The Wildcats Trip Report
I may have climbed two official peaks, but it felt like a lot more. This was a tiring climb. One of the toughest, no doubt. [2008 note: This was the most rugged climb, mile-for-mile, of the 48s for me. There were harder trips, there were higher trips, there were spookier trips. But the Wildcats packed more ups and downs over more miles than any other trail I walked. Except for my native stupidity that has gotten me stuck in places I shouldn’t be, the Wildcats and Owl’s Head are the real tests of the Whites. Hike these two and you can hike them all.]
The Lost Pond Tr. was a quick walk. Not far from the junction with the Wildcat Ridge Tr. did the climbing begin. It was incredibly steep and it didn’t moderate, except for short pitches, until just below E peak. A lot of it was hand and foot climbing with a few very difficult rock scrambles. Two spots were particularly difficult: One walked the contour around a sheer, vertical rock on the right side of the trail and to the left a vertical drop to nowhere I could see. The footway was not much wider than my foot, and I had to lean into the rock on my right to get across safely. A wide pack would have thrown my center balance to the left making this more difficult. Truth be told, the length of the trail was maybe four or five strides, this was no tight rope walk. But it was spooky nonetheless, which I realized after when once across my adrenal gland squirted its magic fight or flight juice all at once. The second difficulty higher up started with wood steps bolted into the sheer granite slab. These steps are 4x4 posts set at uncomfortable intervals and are barely wide enough for two boots. Down isn’t an attractive option (I wasn’t going to turn back anyway). I climbed up but they ended before the top, probably because the grade moderated a little. I looked for even the smallest hand and foot holds the rock had to offer. It was enough, but not without reminding me that this was hairy stuff. The trail took an left turn, following the rock. At the turn, the right side became a ledge on the edge of which some hikers lined small and large stones along the edge. They were going to stop nobody from falling off the ledge and I had no doubt I could be an effective wilderness bowling ball. Whether the rocks were a snarky display meant to make me evaluate my manhood or a warning that there was only air beyond this point, I got the message.
There were a few ledges with great views south and west into Pinkham Notch. The grade moderated significantly on the ridge, but it rose and fell a lot and considering I knew I had to walk over five summits, the ups and downs made it difficult for me to gauge my location except for the ski area and A peak. The views from D peak were terrific from the gondola station and the viewing platform (the Presidentials were clouded in). Strange how for all the people who rode the gondola to the top walked a few feet up to the summit platform. But among them were Debbie and the girls, who met me on the top for lunch. That’s hiking!
Moving on, the D-C col was exhausting though not dangerous. The day clouded up as I walked and started to shower when I arrived at A peak. The view into Carter Notch was striking. I could see Carter Dome across the notch and Carter Notch Hut down from A. The walk down to the notch was steep but the trail was very well constructed. I guess they forgot the mountain has two sides. Nineteen Mile Brook Tr. was a pleasant walk to the car, though showers turned to rain and then thunder storms.
- 70s, partly cloudy to showers to rain to thunderstorms
- Debbie and the girls met me at the gondola station below D peak. It was the most unusual summit lunch I’ve eaten, but certainly the best
- I met four thru hikers on the way up: a young woman from Florida who finished the AT last year and was in the Whites to work as a trail maintainer for a couple of weeks (she had to bypass Wildcat because of a storm and was making it up this day), an older gentleman who had also finished and two older gentlemen from Ohio and Michigan who were completing their final section in Gorham. These folks were amazing hikers. We all walked at the same pace but they walked up the steep southern side effortlessly, talking casually with each other about their AT experiences. I huffed and puffed but they seemed to take it in ease and stopped frequently to take in the views for as long as they wanted to. I was amazed that they had no cares and no worries. The men had full packs. I realized after that aside from the trail fitness they had that I clearly lacked, thru hiker hikers and peak baggers differ in one significant aspect. Thru hikers care about distance and not time. Peak baggers care about time and not distance. So while I had a schedule to keep no matter how many miles I had to walk to get picked up and make sure my wife didn’t think I was lost or hurt. They walked as long as they wanted but they had to make the miles. Early or late, they had to eat up the miles.