08 04 2014.

hiking: wildcat mountain

Over the weekend, Darren and I finally decided to do a hike that I’ve been wanting to do for almost a year. I was first introduced to Wildcat Mountain during a weekend trip we took to North Conway in early October, 2013: after doing a few small hikes and scouting for some waterfalls, we had decided to stop at the Wildcat Mountain Resort for a gondola ride to the top. After seeing the view from the top, I was sold. I promised myself that I would hike the mountain someday. I had been briefed on the 4,000-footer club, and, having hiked Katahdin 3 times, I decided that I would commit to someday reaching the summit of all of them – Wildcat included.

The view of Mt. Washington (Tuckerman's Ravine) from the ski area of Wildcat.

The gondola ride to the top of Wildcat.

Using the AMC White Mountain Guide, we planned our trip on Saturday night. The plan was to depart Portland, ME at 6:30 and to arrive at the Glen Ellis Falls parking lot – where the trailhead is for the Wildcat Ridge Trail. Our goal: hike our way through summits E, D, C, B and A in an out-and-back fashion. Summits D and A are both part of the 4,000-footer club.

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Sunday morning found us parking, paying the recreation fee and hitting the trail at 8:30.

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Our first challenge: crossing the Ellis River. The water level was higher than it had been the previous fall, so we were a little bit put off by the early morning challenge. A man who was flyfishing nearby was getting a kick out of our confusion. I ended up removing my hiking boots and just wading across. The water felt fantastic and was exhilarating – the perfect energy booster for the hike to come.

Almost immediately after the river we were climbing vertically. We ascended a little more than 2,000 ft in 2 miles. It took about a half hour for us to get warmed up and accustomed to the climb, but after we acclimated, we were able to enjoy ourselves.

The climb was so breathtaking though. Every half mile or so we were rewarded with stunning views of Mt. Washington. It was exciting to progress so quickly up the side of a mountain! A few times, it felt like we were scaling a ridge!

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We blew right past the E peak and to the ski area – the same area we had been a year ago. Moving onward, we reached the D peak at 11:00, less than 10 minutes after we summited E. Peak D had a nice wooden tower where we sat and ate an early lunch, planning to trek onward until we reached the A peak – the highest point of the hike.

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At this point there were two miles between peak D and A, with peaks C and B along the way. An hour or so later, we were both discouraged by how long it was taking us just to get to C! A hiker along the way warned us that it was supposed to rain in the afternoon. We picked up our pace, nervous about descending down the steep face of the mountain – especially if the rocks were wet from rain. We joked around about taking the gondola down if it started to rain by the time we made it back to the ski area. By that point, we had decided to change up our hike. Instead of retracing our steps back down the Wildcat Ridge Trail, we decided to continue beyond summit A and down the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail – a decision that would bring us out 5 miles up the road from our car. Finally, we emerged out onto a landing with beautiful views of Maine. A couple next to us rejoiced in their accomplishment and they informed us that we were at the A summit. Without realizing, we had passed peaks C and B!

We were stunned! Here we were thinking we were traveling at a speed of a half a mile an hour, when in fact we covered four times that distance in an hour and a half!

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We broke into the chocolate that we had purchased to celebrate the top of our second 4,000-footer of the day. After munching on hardboiled eggs, oatmeal balls, dried fruit and nuts all day, the chocolate was the perfect reward.

With renewed energy and excitement, we started the 4.3-mile descent. The .7 mile to the Carter Notch Hut was steep. The hike up to this point had been a rough series of dramatic ascents and descents. It was very slow going, but we were happy to be going down.

The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail was worth the change in trails. We followed the brook down the entire way! It was such a beautiful sight and the sound of running water was peaceful as well. The trail was more gradual at this point so our pace quickened.

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After two hours, we reached the parking lot at the bottom – but we weren’t done. We still had almost 5 miles to walk up the road to our car. We decided to check the park map to confirm the distance. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a sign: AMC Shuttle. Darren confirmed our location and the location of our car on the list of shuttle stops. The last pickup of the day was at 2:55pm. We had missed it. Or had we? I quickly got my phone out. It was 2:45. Without knowing it ahead of time, we had managed to rush down the mountain just in time to get on the last shuttle of the afternoon. What luck!

Then I noticed the asterisk at the bottom of the sign. $23/person for non AMC members. I pulled out wads of cash from my wallet and counted… only $30. Alright – so one of us would have to take the bus to the visitor’s center, walk the remaining half mile, get the car, and pick the second person up. Since it was my car, I decided that I would do it.

I boarded the bus as soon as it arrived. A jolly driver greeted me and told me there was “still room for walk-ons. $15 each.” NO WAY. Luck had won out in the end! With my $30, we could both take the bus.

After having hiked over 8 miles, we were more than happy to spend $30 to avoid 5 more miles of uphill walking.

So overall, it was a very strenuous hike. I would not recommend it for beginner hikers or those who don’t enjoy lengthy hikes. (It took us 7 hours.) It’s challenging both physically and mentally – especially when there’s a threat of rain and thundershowers! (Which never happened!) It is, however, a wonderful challenge with several terrifying (but exciting!) areas where you have to scale rocks. There are breathtaking views of both sides of the ridge along the way. My favorite parts were: wading through the crisp Ellis river, peering into several dark crevasses and following the brook down for 3.5 miles.


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