Saturday, January 23, 2010

-Trip Report- Carter Notch: Being a Fat, Out of Shape Sweaty Mess Sucks (January 2008)

Carter Notch I- January 2008

My first backcountry ski trip was a debacle.  Gered and I attempted to ski up to Carter Notch, where our AMC hut reservations were waiting.

The post-trip box score would have read something like this:

Working against us:
1. Late start.
2. Overambitious plan.
3. Overdressed.
4. Kitchen sink in the backpack
5. Poor map reading skills
6. Wax....what's that for?
7. Ridiculously uneven trail

Working for us:
1. Enthusiasm

Did I also mention that I was completely out of shape.  I still hadn't found something to do in the "shoulder season" between mountain biking and skiing... well except for X-Box  and eating that is.

Enthusiasm and an extra pair of boots for the snowshoes.  Really?

It was no match.. Winter had it's way with us, and spit us out exhausted and defeated.

The plan seemed simple enough, take a little used backcountry trail up the back side of Carter from the area around Jackson, NH to the Carter Notch shelter.  Our path, Panther Brook Trail seemed to make a slow but steady climb until about a quarter mile below the shelter.  It was then a steep ascent to the top from there.  On the map anyway.

An alpine start in Boston had us on the road at 5am, but after dicking around in North Conway all morning we found ourselves pulling up to the gated off roadway, a mile short of our intended departure point at 11:00 am.

We suited up, throwing on all of our warm layers at the car.  After all, the temperature was struggling to get above 15 degrees

It was only a couple extra miles to our goal from the new trailhead.  Plenty of time, even with the late start, right?  Well maybe if we didn't immediately get lost.

                                            Hey Gered!  That's the wrong way!

Our detour took us the long way around, following the forest service roads to where they linked back up with the trail.  There was fresh snow on the trail, and combined with the exertion of dragging my skin lathered skis around, I was sweating like a pig.  A very out of shape pig.

Once off the road and onto the trail, our predicament only worsened.  The trail that gently sloped on the map, was really a battle of short ups and downs. It also snaked around trees,  over small brook crossings, and between rocks.  Yes, while there was a relative slow gain of elevation, it was the old two steps up and one step down to get there.

This involved jumping back and forth several times between skis with the skins attached and the snowshoes we had brought along.

By three thirty in the afternoon it was clear that we had completely overestimated our progress.  We were still short of a trail junction that we should have hit hours ago.  Exhausted, wet, and cold, we realized that we would still need energy for the last quarter mile up the ridge to the Carter lodge.  All the coffee I had drunk that morning also suddenly caught up with me.

So we put our tail between our legs, and started our retreat to the truck.

Gered, a telemark skier, ditched the skins from his skis and cruised right along the forest roads.  I also ditched my skins, but with no traction it was like trying to move across a room on a Nordic-Trac machine.  I slowly inched along, essentially cross-country skiing in place.

The last couple of miles were under a full moon, and we arrived at the truck several hours after dark.

We managed, however, to keep the weekend from being a total loss.  The next day we skinned up to Hojo's near Tuckerman's Ravine, and skied the Sherburne Trail back down.   On the trip up we applied some of our first lessons:  pack only what you need, start cold and pull the warm layers out after you stop.

Temperatures below zero with a stiff wind made our stop at the top a short one.  It also, however, kept the crowds off the trail and powder abounded.



  1. Love the story...I think most of us been there at one time or another! Kudos to great decision making skills!

    1. Ahh.. the happy memories of being completely spent, soaked, cold and having to take a serious dump in the middle of the woods. Obviously,I was immediately hooked on backcountry skiing.