Friday, June 7, 2013


"I wonder if every pilgrim does not at this point laugh with pure joy and caper a bit on road-weary legs, for here in the gruesome depths of the great Notch, at the climax point of its wildness, is a little clear mountain lake where surely no lake could be, set in thousand-ton fragments of mighty broken
ledges." -- Winthrop Packard, White Mountain Trails, 1917.

Carter Notch, the deep rocky cleft between Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome, is one of the most dramatic pieces of scenery in the Whites. Tucked into the inner recess of the Notch are the two tiny Carter Lakes and the AMC Carter Notch Hut, whose oldest building dates back to 1914. Other attractions include the huge jumble of boulders known as The Rampart, and the bird's eye views available from the outlook near Pulpit Rock on the steep flank of Carter Dome, and the summit viewpoint on Wildcat Mountain. The Notch is a fine destination for a day hike whether you come in from the north by the popular Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, or from the south via the quiet Wildcat River Trail.

I hadn't been to the Notch for a few years, and decided to visit using the southern route starting at the end of Carter Notch Road in Jackson. Carter Notch Road is scenic as you head up the valley, and gets pretty steep nearing the end. The last 0.8 mi. to the small, primitive parking area for Bog Brook Trail is dirt and a bit rough.

There are three stream crossings in the first 0.7 mi. of Bog Brook Trail; the third one, over the Wildcat River, can be particularly troublesome. These can be avoided by walking 0.1 mi. up Carter Notch Rd. from the trailhead and turning right on gated FR 233, a gravel logging road. It's 0.4 mi. longer than the direct trail route, and is not very exciting, but it's quick and easy and well worth using if the water is at all high. Along the way you get a couple glimpses ahead to Wildcat Mountain.

At 1.4 mi. from the trailhead, where Wildcat River Trail crosses the logging road, I turned left and headed into the woods.

It occasionally runs alongside the Wildcat River, a federally designated "Wild and Scenic River."

A couple of miles up the valley, the Wild River Trail branches off for the beautiful Wild River valley.

After crossing the Wildcat River on slippery rocks, I made a short bushwhack to a cascade on a side stream.

The next mile of the Wildcat River Trail is a wonderful stroll through hardwood and birch forest high on the west side of the valley.

It had been a very gray morning, despite predictions of sunny skies, but there was an occasional brighter break.

A neat gnarled old yellow birch beside the trail.

A beautiful hardwood glade.

One of the goals for the hike was to investigate a slide shown on Google Earth on the side of Wildcat Mountain, presumably caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. I had no trouble finding the slide, as the outwash had swept right across the trail.

I whacked through the woods to bypass a steep part of the slide, then came back onto it. Just a year and a half after the slide fell, revegetation was well underway on the sections with soil.

Much of the slide was a jumbled mass of rocks.

A torn-off tree protrudes from the rubble.

A gateway between huge rocks.

The eastern wall of Wildcat Mountain looms ahead.

I climbed to the top of the wider part of the slide and looked up a the steep and narrow upper part.

I clambered up onto a boulder at the edge of the slide for a unique view up to the rocky bowl high on the flank of Carter Dome.

Looking down the slide to Rainbow Ridge, the SE spur of Carter Dome.

A view from the slide out towards Black Mountain with Chandler Mountain peeking over in the back.

After visiting the slide, I tried to contour across the slope back to the trail. Big mistake - I ended up in some nasty terrain full of large boulders and moss-covered holes. I ended up having to go back downhill, slowly and very carefully.

Back on the trail, I made the final rather steep climb to the notch through a dense spruce forest. There were still some Painted Trilliums in bloom up here.

Arriving at the Notch, I made the short side trip out to the Rampart.

Looking up to the crags on Carter Dome whence the boulders came tumbling down, eons ago.

Looking north to the height-of-land in Carter Notch.

Wildcat looms on the west side of the Notch.

Looking south over The Rampart to a glimpse of Black Mountain. The wind was roaring like a freight train through the Notch and almost blew me off my rock perch, so I didn't stay here too long.

Back on the main trail, I passed the two bunkhouses of Carter Notch Hut.

The main hut building, constructed of stone in 1914. I went inside for a look around, chatted with a friendly croo member, and refilled a water bottle. It appeared it would be a zero night for guests, not unusual I suppose for midweek in early June.

Below the hut I paused to admire the Carter Lakes. From the shore of the upper lake I could see Pulpit Rock jutting out from the ridge of Carter Dome, with a ledgy outlook just to its left. I had thought about ascending Wildcat Mountain, but it was getting on in the afternoon, and the Pulpit Rock outlook involves half as much climbing as Wildcat. Plus, I think it has a better view.

Looking back at Wildcat from the other shore of the pond.

From the shore of the pond, the Carter-Moriah Trail starts out moderately, but then shoots up a long, steep, rocky pitch, gaining 600+ ft. in just 0.3 mi.

The first outlook along the climb gives a preview of the Pulpit Rock outlook.

The main outlook (ca. 3900 ft.), reached by a marked side path, has a wide view south down the Wildcat River valley to Kearsarge North, the Moats, the Sandwich Range and other peaks. By now the sun ruled the sky, and though the wind was still gusting, this spot was somewhat protected.

A nice perspective on the Sandwich Range.

Pulpit Rock juts out close by to the left.

Looking down at the Carter Lakes, soon to be engulfed by afternoon shadows.

Wildcat Mountain looms over the ponds, the hut and The Rampart.

There is a serious dropoff below this perch.

Late in the afternoon, the Northern Presidentials emerged from the clouds.

The steep section of trail is almost as slow going down as going up.

Lower Carter Pond, after the sun dipped behind Wildcat.

On the way out Wildcat River Trail, I paused to look at a number of ribbons marking areas where trail work is planned in the near future by the AMC trail crew. I highly recommend this route to Carter Notch!


  1. "I highly recommend this route to Carter Notch!"

    I'm sold Steve. That is one great looking trip. I visited The Rampart for the first time last summer and did not play around in there as much as I wanted to. Very cool views from that slide. I assure you my return trip will be via this route.

    Now that's a boot shot! :)

    Thanks for sharing,

  2. Thanks, Joe - I think you'll like this route.

    That definitely is an "airy" spot for a boot shot!


  3. First of all, I'll second the motion about this being a great route to Carter Notch. I much prefer it over the 19-Mile Brook approach.

    Besides the "airy boot shot", I also admired that vista you captured from the slide when looking upwards toward the rocky bowl high on the flank of Carter Dome.

    And lastly, regarding your off-trail encounter with the nasty terrain full of large boulders and moss-covered holes, it conjured up memories of a similar encounter you and I had several years ago when bushwhacking up Slide Brook on the west side of the Kinsmans.


  4. Thank you, John. I remember that area on Kinsman. In such places the mantra is "proceed with caution"!