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Thread: Carter Dome via the "back way"

  1. #1
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    Carter Dome via the "back way"

    I got an invite from my redlining friends to revisit Carter Dome from Carter Notch Road. It was cold morning driving south through Pinkham Notch before the sun popped up behind Wildcat but as I approached Jackson the leaves were definitely getting close to peak. All the parking lots at the various inns and hotels were packed as I drove up Carter Notch road. We parked at the end of the road and headed in via Bog Brook trail, water levels were low despite the some recent rain, the trailbed is obvious but blazing is nonexistent to spotty although there are occasional cross country ski trail markers. Once we crossed the forest service road (which is alternative route in high water conditions) the trail dried up and we made good time to the Rainbow trail junction after a minor diversion to do an out and back to pick up an intervening trail. We then headed up Rainbow Trail. It has been 20 years since I had done the trail and forgot how well built and graded this trail is. The big surprise was the birch glades. In my long ago visit, the glades were mature birches with a full canopy, its now big distinct open glades of dead birches surrounded by dense hobblebush. I expect the local moose are acting as pruners to keep any new major growth moving it. I am guessing the mature birches were killed off by the ice storm of 1998 and the moose have kept it open. We then went back into the woods that quickly transitioned to softwoods and came out on the southeast summit with its great view. The east summit is bit of a mystery, I dont think it gets a lot of traffic yet there is lot of evidence of heavy past use with lots of paths through the scrub and disturbed patches. Definitely a far better view then Carter Dome. Views were 100 miles plus and if the leaves in the area are not peak they are within the next week.

    We then did the final climb up to Carter Dome. I was quite surprised, it was around lunch time and there were only two folks on the summit. We took a short break and headed down to the hut. I must say, I really dislike the hike down to the hut in summer, descending steep bony trails are not my thing but the views do compensate for it. We only passed a couple of folks heading up. We got down to the hut and it was quite quiet. No caretakers around but plenty of snacks for sale. We had a few and then headed to the Rampants to sit in the sun and headed down. The Wildcat River trail is another well graded trail, there are some wet areas with bog bridges although some are starting to show their age. Like the Rainbow and Bog Brook trails, the blazing is generally spotty to non existent at best, the trailbed is obvious but with open woods I expect winter trail finding would be tough without a GPS track. Sooner than we expected we crossed the fire road quickly followed by the Bog Brook junction and then out to the car. We definitely made good time on the loop.

    I forgot how nice this loop is, I am quite surprised more folks do not do it as an alternative to the far busier route via 19 mile brook and Carter Dome Trail. There are definitely more views on the Carter Dome trail and overall the grading is as good or better. The trailbed is far less trashed with far less erosion. That means lots more bare ground and a softer feel underfoot Yes it does miss Mt Hight but the run over from the Dome doesn't add a lot of effort and the east summit definitely has a lot of the views( but not all) of Mt Hight. The other plus is the hike is on the east side of the ridge, that means earlier sun and things warm up quicker which is appreciated on a fall hike. The trade off of course is earlier afternoon shadows from the ridgeline but by then the temps have warmed up. I started out with a polypro top and bottom and ended up in shorts and tee shirt.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 10-06-2018 at 08:13 AM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Cumulus's Avatar
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    I've done these trails a couple times, but never as a day loop; both times it was the beginning and end of a backpack.

    I've always thought of Rainbow Trail, and the spur it goes over, as being south of Carter Dome, not east. Looking it at the map, though, I see it's southeast.

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  3. #3
    Senior Member Barkingcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    I forgot how nice this loop is, I am quite surprised more folks do not do it as an alternative to the far busier route via 19 mile brook and Carter Dome Trail.
    Sounds like a fine hike.

    An approach from the south is the only way we do Carter Dome these days, especially in winter. In winter, though, we do avail ourselves the luxury of using the Forest Service road to skip the first part of the Bog Brook Trail, since it's never been broken out when we've headed up, and the road is groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing. We'll often do an out-and-back via the road, Bog Brook, Wild River, and the Rainbow Trails. We never see a soul.

    Carter Notch from the south is beautiful any time of year. The views of the southern Presidential Range from the southeast summit of Carter Dome are spectacular in winter.

    Your comment about the difficulty of following the route in winter when in open woods was definitely an issue on the Rainbow Trail the first time I tried this, in particular through the aging birch glades -- until I figured out that there are enough old (30 years? 40 years?) axe blazes on the birch trees to follow the route, with care, before picking up the corridor in the softwoods. The Rainbow Trail runs along the western edge of the Wild River Wilderness, so you'll also see -- albeit rarely -- a Wilderness Boundary marker on trees along the trail.

    If I recall, the out-and-back to Carter Dome via the winter parking lot on Carter Notch Road (prior to the Bog Brook Trail trailhead) is just over 13 miles, and often involves breaking out the entire route. We don't mind it, though, given the serenity and views.
    Last edited by Barkingcat; 10-06-2018 at 12:29 PM.

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