Sunday, October 5, 2014

Family Hike #4: Carter Notch Hut, NH

Hike #18: Carter Notch Hut with kids
Elevation: 3,288
Date: September 13-14, 2014
Location: Coos County, NH
Distance: 7.6 miles over two days
Time: 6:53
What a waste of a year! A foot injury has killed the season. When planning vacations and bigger activities at the start of the year, we booked a mid-September weekend at the Carter Notch Hut with my daughters. I’d done it a year earlier and had a phenomenal time, and wanted to share that experience with them. It would push them to a higher elevation than they’d ever climbed, and the hut would be both fun and a way to reduce their pack loads. So, I was determined to ignore the injury and make the most of the hike, and shut it back down for the year afterwards.
Group selfie at the start of the Carter Notch hilke!
Despite their dislike of exertion, sweating, and muscle fatigue, my girls enjoy the gearhead aspect. The night before, the girls were excited as we sorted supplies and clothes, figuring out the right combination, packing clothes in big Ziploc bags to keep them dry. They pondered, questioned, learned, took suggestions, and made decisions. It was good to see their seriousness as they both trusted our experience and took ownership.
The air had a pleasant chill when we arrived at the trailhead after a long drive. We geared up, took some selfies, and set out. Cars overflowed the lot into the road in both directions. But the good news in setting out later than most was that we had the trail pretty much to ourselves.
Alright ladies: everyone stop and admire the scenic brook!
No handrails? No problem!
The plan was to hike up to the saddle between the summits of Carter Dome and Wildcat, along the well-maintained, gently sloped trail that ran just under four miles. The climb was perfect for the girls’ abilities and so much fun. They stopped occasionally for food breaks and enjoyed some delicious snacks. They asked about the environment around them, such as the out-of-place dam for such a small brook. They learned, such as about leave-no-trace principles. They engaged with their surroundings, including snapping pictures of the small waterfalls or a patch of wildflowers alongside the trail. They demonstrated admirable delayed gratification, such as refusing to eat their cupcakes until they reached the hut. They showed respect, such as protecting a caterpillar in the middle of the trail that was in prime position to get squashed. And they demonstrated bravery, at some water crossings.
Admiring the view of a high mountain
pond and Wildcat's summit.
The hike took almost four hours, about twice as long as last year, but I couldn’t care less. The four of us were immersed in our journey and the world around us. We also constantly morphed: at times the four of us conversed. Then we’d break off into pairs before one kid drifted to another person to listen in on a story, ask a question, or just bond anew. Then we’d converge back together, such as guessing how long the Fruit By the Foot snack would be, if fully unrolled (answer: three feet).
Once we crested the 19-Mile Brook Trail and were really close to the hut, the wind picked up noticeably. It was funneling between the mountains and gathering strength, and carried a cool, raw feel. But we descended slightly from the crest and lingered by the high mountain pond, snapping pictures and absorbing the beautiful scenery. As we continued on, the hut was close by and the girls’ energy picked up knowing they were close.
Time for unpacking, snacks, and comfy clothes!
We checked in and were assigned our own bunk room, which was perfect. Turns out I would stay in the same room and bunk as a year earlier. The girls enjoyed unpacking, setting up their beds, and deciding on the comfy clothes to wear. Composting toilets? Notsomuch, but better than digging a hole.
Back in the main lodge, they warmed themselves on the plentiful hot chocolate and we snagged the hut’s Scrabble game for some fun while munching on cheese and pepperoni we’d packed in. Sarah, who hates pepperoni, nevertheless chowed on it, proclaiming, “it’s soooo gross. But I can’t stop eating it!” At dinner, Sarah and Sydney were hungry and wiped out so they fought to stay awake, hands propping up heads, as we adults talked to a family next to us. But after several helpings of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, they came around a little. Despite their hunger, it was good to see prior lessons staying with them; they took small helpings and cleaned their plates, knowing leftovers had to get packed out by an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) staff member.
After dinner, we retired to the bunk room. The girls got a second wind and stayed up surprisingly late. That made for a lot of highlights, some quirky. On the good side, Sarah noticed a big gap under the door and we blocked it with spare clothes, instantly warming the room from the outside temps in the 30’s. Less pleasant (but funny) was when one of the girls next to us at dinner lost her winter hat in the composting toilet and insisted her mom go in and retrieve it – not happening! Sarah was reluctant to use that stall the rest of the night out of consideration. But mostly the girls liked wearing sleeping bags and headlamps, chatting and laughing. Sure, Sarah got scared at one point about my creepy tale of local madman Earl Farthead (pronounced "far-the-add"). But once I forced her to spell the last name, she clued in and dropped the fear. I decided not to push things by sharing too much about my fictitious New Orleans witch doctor, Jean-Louis Booger ("boo-zhay").
Everyone enjoyed each other's company,
and their own little worlds.
And the sweetest moment was between my girls and their stepmom. They affectionately refer to her as “Big Sara” since my daughter laid claim to having the name first. Turns out there’s a National Step-parents Day, which would be right after the hike. Big Sara has helped raise the girls, teaching them to hike and ski, and cultivating in them more confidence, perseverance, and aspirations. Through those events and adventures, they’ve grown to be close and she serves as a great role model. They surprised her with a bracelet with a tree on it, symbolizing growth, hope, and conservation – fitting, given her influence, and our hike. Sydney secretly enjoyed the affectionately teary smile and hugs that followed… and the big pig pile that followed which I didn’t instigate.
Despite the lack of amenities and internet connection, the cold and snow mixing in with the rain, the girls had a blast that night. They could’ve whined and seen only the limitations. But they rolled with it, saw it for the unusual adventure it was, and looked forward to bragging to their friends about it.
The girls found the note we'd left for them a year earlier,
congratulating them on making it to this point.
The next morning was pretty cold as we piled into the lodge for a hearty breakfast. After dressing for the descent, we stopped back in the lodge to refill water bottles. Then we pulled out last year’s logbook and found our note from last year’s trip. The girls discovered it was actually to them, complimenting them on making it here. They were proud and found it cool that we’d written it a year in advance, confident this moment would arrive. And, in a last bit of chatting with the wonderful AMC “croo”, we talked about Red Mac, an early AMC pioneer who spent decades staffing the Carter Notch hut and who purportedly haunts the hut. The staff responded by sharing honestly some events they or their fellow croo members had experienced. The girls were definitely weirded out. But I’d deliberately brought this topic up in the day, as we were leaving, so the odds of nightmares decreased dramatically.
Great Fall weather accompanied our
return hike from the hut and Carter Dome.
The walk out was easier, despite tired legs, with a pleasant, gradual descent of barely over three hours in cool, dry, sunny weather that made for perfect hiking conditions. The only lowlight was when Sarah caught her foot in some rocks and crashed on them, getting a couple of tiny but painful bruises on her kneecap. But when they looked like eyeballs, we drew eyebrows and a frown, and Sarah laughed and turned her attitude around. In fact, near the end she was running. Normally one to drag and slow the pace, she wanted to finish with a sub-three-hour hike and it was great to see her push so hard.
The eyes were bruises from a fall
but the rest of the face was
sympathetically from a pen.
After exiting the woods, and changing into dry clothes, we started the drive home. Sarah fell asleep in no time, and Sydney was low on energy but unable to nap. Near Loon Mountain, we stopped for well-deserved ice cream. Sure, I couldn’t let a nice moment go without a prank. So I woke Sarah up and told her we were almost home. When she reacted in surprise, I burst her bubble pointing out we had well over two hours left. But the furrowed brow disappeared as she scanned the list of options in the ice creams shop.
There was so much shared adventure that I can live without the dozen summits I’d expected to hit this year. It set a new bar for the girls that allows us to look at multi-hut hikes or other options next year, opening up a lot of possibilities. They’re at an age where they can still be pushed and influenced, but they’re old enough to respond to real challenges. It’s a great point in their childhood. And while this weekend will stay with me forever, I’m just as excited to see what next year brings.
See you on the trails,
Jay, AKA RockHopper