So far, rain has fallen during every ten-day stint I've worked at Carter Notch this winter (most recently during the hike down to the valley for a backcountry meeting on Sunday afternoon). But, even if all of the major storms have accompanied tepid southern winds, a number of runt "systems" have persisted in keeping the mountains pretty with fresh snow in between the monsoons.
This year, those of us who would like to consider ourselves vigorous northerners have been grasping at every meteorological suggestion of winter. Two or three of these scanty snowfalls piled on top of each other at least gave me the opportunity to recall the idea of "powder" on the top section of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, just as they've offered New Hampshire snowplow drivers the opportunity to resurface Route 16 with rock salt. In spite of the rain, the snowpack gradually got deeper, all the way to 24 inches this past week at the hut. Windblown cornices on top of the Dome were over my head. And so, if there was going to be a week for skiing Carter Notch this year, this last week was likely to be my best opportunity.
I spent Monday on the Dome. I carried my skis to the summit on a brilliantly clear, calm, and cold day, then descended the Rainbow Trail on skis to the bald eastern ridge a mile east of the summit. Because few people ever travel on the Rainbow Trail, I enjoyed fresh, deep, and untracked powder the whole way, and the descent through was only steep and narrow enough to make me concerned about major trauma in an abstract (as opposed to concrete) sort of way. Actually, though the Rainbow Trail is ridiculously narrow, much of the spruce-fir woods around it are open enough to allow some degree of tree skiing. From the scrubby knob I had a fantastic view of Agiocochook rising over Wildcat, and I basked in the sunshine for about half an hour before heading back up to the summit and back down to the hut, on skis until Pulpit Rock, then on foot for the rocky last half mile.
Wednesday was a similarly beautiful day and, though I was tempted to enjoy the greenhouse effect of the large window next to the caretaker's bed, I got an early start to do a long loop of a ski tour via the Wildcat Valley/River trails. The Wildcat Valley Trail, which is maintained by the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, descends over 3000 vertical feet from the top of the Wildcat ski area to the town of Jackson. It is a long, meandering trail, not especially steep - it is meant for cross-country skiers, after all - but it can be fast if you want it to be, and the ride goes on for a long time. In my case, it took over half an hour, and I didn't even follow the trail to its end in Jackson Village.
In the valley, I was in the somewhat unfamiliar territory of Jackson's cross-country ski trail network. I needed to find the Wildcat River Trail to get back up to the hut, and after some skiing on a groomed track, I found a yellow blaze and a rough trail in the woods to the west of what I believed to be Jackson's Carter Notch Road. I followed this for over a mile before I began to second-guess my sense of direction and suspect that I might be climbing Doublehead Mountain on the other side of the valley. This idea, troublesome because it would have put me nearer to Maine than to the hut, turned out not to be so. In hindsight, an interstate tale of nocturnal navigations and neglected hut guests would have been better blog material than this account of a merely satisfactory day. For my next excursion, I will keep this in mind.