Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wildcats Carters Wild River Long Loop

Manitou’s Revenge 54 Mile Ultra was on my mind from the day I signed up in February of this year. Steep terrain, unfamiliarity with the course/area, and potentially warm weather all were factors in this race’s difficulty as well as already knowing about its notoriety from other runners accounts before. My wife and I decided to make it a destination race this year, bringing the kids, and use it as an opportunity to explore the Catskills area of New York for the first time. It would be good to have people cheering for me and assisting me at key spots in the race to help me get through the day and in good spirits.

Manitou's Revenge 54 Mile Ultra profile, 13,500' of climbing
A big preparation run for me was in order a few weeks prior to the June 18th race date and I planned out a loop exploring some different areas through the Wildcats and Carters range of the White Mountains in NH. I wanted to attempt a route that would have around 10-12,000’ of climbing and would take me anywhere from 10-12 hours to complete, and the loop that I put together did not disappoint on both factors. The plan was to go up the Wildcat Ski Area trails and across the Wildcat Ridge Trail to Carter Notch Hut, following the Appalachian Trail up Carter Dome, Mt. Hight, and the remaining Carters to Moriah Brook Trail on the side of Mt. Moriah. Then I would head down a 5 mile downhill into Wild River Valley before coming back up about 3,000’ to Carter Dome via the Black Angel Trail. From there, I would repeat the first section I came across from Carter Dome back to the Wildcat Ski Area.

I got to the trail head at 3AM and started my trip out in style by forgetting that I took my map out of my bag and placed it in the van. Thankfully I remembered that fact about a half mile in, headed back downhill and got my map only to start over on the trip. After retrieving the map, I started to make my way up Wildcat’s Polecat Trail in the less than 20’ visibility through fog. The temperatures were balmy at 64 to start and light winds, with the forecast being in the clouds for part of the day and a low threat of rain. The trail was pretty easy to follow although I did take one wrong turn on a different trail and just kept going up before meeting back up with the Polecat Trail. I made it to the top of the mountain in 45 minutes at a decent pace and came across the Wildcat Ridge Trail in the dark over the wet rocks and roots. Getting to the vista at Wildcat A before sunrise didn’t offer any views except of someone sleeping in their bag, whom I tried not to wake.

Carter Notch Hut, from later in the day

I made my way down from Wildcat A to Carter Notch and the hut to fill my bottles quietly and head out on the next climb to the highest point of the day at Carter Dome (4,832'). This climb I have done one other time in 18" of snow and was prepared for the ~1,500' steep slog. Once arriving at the summit I planned to visit Mt. Hight, home of the best views in the Carter Range. At Hight I encountered an irate Ruffed Grouse and kept my distance, since I've heard these animals can chase people down if you get too close.

Carter Dome summit clearing in the clouds
Presidential Range in the distance above the trees at Carter Dome
Ruffed Grouse, or mountain chicken, strutting around near the summit of Hight

Presidentials clearing from Mt. Hight 

Clouds blanketing the Carters

Daylight piercing through clouds along the Carter-Moriah Trail

Typical trail conditions along the Carter-Moriah Trail
More views somewhere between Middle and South Carter Mts.

Sea of clouds covering the Maine line
Nice section of bog bridges approaching Imp Shelter

Wild River Wilderness border, just as I dropped down 3,000' into the Wild River Valley along the Moriah Brook Trail
Moriah Brook
Painted Trillium along Moriah Brook Trail

Moriah Brook widening at one of the many crossings, as it approaches Wild River
Lady Slipper

Great section of the Black Angel Trail heading towards Carter Dome
The rest of the way across the Carters along the Carter Moriah Tr./AT was uneventful as I made my way towards Moriah Brook Trail and the long drop into the valley. The trail through is here is much less traveled than any others I've visited before and the last maintenance done on some sections of bog bridges/logs placed over wet sections seemed like it was done quite a few years prior. That is part of the mystique that intrigued me about the area, and it did not disappoint. This was such a scenic and lush section of woods that, although it was slow moving through, had me guessing whether I was on the trail still or not. I did not see another person from Imp Shelter all the way to the junction of the Wild River Trail and the Highwater Trail and it was as meditative an area as I've ever seen in the wild. Taking note of the tree cover change from spruce and fir at the top elevations to nice beech and silver maple glades with jungle-like ground cover flowers, I picked my way down to the Highwater trail which continued to have me questioning whether I was on a trail. It was relatively easy to follow except for a couple turns that I had to backtrack a bit on.

After 8 or so miles of wandering in the Wild River Valley and it's many river crossings, I made it to the Black Angel Trail and the start of the 5 mile/~3,000' climb up to Carter Dome's flanks. I hiked this section uphill at a pretty slow pace after already having 20 miles on my legs and before I knew it I was joining back up with the Appalachian Trail/Carter-Moriah Trail and making my way back to the start of my run over the Wildcat peaks. Filling up water and grabbing some of their high-calorie gooey chocolate oatmeal snacks at Carter Notch Hut, I talked with one of the Croo members about ultrarunning, which he was into. I told him about the fun I had that day along this wonderful route and mentioned that he should run the Wapack and Back race my wife and I organize. Making my way across the Carter Lakes section and back up Wildcat A, I knew that almost all the climbing was over with and I coasted across the ridge and back to the top of the ski area. The footing along the access road was a relief and I made good time coming down the mountain in around 28 minutes.
That was a tough climb up Black Angel

Mountain Splits
Wildcat D (Ski Area 4,062'): 45 minutes, 2.7 miles
Wildcat A (4,422'): 1:21, 4.4 miles
Carter Dome (4,832'):  2:15, 6.4 miles
South Carter (4,430') : 3:06, 8.4 miles
Middle Carter (4,610') : 3:28, 9.5 miles
Moriah Brook drop down: 4:38, 12.8 miles (after stopping at Imp Shelter)
Start of Black Angel Trail uphill: 6:41, 20.4 miles (slow through this section)
Carter Dome (visit #2): 8:35, 25 miles
Wildcat A (visit #2): 9:57, 27.6 miles
Wildcat D (visit #2): 10:33, 29 miles
Total trip: 10:59:21 total of 31.5 miles, 11,870’ climbing

Strava route info here

I feel this route and training run was a success and I thoroughly enjoyed getting out of my head for a long period and just experiencing the trail in front of me. It got me ready for the pace and footing I would encounter at the Manitou's Revenge 54 mile race, which I will be writing up a report about soon. I used the same shoes and socks that I was prepared to use at the Manitou's race, the Darn Tough Herringbone and Inov8 Roclite 315s, and in tandem they worked great on the wet rocks/swampy trail areas and I had no blisters at the finish. I would highly recommend this route to anyone that wants to bag a few peaks as well as do some remote wilderness wandering in one of the nicest areas I've seen in the White Mountains so far. Plenty more to explore though.

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