Wildcat Ridge Trail to Wildcat D Summit

July 15, 2016
The view from the ski area summit, looking over at Tuckermans Ravine and Mount Washington...looks a little different than I am used to
The view from the ski area summit, looking over at Tuckerman Ravine and Mount Washington…looks a little different than I am used to

As a third generation Wildcat Mountain skier, Wildcat is a pretty special place to me. Not a season has passed during my 22 years on this Earth where I haven’t been on Wildcat, whether it be in the daycare or on the slopes. The skiing has a reputation as being steep, rocky, and unforgiving. The hiking trail is not any different.

In total, Wildcat has five peaks. They are labeled Wildcat Mountain, Wildcat B, Wildcat C, Wildcat D, and Wildcat E. The Wildcat Ridge Trail runs along all of them, eventually meeting up with Carter Notch. Due to time restraints, I could only get up to Wildcat D, which is the summit of the ski area. This is the first time I have done this trail in at least six years, but boy did it remind me quickly what it’s all about!

I started my journey at the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. I walked across the street and jumped onto the Lost Pond Trail. There are two ways to access the Wildcat Ridge Trail from this side. You can either do what I did and start at the AMC or park at Glen Ellis Falls Parking lot, where the trailhead is located. But for this blog’s purpose, we are just going to focus on my approach.

The Lost Pond trail is a beautiful little trail that runs parallel to the Ellis River and eventually comes along the Lost Pond, which is a beautiful and peaceful pond about 3/4 of the way along the trail. There was a painter out on some rocks interpreting the landscape but I didn’t have enough time to check out how it was coming out (he looked very legit though). The trail itself consists of mainly rocks and mud. It has a bunch of little ups and downs, even though you only gain 50 feet in elevation. If you walk along that trail for a little under a mile, you’ll meet up with the Wildcat Ridge Trail. It should be noted that both the Lost Pond Trail and the Wildcat Ridge Trail are part of the Appalachian Trail.

The Wildcat Ridge trail is where things get interesting. In length, it is about 2.1 miles to Wildcat D summit, but let me tell you, it seems like a lot longer than that! The reason is simple…it’s very steep and rocky and it all starts immediately…about fifty feet after the start of the trail. All of a sudden you look up, and essentially see a rock face! This sets the tone for the rest of the hike. Again, I did this hike pretty quickly so please excuse my lack of details (and pictures). All of the rock faces kind of blend into one!

After the first rock batch, you think to yourself that it can’t be like this all the way and that it can only be the first little bit. While the first half is certainly tougher than the second half, it is steep and rocky CONSTANTLY. About 15 minutes into the trail, you come across yet another steep and rocky bit, where you certainly need to use your hands to grab and support you. This is where you also get the first of the amazing views. You round a corner to stand on top of a giant rock and all of a sudden the trees clear out and you get an awesome view of Mount Washington in all of her glory. As someone who works at Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, it is pretty cool to look back at us. This is a good spot to also shed any layers that you might have started with, because this trail burns some serious calories. After a quick break, I got back to it. With this trail, it flattens out for a minute or two, and then has yet another rock cropping that has to be conquered. Wildcat Ridge Trail (especially this part) has been dubbed the “relentless stair climber” and for good reason. In fact, in two or three separate spots, there have been actual wooden steps installed into the rock because it is too steep and smooth to be climbed (thank you Trail Crew!). Even with these, you’re going to have to use your hands to help you (or at least I did, they are pretty steep).

The second part of the trail turned out to be not as bad. There are a lot of sections where you have to lift yourself up and lower yourself down, but other than that, it is nothing compared to the first half. Dare I say, it’s actually enjoyable. When you are really pushing yourself, like I was, this section is a nice break, and you can feel yourself getting close. A little before the ski area, you hit Wildcat E summit. Personally, I didn’t even notice it. In fact when I hit D summit, it was a complete surprise to me. I rounded a corner, and boom! There it was. An extremely welcome sight! The trail dumps you out right at the ski area summit where there is a ski patrol lodge, a ski lift (which is converted into a gondola in the summer for scenic rides) and a bunch of ski trail heads. If you wanted to continue onto the ridge trail, you would go behind the ski patrol shack and continue to go up.

For the way down, they tell you to hike down the Polecat Ski Trail, which is a 2.2 mile long green circle (the longest in New Hampshire). I started on Polecat, but then quickly traversed over to some other trails, which I like to ski and yearned for. The hike down wasn’t bad at all, except there was some high grass so I had to continually check myself for ticks and other bugs that I wouldn’t want on me.

Overall, returning to Wildcat was a wonderful experience. I wish I had more time to stop and smell the roses, but I certainly got the workout I was looking for. The hike itself is pretty hard on the legs and knees due to the amount of rocks and sheer steepness of the trail. It is a strenuous and technical hike, and should be treated as such. But if that’s what you are looking for, I highly encourage this hike as I had an absolute blast with it!

Happy Hiking!


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Joyce Scott

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.