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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wildcat A (#21), January 24, 2009

19 Mile Brook Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail. 8.6 miles roundtrip.

This was a wonderful, exceptional day. Alex said this was one of her favorite hikes to date -- we had a magical combination of perfect trail conditions, great shelter from the wind, and beautiful views.

Two days prior to our hike, a kind fellow posted a trail conditions report on VFTT. I contacted him via email, and he gave me a very detailed description of the current conditions on the Wildcat Ridge Trail coming out of Carter Notch -- I was especially interested in the state of the infamous slide (more on that later). Conditions seemed extremely favorable, so we set out feeling like we had a good chance of getting to the top. If we had to turn back for whatever reason, no worries, we'd just go check out the Carter Notch Hut. Alex was happy with both Plan A (Wildcat A) and Plan B (the hut), so off we went.

We got to the trailhead for the 19 Mile Brook Trail, started gearing up, and saw Ed n' Lauky heading off down the trail. I called out to them, and Ed nicely came back and let Alex say hi to Lauky. She enjoyed that encounter very much -- thanks Ed, it was lovely meeting the two of you!

We began our hike shortly thereafter.

Once we got into the trees, we were completely sheltered from the cold wind we had been feeling at the trailhead. We didn't even experience shaking/creaky trees. 'Twas very calm indeed on our hike, and the trail conditions were perfect...a lovely white sidewalk, microspike-city.

The 19 Mile Brook trail is gorgeous. Alex loved it -- nice and flat in the beginning, gradually getting a bit steeper along the way. The path goes right next to a pretty brook, and everything was, as she put it, "really beautiful!!"

We were passed by two large groups of hikers (one an AMC group) going up toward Carter Dome. I imagine if anyone wants to go that route, now's the time....the trails are probably packed.

We took a nice break 1.9 miles in, at the intersection of the Carter Dome Trail.

We were both in very good spirits, thanks to our frequent gulping of warm hot chocolate and apple cider. Alex was very chipper indeed, and we took turns making up short stories on the way up toward the Wildcat Ridge Trail. She seemed very, very happy.

On the way up, two very large groups of hikers passed us, each declaring they were doing a Wildcat traverse. I was THRILLED to hear this.....this absolutely guaranteed the Wildcat Ridge Trail would be nice and packed all the way up to Wildcat A.....perfect, just perfect for Alex.

We caught up to one of the groups when we reached the WRT -- they had taken a break and were now gearing up for wind. Alex wanted to take pictures, and the group graciously allowed her to take "action" shots. Here's one of the photos.

After they left, the first cold breeze reached us -- it was just that, a breeze, but it was chilly enough to warrant breaking out the facemasks again. We took a short break and geared back up.

Looking up, we could now see our destination, a steep 0.7 miles away.

I had prepped Alex for this point -- we would go ahead 0.2 miles and I'd take a look at the "slide" (an open area which is hazardous when's a long way to fall if you trip and can't get a purchase...). I would then make a decision as to whether or not we would proceed up the trail. Alex was fine with that, she truly understands our need for safety.

We started up the Wildcat Ridge Trail and were soon away from the cold breeze we had experienced at the intersection. The forecast had called for nasty winds, and I'm sure they were happening elsewhere....but they were gloriously absent on this side of the Wildcats! We didn't even hear wind blowing through the trees, it was all very calm.

We got to the slide faster than we had expected. It looked totally fine. No ice, just the same nice snow we had been experiencing all along. I held on to Alex just in case, which was probably 100% unnecessary. We made it across quickly but carefully, and I did not feel like we were in any danger whatsoever.

Here's a picture, just before we crossed.

Shortly after crossing, we began the long, slow trudge up the remaining steep half-mile. Alex stuck with her microspikes and I donned my snowshoes, we both managed just fine.

Every once in a while we'd feel a chilly breeze at our backs, but most of the time we felt completely sheltered and warm. Our facemasks would come off and on to suit our individual comfort levels. We stopped a few times, briefly -- lots of quick snacks and lots of hot chocolate kept both of us very happy.

We got up and over the last steep pitch, walked the remaining flattish 0.1 mile or so...and came to the vista sign at the summit!

The actual high point is a rock just off a spur path that leads to the views. We walked the path, touching whatever we thought looked like a high rock (hard to tell with all the snow!). We carefully stepped out onto the ledge (no ice here, and I kept Alex well away from the edge), and touched stuff that looked like large rocks there as well. After we felt our bases were covered, Alex exuberantly hollered "I've now done 21!"

We then sat down, relaxed, and looked about. Amazing. It was completely silent. We were looking eastward, and the winds that day were coming from the west....we were 98% sheltered from any cold breezes that blew our way. The occasional wind that did reach us was extremely light and I easily blocked it from Alex by simply sitting next to her. We sat for about 10 minutes in silence...and enjoyed...the views!!

Both of us began to feel a bit cold, and I knew the temperatures were going to plummet as the day wore on, so we regretfully took ourselves away from the stunning views and headed back to the "vista" sign. I put Alex's snowshoes on, thinking they would provide better traction for the downhill return trip.

The steepest parts of this trail provided excellent "butt-sliding" opportunities. I felt this was the safest option for Alex anyway, since she tried to walk down one section and promptly fell backward. Therefore, I told her to butt-slide the steepest parts, and she happily obliged me.

We got back down to the slide in very short order. Alex really wanted to look out as she crossed, but the only way I was comfortable with that was if she crab-walked it. This way, she could sit to look and there was zero danger of stepping off the trail due to distraction. She thought this was a grand idea, so I took off her snowshoes and we proceeded across the slide, stopping once, very briefly, to look out and enjoy the view.

Here's another picture of the slide, this time looking down just before we crossed it.

And a picture from the edge of the slide, looking out into the beautiful distance.

We made it down the remaining 0.2 miles of the Wildcat Ridge Trail in about 0.2 seconds, and came once again to the intersection with the 19 Mile Brook Trail.

I asked Alex if she wanted her microspikes for the remaining 3.6 miles. She declined, explaining that if she wore them then she couldn't slide. I must have looked puzzled because she stated, "I like to slide, it's fun!" I said okay, then she FLEW down the trail.

Her chosen method of descent was....running full speed, stopping, and then sliding on her feet as far as she could go. The 19 Mile Brook Trail has moderate-to-easy grades, and provides excellent terrain for this technique. I did my best to keep up with her, but I hadn't taken off my microspikes so I wasn't doing a very good job of sliding after her. She did not want to stop and wait for me to take them off, she was having too much fun barreling down the trail. I think she finally stopped to rest after about a mile! We walked briskly after that, her singing some made-up tune and me feeling extremely high -- that natural high that comes after having experienced something incredibly joyous. I think she was feeling it full-force too, judging from her behavior.

We passed the Carter Dome Trail intersection and she took off again, running, sliding, jogging, giggling. I jogged after her, struggling to keep up! We passed a large group of teens who were headed up to the hut, Alex cheerily said "HI!" to them as she blew past.

About half a mile from the trailhead I suggested (begged?) that we slow our pace. I reminded her that I was old and that I was carrying a million pounds on my back. We then walked at a more humane speed and made it back to the trailhead.

Alex declared this to be one of the easiest hikes she's done, and I understand why she feels that way....we had a nice white sidewalk from start to finish, there were tons of people everywhere (she loves to meet other hikers on the trail), we had almost total shelter from the wind, we experienced fantastic was a grand day. She was very, very happy to get out there again, and I'm glad the winter hiking fairy waved her magic wand over our neck of the woods.

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