Remember Lethe?

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Sep 4, 2003
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I saw a crossword clue "River of Forgetfulness" and remembered that I
hadn't reported back on this.

So where did the name Lethe come from, anyway?
I'm still not sure. It is not an official name according to the U.S.
Board of Geographic Names. Neither the first pseudo-scientific bushwhack
of the range nor the guy who built the trail (see below) seems to use
this name, and it doesn't appear in turn-of-that-century articles on
White Mountain place names in Appalachia or in books on that topic I
consulted. The earliest occurrence I found was in the 1907 "GUIDE TO THE
considered to be the first edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide) and
this was reprinted with minor edits through 1948 at least. While the name
is used in other writers' recent guidebooks, they probably all got it
from the AMC rather than from an independent source. Here's what it says:
"The Carter-Moriah Range is E. from Mt. Washington and the Northern Peaks
and comprises Surprise, (2,230 ft.) Moriah, (4,065 ft.) Imp, (3,735
ft.) N. Carter, (4,565 ft.) Lethe, (4,500 ft.) S. Carter, (4,645 ft.)
Middle Carter, (4,475 ft.) Hight, (4,710 ft.) Carter Dome, (4,860 ft.)"
"N. Carter to Carter Dome.
The path continues S., winding along the crest of the ridge, where
excellent views are seen of the Wild River Valley to the E. and S. E.,
but is generally in the stunted growth. Less than 1 M. from N. Carter
the trail crosses several boggy depressions in which water is sometimes
found. Just beyond the largest of these, and within 1/3 M. of S. Carter,
rises a bare peak over which the path leads, but just to the R. of the
summit. This is called Mt. Lethe and offers the most beautiful views
thus far. From this point may be seen the Northern Peaks, Washington,
Wildcat and Carter Dome."

I'm inclined to believe the suggestion of a Greek mythological origin
where Lethe is the river in the underworld from which you drink to forget
the past, although it could be an anagram of people's initials or the
name of a dog that fell into the swamp.

So what's with the Carter mixup?
The first recorded geographic research trip of the range (a bushwhack
backpack) in 1883 (reported by Miss Edith Cook in the April 1884
Appalachia) puts the Carter summits in their present order and assigns
them elevations as follows: Carter North 4511, Carter Middle 4561, Carter
South 4521, Carter Dome North [later Mt Hight] 4674. Similarly a report
of building the present Carter-Moriah Trail over the peaks by William G.
Nowell in the March 1886 Appalachia retains that order. The 1893 USGS map shows the order of Middle and South
Carter reversed (as in the guidebook description above), but the 1937
USGS map shows them back to the
present order. For some reason the 1948 AMC White Mountain Guide still
shows them reversed, and Steve & Mike's book says the present order
wasn't commonly used until the late '50s. (The book also gives a somewhat
different beginning which is why I have tried to cite sources.)

And which bump is Lethe?
There is no way to be sure but I don't think it is the "4584" bump. If we
assume that to be called "Mt Lethe" instead of "Lethe Ledge" or "Lethe
Gorge" it probably has at least one 20' contour, there are 3 possible
A) The "4584" bump at 44.3072°N, 71.1661°W (WGS84/NAD83) &e=327230.999962469&u=5&datum=nad83
which is shown on the AMC map as Lethe and recognized by the Trailwrights
as Lethe. It has the most prominence of the three but doesn't meet any of
the criteria in the original description.

B) The 4540+ bump at 44.3055°N, 71.1679°W (WGS84/NAD83)
which best meets the geographic criteria but doesn't have the appropriate

C) The 4560+ bump at 44.3047°N, 71.1683°W (WGS84/NAD83)
which seems the most likely to have had a name applied to it.

Consider what criteria the peak has from the preceding guidebook
1) It has an elevation some 65' below North Carter and 145' below S/M
Carter. With North Carter at 4520+ and Middle Carter at 4600+, all of the
candidates are too tall but "B" and "C" are closer than "A".

2) It is just beyond (S of) the largest boggy area. It is impossible to
know where the trail went in 1907 and where the worst mud was before a
century of forest growth and several decades of bog bridging, but "A"
comes before the largest area today and "B" is next beyond it.

3) It is less than 1 mile from NC and less than 1/3 mile from MC or about
75% of the way between. Bump "A" is about .50 miles from NC and .35 miles
from MC or 58% of the way which is too far from MC, while bump "C" is .71
miles from NC and .14 miles from MC or 84% of the way which seems too
close to MC. Bump "B" is .65 miles from NC and .2 miles from MC or 76%
which is just about right.

4) The correct peak should have views of the Presidentials, Carter Dome,
and Wildcat. This seems to be the most important criterion as a good
viewpoint seems most likely to have attracted a name.

HikerBob was kind enough to create a profile
showing that the very tip of Wildcat could be visible from 4584 "A", but
if so I didn't see it, and from the high point of the trail I didn't see
Carter Dome either. I followed a herd path which soon petered out and
then a thick bushwhack (think half an hour for .1 miles round trip) to a
pointy rock which may be the true summit of 4584. This had great views E
to the Baldfaces and you could see Carter Dome but still not Wildcat.

Here bump "B" loses out completely as bump "C" completely blocks any view
of Carter Dome or Wildcat.

Bump "C" has a lovely N-facing view ledge but scrubby trees block any
views S, however if you go a little farther the trail drops off and you
can see not only the summit of Wildcat but the whole ridge down to the
ski area. It is quite possible that a hundred years ago in 1907 that the
trees were small enough to see Wildcat from the N ledge, or else the
trail ran higher on the ridge so the view S was more open. Thus bump "C"
is my choice for the true Mt Lethe even though bump "B" better meets
several criteria. There is no particular reason to believe that bump "A"
was Mt Lethe.

So what's next?
I will keep my eyes open for this name but have no leads for future
research. Someday somebody may find an old letter in some attic talking
about the hike the peak was named on, but more likely everybody who knows
has passed on and it will forever remain a mystery.

I have suggested to the AMC White Mountain Guide committee that since
Lethe is not an official name and nobody knows for sure where it is, the
simplest thing would be to just remove it from the map and guidebook. I
have also suggested to the Trailwrights that since Lethe is not an
official name, nobody is sure where it is, and it doesn't have a 100-foot
col, it should be removed from the Trailwrights 72 list possibly with
Middle Hancock returning. I don't know if either group will adopt these


Active member
Oct 15, 2003
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southern nh
mysterious mountains

Nice report Roy, lots of interesting research. The mysteries of the mountains. Reminds me of West Tumbledown in ME, a formerly listed 3k peak that doesn't exist. Wasn't it Dennis C. who "discovered" that West Tumbledown wasn't there as shown on the map?


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Sep 20, 2004
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possible anagram?

Lethe when spelled backwards is EHTEL which can be made into the word ETHEL. Just my two cents.


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Feb 1, 2005
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Waltham, Mass.
It's not clear how much we can rely on the description you quote. Here's the problem:
"within 1/3 mi of S. carter". That would eliminate ALL of your candidates. Of course if the author meant middle carter than that argues in favor of your peak C.

I did some ray-tracing of my own, and I found that, absent trees or interference from each other, any of your three candidates (and also an extra candidate, Pt 4540+ at N 44.308477, W 71.67355) would have fine views of Wildcat A and D.

However, we can nearly eliminate your point B since its view of Wildcat is blocked by point C. You might be able to see a bit of Wildcat A, but not much.

Turning to the view to Carter Dome:

Point B is definitely out of contention. Its view toward Carter Dome is blocked by Pt C and/or by Middle Carter.

Pt Alpha can be eliminated too, for the same reason (plus a bit of extra blocking from Pt A).

Pt A might have a view of the eastern part of the dome, but the view of the summit is probably blocked by Middle Carter. So (except for the fact that it's highest), Pt A is a weak candidate according to this description.

That leaves Pt C, which does have an unobstructed view of both Wildcat and Carter Dome.

my map w/ ray tracings (1600x2000)

reduced size (800x1000)


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Sep 4, 2003
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nartreb said:
It's not clear how much we can rely on the description you quote. Here's the problem:
"within 1/3 mi of S. carter". That would eliminate ALL of your candidates. Of course if the author meant middle carter than that argues in favor of your peak C.
As mentioned earlier in the note, for some reason the names of Middle and South Carter were reversed for 50 years. The 1907 description continues over Middle Carter after South but I didn't extract that part.

dms said:
Wasn't it Dennis C. who "discovered" that West Tumbledown wasn't there as shown on the map?
"Rediscovered" is probably more accurate as the 5 previous completers must have noticed the missing mountain. I was with DC that weekend and it was an epic - bending rim & bumper in separate incidents, finding trees growing up inside fire tower, etc.
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