April 13, 2012: The Carters (South and Middle)
Trails: Camp Dodge Shortcut, Imp Trail, N. Carter Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Nineteen Mile Brook Trail
Summits: Middle Carter, South Carter
Hikers: Sleveless (Sandy), Trail Trotter (Sue), and me
We started this hike not really knowing what to expect as far as trail conditions were concerned. During the week the area received snow (some reports indicated 18+ inches at the higher elevations). There had also been warm conditions that took care of some melting. We assumed the new snow depth had been reduced to a point where snowshoes were not needed Ė just a guess. Our plan was a clockwise route via Camp Dodge shortcut. At Zeta Pass Sandy was planning to take a side trip and visit Carter Dome as well.
We had clear conditions until ~3000 feet where we had complete cover of snow and ice. Below 3000 feet the trail was pretty dry as well with very little mud. The nice smooth sidewalks of winter have been replaced by rocky, rough trails. By mid-July Iíll be wishing for winter to return. At the Imp Ė North Carter trails junction we took our first break on the climb. The snow was soft and sticky; yeah Ė snowman body parts. Sue went to work on her first snowman of the day, but there would be more. We were taking a pretty leisurely approach to the hike which might have been a little surprising to Sandy. We knew the hike was relatively short and with our start we were looking at a late afternoon finish. There was no need to push the hike too hard.
With the snowman done and the break finished we set off on the upper 1.2 miles on N. Carter Trail to Carter-Moriah Trail and the trip south over our targets. As we climbed the snow depth slowly increased. At the CMT junction we were working with ~ten inches of mashed potato snow. Had we brought snowshoes they would weigh twenty pounds each in this stuff, and not provide any needed benefit. Just plowing through was the only approach that made sense. On the ridge we pulled out extra layers. The forecast predicted ~20 MPH from the northwest at 4000 feet and it was probably on target. We had unlimited sun and plenty of blue sky to enjoy; the wind was easy to handle. We made the turn and headed south on CMT.
By the time we reached CMT the climb to Middle Carter was nearly done; from there was only .6 miles and 200 feet in elevation. Even with the deep sticky snow it was a short walk to the summit. There were a few places along the way where we had small steep ledge sections to get past that provided a small challenge due to slippery conditions but none of us needed more than two tries to get past any of these. A few weeks earlier on our last trip through the area the snow depth was significantly greater than now. The trail surface was a few feet higher making the trees seem a few feet shorter and the views approaching Middle Carter were terrific. Now, the trail surface has dropped and the trees are blocking many of the views. We did manage to enjoy the areas of open ledge near the summit. We hit the summit, Sue uncovered the small cairn located there, we got the usual summit pictures, and we set off for S. Carter.
I was hopeful the southern exposure of the trail would result in more melting but the conditions were generally unchanged. Roughly half-way to S. Carter we made another quick stop and Sue took advantage of the break with another trailside snowman. With the snow conditions of the day a short hike was ideal for Sue and her snowman habit. Besides, I enjoy her creations too; they add some fun to an otherwise dreary day. Back on the move we finished the walk to S. Carter, made a quick stop for summit pictures, and kept moving to Zeta Pass.
The hike to Zeta Pass was more of the same. We ran into a couple small areas that had melted off but the ~.8 mile section was generally covered with 8 Ė 10 inches of mashed potato snow. At Zeta pass we stopped to make a decision. Due to our plans for the next day, Sue and I decided against hiking Carter Dome. The trail had been tracked out and Sandy took off on the side trip for an April Carter Dome. Sue and I already had an April Carter Dome. We all said our goodbyes and I commented to Sandy that we would probably see her again on the trail or at the trailhead.
Sandy took off for Carter Dome and Sue dug into making a very large snowman creation to welcome visitors to Zeta Pass. This was another of her life-size snowmen. Even I was involved; lifting the large snowballs into place is a two-person job. While Sue was working on the snowman three others came through returning from Carter Dome. This is the group that tracked out Carter Dome Trail through Zeta Pass, which was Sandyís route. Unfortunately, as we learned later they stayed with CMT over Mt. Hight to Carter Dome. Sandy enjoyed limited benefit from their work. Between the lower and upper junctions with CMT Sandy was breaking trail. Eventually the snowman was finished and pictures taken. Sue also took pictures with her phone to send to family and friends but had a little trouble with the cell connection from Zeta Pass. Eventually, the photos were sent.
Roughly an hour after Sandy left us we started our hike to the trailhead. I assumed Sandy was probably at or very near the summit by then; perhaps even on her way back down. Sue and I took our time on the exit walk. I didnít want to beat my legs and feet up since they were needed for the next day. So, it was a very leisurely walk back out. Back under ~3000 feet and we were again on bare ground. The bottom .8 mile section of Carter Dome Trail was much less muddy than expected. We did very little rock hopping to stay clean in this section. We landed on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, made a short cookie stop, and were again underway for the final 1.9 miles to the trailhead. As expected, roughly three quarters of the way out Sandy came up from behind; she caught us. Once again grouped up we walked the dry, extremely eroded trail to the waiting vehicles.
We enjoyed a really nice day hiking The Carters with all three of us getting Grid check marks in the process. Iím glad Sandy was able to join the hike; I think we all had a good time together.
As always, thanks Sue for another fun day out.
Pictures will follow.