There has been a whirlwind of activity over the past month and especially, the past week. I had been transitioning out of my current job as a Community Mental health Therapist and this was the final week to get all my paperwork done and filed in charts for my seventy someodd patients at the clinic. I would be on vacation for Thanksgiving and then a new life would unfold. Along with that came the usual mix of emotions while leaving a job and starting another, holiday pressure (self-imposed more than likely), and of course my November goals on the trails (Not to mention December was fast approaching). I knew I needed to finish the Carter’s and I wanted Franconia Ridge done too except I wanted a view in the worst way this time around! I had an offer to grab Isolation with Gumbyhiker and Heather and jumped at the chance for the bonus peak. My weekend and into my between job vacation was set and it all started with Carter Dome.
Friday night, I packed up all the food and all the supplies I would need for three days as I was planning on being at the Heather Hostile for that length of time. It was going to be good and I was looking forward to hiking with the group I had not really seen since July. Not to mention our friend John who I have yet to share a trail with would be there too. Saturday though, belong to Isis and I as we set our sights on Carter Dome. As I packed up, the song "I'm About To Come Alive" by Train kept playing in my head so, I pulled it up to listen too as I packed. Music was always with me on and off the trails. The alarm went off and as was typical of me, I was already awake. It was simple enough to load the car and hit the road. I opted to stick to I93 instead of getting off at exit 23 and going the back way to the Nineteen Mile Brook trail head. It was the same amount of time to take the high way through Franconia Notch. No views today so, I just had to settle for an easier ride than the snowy side roads
We pulled into the trail head and there was a peculiar green box marked electrical/high voltage sitting at the AMC Kiosk and no one seemed to know why it was there. Isis and I stopped to talk with two other hikers, older gentlemen who were heading out to South and Middle Carter and it seemed that they ran in the same circles as we did.I was pleased that there was no mentioning of numbers, months, or totals. It was just three people and a dog out to enjoy the trails. Isis and I set off first and I reminded her that we’ve done this before. Just like when I split the Carter’s the very first time I did them. There was a light sugar coating of snow on the trail at the lower half of the nineteen mile brook trail and that was just enough to obscure any ice. I was doing well though with my footing and saw no need to traction yet and knew it would come soon enough. The water was flowing a little higher and it was also freezing in the temps making all kinds of ice sculptures for Isis and I to look at. One of my favorite things about this time of year was the water freezing. Not just for the water crossings to be bridged, It also looked so pretty as we walked the trails.
My thoughts were on the next two hikes already and I tried to think of how this could be pulled off. Three days of hiking was an awful lot for my little dog and then again, she was such a powerhouse now that it may not phase her. So, I resolved to go for it and take precautions of we needed to turn back at any time. The snow was lightly falling and the temps were good. I slipped out of my gloves to let my hands breath and felt fine. I didn’t need my heavy parka which I had packed, just in case. I was not so sure I would not need it getting closer to the summit. Temps were falling into the negatives and would keep falling through tomorrow. I was also testing out my new pack (Gregory Jade 38) as well and loving it as we walked up the trail and it felt as though I was carrying air. We continued to walk up the nineteen mile brook trail and took in all that was around us. Stopping every now and then to look at the river or to look into the woods, Isis was ever inquisitive. We made it to the first junction and stopped for a granola bar as well as a few dog biscuits. The older gentlemen caught up to us and they greeted Isis again with as much enthusiasm as before. They commented that it may not be far that I was using her to pull me up (referring to her leash). At the risk of not stopping too long in the cold, we parted again and I knew that I would see them at the next junction.
The trail continued to be pretty easily navigated. No real issues beyond ice and snow. The watercrossings were all manageable however, I still carried Isis over them so that she did not get soaked and froze. At the last crossing before the switchbacks, I was over taken by a married couple who were out hiking and thinking they could get all the Carter’s today. It seemed ambitious for them. I talked with them a little as we hiked up and it seemed that they were on their way to an all season round of the forty-eight. Except their season was just October to December. They let me pass them after the switchbacks and I was on my way again at a decent pace. I stopped to put on my spikes as well considering the ice was building up under foot. There were very few issues as I was climbing this section of the Carter Dome trail. Isis was in great spirits and listening quite well. We soon came to the next junction and stopped for some food again. Isis had some of her trail mix and I pulled out my thermos of Thai Sweet Potato Curry soup. In my opinion, this was the only way to eat in winter. Hot soup on the trail really does something for the soul. The married couple came up shortly thereafter and remarked about what a good idea it was to have the soup. I only smiled and kept eating. They then asked for directions and were on their way. Isis and I too began our summit bid and began heading up the way we did two weeks ago.
The wind was howling and the snow was about three inches on the trail. Isis and I were the only footprints from here on out. The trail was frosted over and looked really pretty. We passed the junction for Mt. Height and the Zeta Pass and then I saw it, the trail sign for The Back Angel trail. I remembered how Scott would talk about exploring this section of the wilderness and how much fun it sounded and how I looked forward to it. My curiosity was aroused back then and it still held today. I gasped and exclaimed “There it is… The Back Angel Trail”. I vowed to explore it next summer. Isis and I were getting closer to the summit and making great time. She was having a great day in the snow and as we came up over the rise in the trail, I saw the cairns. Taking her to the furthest one, I gave the command. “Up!” and she climbed the cairn. Isis had her thirtieth New Hampshire four thousand footer. For fun, I did a selfie on the summit and then I set up the tripod for a real picture.
Two younger college kids joined us. They were in sneakers and had high hopes of getting over the Wildcat’s. I asked them to do me a favor and not try that. I explained that it’s very much about their safety and also the safety of the rescue squad that would have to come out and help them. They had vey little gear between them and at least they had a map. I left them to debate their next move and Isis and I made our way back down. No issues going down the trail, we just took it slow and I gave extra commands to slow and stop. The junctions passed us by and we made it back to the larger junction were you turn off for south and middle Cater. Here we stopped for more food and two other hikers came to us by way of South Carter. They were toying with Mt. height as well as The Dome and I told them how steep it was which changed their minds to just the Dome. Isis and I got under way again and it would not be long now before we made it back to the car. Conditions warmed as we made our way down. There was still ice to contend with and I took 3 nasty falls on my left wrist. Coming down hard as I foolishly put my hands down to brace myself and landing on the wrist with all my weight was not my best move (it was sheer instinct). It did not feel broken as I examined it on the last fall. However, I knew I would need to monitor it and I hoped that it would not put my other two hikes in jeopardy. Let alone the winter season fast approaching
Back at the car, Isis and I changed and began making our way over the Heather’s. Her and Gumbyhiker were on the Bonds today and would be a few hours before they came out of the woods. In that time, I got some coffee to warm myself up and somewhere in that time, I had made the decision to rest Isis before we took Franconia Ridge on Monday. It would have been great to hike with those two as I had been looking forward to being reunited with them since July. It just was not in the cards yet and I knew that our hike would come soon and because of this decision, it meant that I was bound for home again instead of hiking Isolation that Sunday. I was OK with this because of how loudly Franconia Ridge was calling me. Monday would be a very early day and a late night. Isis and I would need every ounce of energy and that meant that Sunday would be a zero day for us and I just hoped that I was not going to the ER for a visit….