Wildcat E View

Wildcat D (4062')
Wildcat A (4422')


I had been looking forward to hiking Wildcat ridge since I started planning the 4000 footer quest in May 2003. I find the idea of starting a hike in one location and finishing in another appealing. There were several hikes that I considered thru-hiking, such as the Bonds, but the benefit is minimal compared to the additional driving needed to spot a car. On the other hand, the Wildcat Ridge Trail to 19 Mile Brook Trail is an ideal candidate. The first half of the route, the Wildcat Ridge Trail, is intense hiking with numerous pointless ups and downs (PUDs), steep grades, and generally challenging terrain at an altitude where foul weather would have a larger effect. The other half, 19 Mile Brook Trail, is a walk in the park with mostly gentle grades and easy footing. Thru-hiking the ridge also saves 700 feet of elevation gain and countless blisters. I looked into using the ski trails, but it didn't seem like a very good option versus spotting a car.

Our friends Chris and Melissa joined us and agreed to help us spot a car. We left their car at the 19 Mile Brook trailhead, then drove back to the Glen Ellis falls lot. We started hiking at 10:30, but missed the sign for the Wildcat Ridge Trail. We wound up hiking all the way to the bottom of Glen Ellis falls which wasn't really a bad thing. The falls are very pictureque, so we snapped a couple shots with some family's dog and headed back up the path to find the trail. We found it was marked, but not very well. Immediately after coming through the tunnel, we should have hopped over the wall and turned left. The correct route quickly arrives at one of the trickier water crossings we've had to do, but we all made it without taking our shoes off. It was almost 11:00am, and we were just getting started.

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The ascent to Wildcat E is only a couple miles but very steep. It was good that we had the side trip to Glen Ellis Falls to warm up. We could have hiked our route in the other direction which starts off much easier, but that would mean descending the steepest section at peak fatigue and rain was due later in the day. The combination would have been dreadful. By conquering the hardest part first we would take some solace later knowing that the terrain would keep getting easier. The trail itself offered progressively better views of the valley we were quickly leaving behind. We saw water gushing from Glen Ellis falls far beneath us, the unmistakeable profile of Stairs Mountain in the distance, and Mount Washington with its massive ravines that devoured clouds as they poured over the Presidential Range. Pinned steps and scrambles that didn't allow room for error defied our progress, but we pushed upward. Soon we were resting on the summit of Wildcat E before making the short journey over to our first 4000 footer of the day, Wildcat D.

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After dipping into a small col and passing a chair lift, we made a short climb to Wildcat D, arriving around 1:30pm. I was happy with our progress considering how often we stopped for photo ops or to just take in the scenery. Lunch was next on the agenda and we ate on the observation tower. The weather was holding up and we had excellent views while Melissa celebrated her unofficial first 4000 footer. It's unofficial, since it's possible that she hiked another years ago and doesn't remember the details. In any event, I'm sure this small celebration on Labor Day weekend shall, in the years to come, be overshadowed by the celebration that followed receipt of a diamond engagement ring from Chris two days after this hike.

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About half an hour later, we continued our trek. Our next 4000 footer, Wildcat A, was less than 400 feet higher, but there were several PUDs between the two peaks. There's no arguing the reports that the Wildcat Ridge Trail is substantially harder than distance and elevation gain suggest, but everyone was doing well and we reached Wildcat A around 2:30pm with only a few rest stops along the way. The summit isn't clearly marked and I suspect Wildcat A may one day enter into the high point controversy that is currently being discussed about Owl's Head. We each stepped onto the rock just off the trail that has been said to be the summit and called it close enough.

My favorite stop of our journey was the nearby outlook. The view into the glacial notch called Carter is awesome. The weather and gravity created boulder field known as the Rampart can be seen clearly at one end with the Carter Notch Hut and Carter Lakes abutting it. Carter Dome rises steeply just across the notch where Elleing and I had descended only a couple months ago. We looked north to the Carters and Mount Hight on the Carter-Moriah range and south into the Wild River Valley. There are far fewer signs of civilization visible from Wildcat A and I'm glad there's no view west from this location.

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Painless, our descent from Wildcat Ridge wasn't. The mileage and terrain were starting to take their toll. Melissa made good use of a ski pole while Chris used a cudgel-shaped stick to aid with the steep descent. (We didn't see any bears, but with Chris and his Cudgel of Justice nearby, we didn't fear any misbehaving yogis.) Our outlook was good. A few hikers that had spent the night at Carter Hut were headed in the other direction and wishing they had spotted a car. Our car waited only a few miles down the easy 19 Mile Brook Trail.

We made a brief side trip to Carter Notch Hut when we reached the bottom of our descent to replace the quart of water we left behind so that we wouldn't have to lug it up and down the ridge. An extra half mile was well worth the couple pounds we saved over the previous several hours. It was around 5:00pm with the hard part behind us and full bottles of water when we left Carter Hut for the trailhead.

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Our leisurely walk down 19 Mile Brook Trail was hampered only by tire legs and sore feet. We stopped a couple times, but otherwise made excellent time, covering the nearly 4 miles in just about 2 hours. It was roughly 7:00pm, we were at the end of our trip, and it had never rained. It was a phenomenal day and a excellent hike. It was a little windy, but with summit temps in the 50's, we hardly noticed. Overall, we covered approximately 9.5 miles and about 3200 feet of elevation gain in 8.5 hours.

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So we could break up the drive, we had dinner at the Common Man in Lincoln. Chris quickly put his ice cold glass of water to good use by placing it on his knee. Our waiter, Eric, provided the comic relief for us and the two other tables in our room. When Chris requested another glass of water for the other knee, Eric returned with a couple bags of ice. When taking our drink order, Eric made sure to ask Chris if he wanted one for each knee. I thought the other two tables in our room might have found it odd, but it turned out that they were hikers too. We traded some notes on hiking in the White Mountains before our meal came. It was the perfect ending to a long day.

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