Sunday, March 9, 2014

Carter Notch Hut in Winter

Clear winter morning at Carter Notch Hut.
When my west-coast sister came out to New Hampshire for a few days,her one request was "Take me on a winter adventure!"  I decided to take her to my beloved White Mountain wilderness.  I booked us one night at the Carter Notch Hut - an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that serves as a self service accommodation in winter.  We experienced smooth, snow-packed trail, cold nights, and comforting fellowship. 

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Carter Notch Hut overnight

Getting There: We took the 19 Mile Brook Trail out-and-back to access the Carter Notch Hut. 
19 Mile Brook Trailhead
This trail can be accessed on Rt 16 about 2-5 miles north of AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center/Joe Dodge Lodge.  To get there from Boston/Southern New Hampshire, take 1-95 North to the Spaulding Turnpike (Route 16) North.  It is approximately a 3 hour drive from Boston/2.5 hour from Exeter, New Hampshire.  After you pass Wildcat Ski area, the trail head is 1-2 miles further on the right and marked with a small "hiker" sign.  Parking is free in the winter but requires a National Forest park pass (purchasable at map/sign) in summer.  There are no bathrooms at the trail head. 

Trail:  We took the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail 1.9 miles to the Carter Dome Trail/Nineteen Mile Brook Trail junction.  This section is a mild ascent through boreal/evergreen forest.  The snowy and flowing Nineteen Mile Brook parallels the trail and at times, the two cross.  In winter, these crossings were easy.  From the junction, we continued on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail for 1.7 miles.  The trail continued with a moderate ascent.  A thick layer of packed snow made it easy on our knees.  Impressively, there was little ice, and although we had
Packed snow on 19 Mile Brook Trail
packed crampons and microspikes, we never felt the need to strap them on!  As we approached the hut, we got views of frozen alpine ponds and peeks of the steep cliffs of Wildcat Mountain on our right.  Near the hut, we linked up with the AT/Carter Moriah Trail for the last 0.1 mile to Carter Notch Hut.   Our hike up was moderate and gentle mountain climb through snow filled forest on a cold day.

The next morning, we returned the same way.

Difficulty: Due to perfect snow pack conditions, our trail was an easy to moderate climb.  However, bitterly cold weather and unpredictable winter conditions make this an adventure that should only be attempted by hikers with winter hiking experience and proper safety gear.

Distance: 7.2 miles round trip.  It took us 2.5 hours to make it up to the hut and about an hour back.

Carter Notch Hut:   Carter Notch Hut is a hundred-year-old mountain hut located in the valley
Carter Notch Hut
between Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome.  In the summer, a team of staff members cook meals, provide bedding, and guide visitors who stay the night.  This is called the "full-service season".  In winter months, the hut changes over to a "self-service" facility.  One AMC staff member cares for the hut and helps guests who stay.  For a reasonable overnight fee ($26 for AMC members/$31 for nonmembers), guests get access to the kitchen (stove, dishes, and oven), as well as a bunk in the non-heated bunkhouse, and toilets.  After dark, the caretaker also runs a fire in the wood stove to warm guests and dry gear. 

On this 20 degree hiking day, Kelly and I greatly appreciated the access to hot water for drinks, a warm dinner and snuggle by the fire before dipping into our freezing bunkroom.  The crew member, Liz, was knowledgeable, welcoming, and helpful.  To pass the evening, Kelly and I took photos, explored the area, played cards, and chatted with Liz.  We made a hot dinner and sipped a cup of wine before heading to bed.  We had a memorable and peaceful experience at this iconic hut.

Inside of Carter Notch Hut

Gear -  This overnight trek is not for those who fear the cold.  We chose a very cold (but beautiful)
Crossing frozen pond in Carter Notch
weekday evening to make this trek.  Adventurers should bring proper winter hiking and safety equipment including: multiple warm/non-cotton layers, winter gloves, shell, warm hat, ski pants, long underwear, warm socks, winter boots, trekking poles, and boot traction (snowshoes, microspikes, or crampons).  Also, bring food for all meals, 2L of water per day (clean water available at hut), headlamp, map, compass, and first aid kit. 

It is VERY important you bring a sleeping bag that can handle the cold temperatures.  Kelly used a -30 degrees bag that kept her toasty in the frigid temps.  I brought a 20 degree bag along with a bivy - unfortunately - THIS WAS NOT WARM ENOUGH!  I was very uncomfortable and ended up cuddling up with my sister and sharing the roomy -30 bag. 

Reservations - We made our reservations weeks ahead online at, but since we went mid-week, it turned out that we were the only guests that night at the hut.

This was a wonderful way to experience winter hiking in the Northeast!  It was fun showing my sister the beauty of our winters.  The morning we woke up at the hut was clear and blue skies.  We marveled at the shear cliffs of Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome that loomed above us and the twinkling white of the snow filled notch. I can't wait for the next adventure with my wonderful sister!

For another winter overnight, check out former blog posts below:
Cold Night on the Mountain

A great way to spend time with my sister.

Please leave comments and questions below.