Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Cold Windy Winter Hike to Carter Notch

The day started with wind-blown snow creating a hazy sky. I decided to start my hike a little later today in hopes that the sun may warm things up a bit and the wind would calm down. No such luck in either case. It was a day of howling wind and bitter cold.

I was concerned that the small parking lot for 19 Mile Brook Trail would be full so late in the morning and it also being a holiday. When I arrived there were still several spots available with one close to the trailhead. But let's face it, when there is over 7 miles of hiking ahead of you walking a few extra car lengths really doesn't matter even if my legs were a little tired from an afternoon of skiing yesterday.

There was a couple next to me getting ready to head out on the trail for Carter Notch Hut. They did not have snowshoes. We spoke for a moment agreeing that snowshoes were probably not needed after looking at the trail and noticing how well packed it was. I had also checked the trail report online and had read that it was well-packed to the hut. Another couple just returning from the hut confirmed that snowshoes were not necessary. Was also told that it would be very windy on the last steep to the hut and "biting" down on the lake. I took the snowshoes off my pack.

The wind was an omnipresent factor during the entire hike. While in the parking lot there was a cold breeze warning of things to come. Snow could be seen blowing off the high summits. As I started my hike the big wind was high above the treetops with a steady breeze and a tolerable occassional gust coming across the trail. The 19 Mile Brook was completely covered over with snow and very thick ice except for an occasional open pool or waterfall.

I stopped at the Carter Dome Trail junction and put on the microspikes. Didn't really need them for ice but it would help against sliding back in steep loose snow. After a brief rest I continued on up the 19 Mile Brook Trail.

It had cleared up nicely and there was lots of blue sky and sun. The bright sunshine did little to deter the cold other than give some psychological warmth. The wind continued to increase as I gained elevation. It could be heard howling in the treetops and I knew it was just a matter of time and elevation before it reached trail level. The constant sound of trees creaking and snapping was very unnerving. I kept a vigil eye open and up in the trees watching for falling limbs or worse.

I reached the couple that I spoke to earlier in the parking lot. It was at a spot where the wind met the trail and none of us wanted to linger over idle conversation. I let them know that we were almost there. One more steep to the top and the trail dropped down to the Carter Lakes and hut. The wind and bitter temperature were relentless for the rest of the way.

Dropping down to the lake I stopped briefly to take one photo and quickly moved on. There was some nice smooth ice out there but it was not a day for ice skating. In the distance I could hear the wailing of the wind anemometer at the hut. Wind meter in the hut indicated 20 to 25 mph sustained with 40 mph gusts. With temps at 0 to 5 degrees the wind chill was between -15 to -20 degrees below zero!

At the hut I wasted no time getting inside. It felt nice to be out of the wind. There were several hikers inside "warming up" even though the temperature was around 30 degrees. I opened my hiking thermos and the tea was still steaming hot after 2 hours in sub-zero windchills. The tea and something to eat was just what I needed. My inner layers were soaked with sweat and I changed into dry ones, sure felt good! After eating and a change of clothes I was ready to make my descent.

Back outside the hut I struggled to get my microspikes back on. My fingers were froze to the bone in less than a minute. I put my gloves on and set a quick pace to get myself warmed up again. In a matter of minutes I made my ascent to the Wildcat Ridge Trail junction and started my descent to the parking lot at Route 16.

While trying to get a drink I discovered my mouthpiece to my water bladder had froze solid even though I kept blowing the water back. I was unable to even remove it from the hose. So the entire mouthpiece went into my mouth and eventually thawed enough to unscrew it and I was able to get a drink. During a past hike the entire hose froze when I forgot to remove the water. I continued the rest of my hike without a hitch.

Cold, wind, tired legs - if even one of those factors had been removed it would have changed the dynamics of today's hike. Given the choice I would have opted for no wind. But there was sunshine, blue sky and a smooth trail that made for a great hike on a winter day!

A quiet section of 19 Mile Brook Trail

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!

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