike was a steady climb up to a beautiful ledge with views east to the northern Presidential mountains, Mt. Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. I spent a good amount of time there, remembering traversing that range with Travis and Tam a few summers ago, and daydreaming about exploring the Great Gulf Wilderness on the western slope of Mt. Washington. This was one of the best viewpoints of the entire day, as soon I would hike into cloud cover at higher elevation and most of the summits I was crossing were wooded.
There was no one else on the trail for the first three hours of my hike, until I joined up with the Carter-Moriah Trail, which the Appalachian Trail follows across this mountain range. I was hiking south and crossed paths with a few northbound thru-hikers, identifiable by the length of their beards and the speed at which they move. Somewhere around South Carter I stepped off onto a spur trail that lead to a nice view west into Maine. I was immersed in solitude, but remembering Bubba and thinking about how good it would be to have him with me on the hike. The reality of hiking with him was always much different and more stressful than I was allowing myself to imagine it, but still, I was feeling lonely for him. At that moment I heard a rustle behind me, and a little black and tan coonhound poked through the spruce trees and stood at my feet. She was followed by a young southbound guy from Virginia. We talked for a while and I shared some water with them. I had to laugh at this small bit of magic; the perfect timing of a visit by this sweet hound dog when I most appreciated it, and me with an extra liter of water when they needed it.
The best views of the trip came from the rocky summit of Mt. Hight. This is a view back in the direction I’d just come from. There were unfortunately at least twenty people on the summit, most who had just hiked up in a big, loud group from the Carter Notch hut, so I ate a little snack but didn’t stay long on top. I continued on to Carter Dome, then dropped steeply down into Carter Notch, easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in the White Mountains. There are two small lakes full of trout which were jumping incessantly after dragonflies buzzing across the surface of the water. On every side, the mountains rise sharply. It’s dramatic and isolated and breathtaking. I stopped briefly into the hut, then sat at the water’s edge for a long time. This was my last stop before heading back out to Route 16 via the Nineteen Mile Brook trail, a gradual descent which was noteworthy for a nest of angry bees in a rotting stump along the top portion of the trail, and some very nice cascades and brook crossings on the lower half. I had a late-hike spring in my step for the last few miles, satisfied with a long day of hiking and looking forward to finding somewhere to swim and eat dinner.
Here is the full set of photos from this trip on my Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kpscapes/sets/72157634836847608/