The Carter Traverse is a strenuous 20-mile hike over the Carter-Moriah and Wildcat ranges of the White Mountains, on the east side of Pinkham Notch. It covers six 4,000-foot summits and, despite having no above-tree line areas, provides outstanding views of the Presidentials.
In two vehicles, take I-91 north to exit 17 at Wells River. Follow US-302 east to Littleton, then turn north on NH-116. In Jefferson turn east on US-2 and follow it to Gorham. Turn south on NH-16 in Gorham and park the first vehicle at the AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. With the second vehicle, go back to Gorham and turn right on Bangor Street, about 1/4 mile east of the intersection of US-2 and NH-116. Park at the end of Bangor Street near the Carter-Moriah trailhead.
Staying at Billings overnight is recommended, as you need to start hiking very early (6 or 6:30 AM) to be sure of completing the traverse before dark in the summer.
Follow the Carter-Moriah Trail 4.5 miles to the summit of Mt. Moriah. Right after the summit, the Carter-Moriah Trail converges with the AT, and you follow the white blazes for the rest of the hike. After another 3.7 miles you come to the summit of North Carter Mountain (an "unofficial" peak), followed 0.9 miles later by Middle Carter Mountain, and 1.3 miles after that by South Carter Mountain. Middle or South Carter is a good spot for a lunch break. The AT then descends and joins the Carter Dome Trail 1.2 miles later. The two trails run concurrently for 0.2 miles and then split again. From this intersection you have two options:
- Carter-Moriah Trail (AT): follow the white blazes 0.4 miles up to the summit of Mt. Hight. This is the only bald summit on the traverse and has great views of the Presidentials to the west and the Baldface Royce Range to the east. Then follow the white blazes of the AT another 0.4 miles until it rejoins the Carter Dome Trail.
- Carter Dome Trail: bypass the summit of Mt. Hight and hike 0.6 miles of the Carter Dome Trail until it rejoins the AT. This route shaves off 0.2 miles.
After the trails rejoin, hike another 0.8 miles to the summit of Carter Dome, the highest point on the traverse. The AT then descends steeply to the AMC Carter Notch Hut, losing 1,500 feet of elevation over 1.3 miles. You can refill water bottles and take a nice break at the hut.
The last leg of the traverse is over the Wildcats. As you follow the AT 1 mile from the hut to Wildcat A, you'll gain 1,000 feet. Then you have 2.1 miles of largely flat trail along Wildcat Ridge until you hit Wildcat D, which has a nice viewing platform. Near the summit of Wildcat D is the top of the Wildcat ski area; there is a large clearing where the gondolas end and the ski runs begin. The trail after Wildcat D starts out flat, but then becomes extremely steep, losing 2,000 feet of elevation in a little over a mile. This descent involves climbing down sheer rock faces, is very hard on the knees and is important to finish before dusk.
When the descent is complete, turn right on the Lost Pond Trail (still part of the AT, so follow the white blazes) and hike the remaining 1 mile to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Official 4,000 footers on the traverse:
- Mt. Moriah: 4049
- Middle Carter: 4610
- South Carter: 4430
- Carter Dome: 4832
- Wildcat A: 4422
- Wildcat D: 4050
Start early and hike fast. You do not want to be descending Wildcat in the dark.
May 5, 2012
Group: 5: Will Bishop (leader), Jocelyn Powelson, Piotr Teterwak, Andrew Milligan, Jesse Rieb.
Weather: Cloudy and light raining in the morning. Cleared at 11:30 AM and had spectacular weather (and views!) for the rest of the hike.
Route: As described above, north to south, including Mt. Hight.
Time: 14.5 hours total. Splits:
|Point||Elevation||Miles (leg)||Miles (cum.)||In||Out|
|Carter Notch Hut||3388||1.3||14.0||15:44||16:11|
|Pinkham Notch VC||2032||2.9||20.0||20:55|
Trail notes: The section between Moriah and North Carter had a significant number of blowdowns, and between North Carter and South Carter had some as well. Other than that the trail was generally good; not too wet or muddy. The Carter Notch Hut was very helpful; we hadn't brought enough water to last if it hadn't been open.