I think I’ve backpacked the Carter Range multiple times and although wild and rugged, it is not the most dramatic, so I was not the most enthusiastic to head out with my son to catch him South and Middle Carter for his 4000 footer list! The only thing that excited me was the day with him! So I was pleasantly surprised to be able to see it in a whole new light and really really have an enjoyable day despite the threat of thunder that held with us all afternoon!
We began on the 19 Mile Brook Trail which is also the most direct access to Carter Notch Hut. We
didn’t go that direction but headed left on the Carter Dome Trail, 1.9 miles up. Both of these trails are easy to moderate inclines. The Carter Dome Trail does eventually go uphill stronger but remains for the most part moderate. Both also follow really attractive rivers which provide water for those with a filter. When you cross the river from right to left and start going uphill stronger on the Carter Dome Trail, you are at your last easily accessible water of this hike until the downhill on the other side.
We took a break at where the Carter Dome Trail leads into Zeta Pass and finished up our breakfast. South Carter was next at hand and it was a CLIMB! We were glad we’d had the long warm up beforehand. Not a lot of views on top here but some pleasant little rocks to take a break on. Between South and Middle Carter however we found several AWESOME outlooks that I know I had no memory of and at one place we realized we were just on the edge of alpine terrain with vistas all around.
Middle Carter likewise did not have a view from the top. In fact we missed it completely until 30 feet after it when we came out on a wonderful open ledge and realized there was nothing higher in front of us anymore! We enjoyed that ledge as well and then began the descent to the North Carter Trail. Found several more wonderful outlooks along the way and honestly the ridge even without the views was so darned pleasant! We went back and forth between rugged rocky sections which were fun to figure out and which got us breathing hard, and the most mellow bog bridges on mossy even ground!
We turned left on the North Carter Trail and began our descent. This actually had us the most
nervous as we both have knee issues so we were very happy to notice that we were talking along and not even noticing we were going downhill! We turned right on the Imp Trail and began heading over to Imp Face, racing thunder and thunder clouds the whole way.
Now we came into water sources again, crossing several good ones as we crossed the slope towards the cliff. We took a good break at the cliff and enjoyed the expansive views of thunder storms everywhere but on us! We expected to get wet and chased off the cliff any moment but we never did! Never even saw lightening..just thunder clouds everywhere! The last decline did take a bit out of our knees
but we were also at the end of our eleven mile day. We got down to the brook crossing 1/2 mile in from the road and dunked our heads to cool us off from the heat and humidity. Then out we headed for showers and supper!
If you want drama, you don’t find it as rampantly in the Carters but you do definitely find beauty, wildness, ruggedness, and serenity! If you’re interested in this hike you can find it in the AMC White Mountain Guide or on AMC Map #5 Carter Range/Evans Notch.
You may be wondering why we were hiking on a stormy day anyways! We actually had planned a 16 mile hike onto Mt Washington and chose this hike instead because of the storms. There is ALWAYS a risk when there is thunder storms. We felt our risk was minimized because we were below treeline the full hike, we expected to be over the high point by the time the storms moved in (we were) and we had appropriate rain gear with which to weather a storm. If you don’t feel comfortable with risk management on a stormy day, don’t go out. Hiking is always a practice of risk management.
As always you can call us here at Pinkham to see what we’re seeing out our windows and for the best trail advice we can give you!
We are available by phone at (603)466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Please call AMC Lodges and Huts, at (603)466-2727, available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm.
AMC Backcountry Information Specialist