Over the weekend, I met up with Philip (of Sectionhiker.com) and Steve, both Appalachian Mountain Club trip leaders, for a two-night backpacking trip through one of the wildest regions of the White Mountains. The Wild River Wilderness is one of my favorite parts of the National Forest, though I spend very little time there. The Wilderness is a densely vegetated valley around the Wild River, walled in by the Carter-Moriah Range to the west, and the Baldface-Royce Range to the east. Both of these ranges are very popular with peak-baggers and day hikers, but deeper into the middle it gets wild in a hurry.
We started on Friday morning at the trailhead for the Nineteen Mile Brook trail, one of the most popular trails in the Whites since it leads directly to Carter Notch Hut. We had an early start on a sunny, cool day, but it was still a weekday, so the crowds were small. Most of the people we passed on the way up to the Carter-Moriah Range were peak-baggers, probably heading up to Carter Dome rather than Mount Hight, which was our destination. Hight, technically a shoulder of Carter Dome, doesn’t count as a 4000-footer, though the views from the peak are the best in the entire range.
From Hight, we walked up the Carter-Moriah Trail a short distance and then started down the Black Angel Trail. Black Angel goes all the way down to the Wild River, then back up to the other side of the Wilderness toward Meader Mountain. As soon as we turned off of the Carter-Moriah Trail (which is also the Appalachian Trail) it was obvious that we’d entered a more wild area. The trail was less eroded, thick with duff and soil, choked with roots and fallen twigs, surrounded by dense moss beds– everything felt more like a wild forest than like a well-trodden hiking trail.
Being three well-heeled hikers, we made faster time than expected, even with a ford of the Wild River. We pushed a few miles beyond our planned to camp, ending up for the day at the Blue Brook Campsite high on the shoulder of Mount Meader. Blue Brook, along with several other campsites in the Wild River Wilderness, once housed a lean-to, but has now been converted to a tenting site that I think is a lovely little area. The fifteen foot waterfall for a water source sure doesn’t hurt. We had an early evening, and I was asleep by 8 PM– I especially love backpacking in the fall, since early sundown means more sleep.
On Saturday morning, we awoke to a misty trail. We quickly gained the Rim Trail near Mount Meader, and walked the ridge along to Eagle Crag, then North and South Baldface, returning to Eagle Crag for the descent. As we walked along the ridge, the thick clouds broke, showing a welcome sight: to the east, as far as the eye could see, dense clouds hugged the ground below, while the land and sky to the west were perfectly clear. As we walked across the open saddle between the Baldfaces, the clouds shifted and swirled around us, but generally left a beautiful view all around. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but they don’t do the views the least bit of justice.
After the Baldfaces, we dropped into the Wilderness once again, this time on the Eagle Link Trail. Just like all the trails from the rim of the Wilderness, the Eagle Link heads down to the river, through dense vegetation with little sign of humanity. This time, rather than continuing across the Wild River back up to the mountains, we turned south on the Wild River Trail, walking along the headwaters of the river, crossing many heavily eroded tributaries. Part of the erosion and overgrowth is due to damage from Irene a few years ago, but there’s also a lack of trail maintenance here. Most people say that as a negative thing, but a place that gets little traffic and maintenance is great as far as I’m concerned (lots of traffic with little maintenance is the bad thing). Like I said before, it just feels more wild.
We moved on to Perkins Notch for the night, another campsite on the site of a removed shelter. I’d stayed at Perkins Notch in winter a few years ago, so the terrain looked familiar, but things are very different in summer. Perkins Notch is a beautiful spot, but not so great as a campsite. The campsite is a wind funnel, and the water source requires a swampy bushwhack. Luckily, we arrived just minutes before the rain started, so I was able to pitch my tarp in a decent spot. Philip and Steve, having more experience tenting in this area, warned me against pitching on the official tent pads. In the morning, they looked like swimming pools, so I was glad for that advice.
A friend in Conway described the rain on Saturday night as “epic,” and I’m willing to agree. It rained hard throughout the night, and for the first time in eight years my silnylon tarp didn’t hold up. Part of that was my own fault, for not getting up in the middle of the night to tighten the guylines– silnylon stretches when it gets cold and wet. After tightening the lines a little too late, a stake pulled out due to softening ground, and some of the saturated ground flooded beneath my ground sheet. Still, I got enough sleep and stayed dry enough that I could have stayed out another night if I’d needed to.
In the morning, we got an early start toward Carter Notch, stopping at the AMC Hut for a quick snack. It turned out to be the final day of the season for the crew, so we helped get blankets and food stores ready for helicopter pickup in exchange for leftover pancakes and good conversation. It turns out I’d even met the hut master on my AT hike in 2007, which was a big surprise.
The rest of the hike out was a mellow walk down the 19 Mile Brook trail, passing the turnoff where we’d headed up to Mt Hight two days earlier. By noon, it was another cool, sunny day with a brisk wind. I dried out some of my equipment in the parking lot, then headed home with my sanity-recharge (aka backpacking trip) complete.