Brian had to do trail maintenance, so our 3k pursuit was on hold for another week. I still have some 4k's to cleanup, and it was natural for me to want to get the most bang for the buck. Middle and South Carter were left over from my Carter Dome trip, but Wildcat “A” was still needed. Hmmmm. 14.5 miles and 5900' of gain. That's insane. Sounds good!
I got up at a sleepy 4:30, with the promise of clear skies, decent temperatures, and low humidity. Oh yeah. I arrived at the trailhead, and quickly got ready. A guy next to me quizzed me as to what my plan was. Uh oh, he wants company. This is my solo day. I love my solo days. My mind wanders free, I can go whatever pace I please, and a lot of junk gets cleared out. Don't be messing with my solo day. I told him my plans, and he said he'd just wait a while to see if anyone was going out and back, confirming my suspicions. Ta ta.
The trail was washed out by Irene in the beginning as I had heard, but otherwise was in good shape. Rockier than I remember, but I reminded myself it was snow covered last time I was here. Up to the Carter Dome junction in 35 minutes, just as expected, and I now was on new territory heading up to the notch. I've always wanted to climb the notch, seeing it so many times from afar. Today I would do it twice.
A pleasant climb brought me to the Wildcat Ridge Trail, and I could see Wildcat looming above. Ugh. 1000 feet up to get to that.
I figured this would be the worst, and I went up. And up, and up, but it was never that bad, and I was able to keep a slow but steady pace and was pleased to find some switchbacks. From the slide I could see the Dome covered in rime. Yoiks. Well, not too surprising since Washington was covered in snow. As I got higher, I then saw it. Snow. Yuck. I'm not ready for this.
Plenty of view spots along the way made the climb even more pleasant, then I came to a sign “USFS VIEW.” Really, I can see the USFS from here? Awesome!
The view was very nice, and I refueled and enjoyed it for as long as I dared. Still had lots to do today, and I had just barely started. I went further along the trail to find a place for a smoke off to the side, and while doing what is so out of place for a hiker, spotted something through the trees. A silver sliver on the horizon. Wow, the Atlantic Ocean. That's a first. I could even make out an island or group of islands out there, somewhere around Portland. Bitchin', what a day this was going to be!
OK, head down, which went quickly, and over to the ponds. The big one was pretty scenic.
The little one, which I knew was stocked, sure enough showed some minnows darting about. Hmmm, wonder if I can carry my float tube up here? I skipped checking out the hut, and started up the Carter-Moriah Trail. And it got right too it. Oh God, was I wrong about the Wildcat side being worse, this was terrible. A nice viewpoint along the way provided a needed rest.
I kept checking my altimeter, seeing the elevation tick off slowly, and finally got out of the worst of it to easy climbing. Except, that I was bonking and badly, already. I should be flying up this section, but barely 100 feet of walking brought severe weakness in my legs. They just didn't want to work anymore. Uh oh, this day looks like I'm going to be skipping the other Carters again. Argh. I struggled up to summit, and took a 15 minute rest, plowing as much food in my mouth as possible. I knew I'd be skipping Hight today, but I'm getting views like crazy already, and I couldn't deal with the steep descent possibly screwing things up. For now, I'd just go to Zeta Pass, take stock of how I'm doing and decide there.
That came quickly, and I felt ok going down enough to at least go for South Carter. I could always double back, and it'd be all downhill. The trail here was much less eroded, despite being a 4k trail, and very pleasant.
Ugh. Food helped, but the going uphill was still slow, but at least there wasn't a ton of elevation gain to be done, nor extended steepness. I came to the summit, and sat for a bit to figure out the next step. I didn't want to get caught in the South/Middle col with no way out but up. Looking over the WMG description and a map, both promised gentle grades. Well, I really didn't want to leave this straggler, and I did come out here to completely push myself, and time was on my side even though I had fallen back to even with the book time. OK, I'll go for it. Then it's all downhill, where I can pick up some serious speed and still be home at a decent time. Down, then indeed the grades were indeed a cinch, but then came bonk number 2. Crap, just what I feared. I've got very easy uphills, yet I could barely move forward without feeling exhausted. Time for the secret weapon. Sour Skittles. I sat until they were completely gone, and the rest helped, and then the sugar kicked in, and I was on Middle Carter. Hurrah!
I was having more great views on the way over, including some long look back at where I came from. Damn. The Bailmaster has persevered. Crap, still a number of bumps to go over. These proved to be easy, including Lethe, which gave an awesome view of the super ledginess of the Moriah range.
The last bump, and then the junction. True downhill now. I cooked it going down as best I could, but this was an eroded mess of boulders and roots. Pretty much rock hopping down most of it, this was killing my already tired feet. I cursed 4k trails, and wished for the soft trails of lesser used paths. I reached the Imp junction, the last milestone, and didn't like the 3.1 miles remaining back to Rt. 16. OK a little less than that, as I would be cutting out a section of that to get back to the trailhead quicker. Sigh.
Down, down, down, time froze, altimeter not nearly low enough, and I came to the turn near Cowboy Brook and heard the water roaring. This was the whack option, but the brook sounded bad, and I was less than thrilled with 0.6 miles of whacking (with some uphill) back to the 19MBT. Screw that, the second option, while a little longer would surely be quicker. So I came to the logging road coming up from Camp Dodge and went down to the road. Crap, it's uphill, but it was short. Back at the car at 4:15, a quick mental pat on the back, and I quickly got my gear stowed and drove right off.
Was treated to a roasted chicken dinner when I got home, which I inhaled. A great ending to a great day.