'Twas finally a good time to get around to doing my last two NH-4000ers east of highway 16: the Wildcats. After weeks of week-day blue skies and week-end dreariness, there was finally a forecast for a clear and calm Sunday in the Whites. Luc decided to come along at the last minute, making the number of our hiking party three.
The Wildcats are a series of bumps along (appropriately) Wildcat Ridge. Wildcat Ridge itself is part of the longer arc of peaks that parallel the much higher Presidential peaks across the valley to the west. Although there are many named points along the ridge (five, to be exact), only two have enough prominence to be considered as NH 4000-footer peaks: Wildcat Mountain itself, the highest point along the ridge, and Wildcat 'D' (the fourth-highest of the high points along the ridge).
Wildcat Ridge from Pinkham Notch
We decided to make the hike more interesting and enjoyable by doing it as a traverse, starting from Pinkham Notch and ending at the Great Glen XC-ski area, right across from the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road. I dropped Jenn and Luc off at the Pinkham Notch visitor center, then drove back a few miles to the Great glen XC-ski area, where I parked. I then cycled back up highway 16 to Pinkham notch, and locked the bike onto a railing.
Leaving Pinkham Notch, we crossed over highway 16 and hiked for a short while along the Lost Pond Trail - a short section of the Appalachian Trail that connects Pinkham Notch with the base of Wildcat Ridge. Apart from a few early-morning 'clingies', the sky was crystal clear and the air was calm.
The Lost Pond trail is quite scenic, wandering past marshy areas, next to a briskly flowing brook (the Ellis River) and past Lost Pond itself. It's quite rough in spots, though, navigating through big boulders.
Waters along Lost Pond Tr
Lost Pond Trail & Ellis River
We had had below-freezing temps the night before, and even though there was not much ice about, there was a layer of frost on the many sections of flat planking that occur along the Lost Pond trail. Jenn managed to wipe out twice because of this -- the second time flat on her butt with enough force for her to whack herself in the left eyebrow with her hiking pole.
Soon (the Lost Pond trail is short) we reached the junction with the Wildcat Ridge trail, where we stopped for a break and a de-layering exercise. According to the reports and guidebooks I'd read, we were in for very rough and steep going along Wildcat Ridge. Probably we'd get heated up soon!
Forest on Lower Wildcat Ridge
Within seconds of starting off east along the Wildcat Ridge trail, we started steeply up over bouldery terrain.
As promised, the trail soon became very steep. However, there's a fair bit of very good trailwork, and the stair-step like climbing with which one is presented as a result makes for a strenuous but straightforward workout.
After steep climbing through trees, we came to the first of more exposed and open steep pitches. These also were mentioned in guidebooks and reports, and again I found that upon seeing them in the flesh, they were not too bad. There is some exposure in certain areas, but I'd say that unless there was glare ice in those spots, they are quite managable (and if you did have ice, a suitable application of crampons would get the trick done). In spots there are sections chopped right out of the granite, and in others there are some steep little gullies with solid rock and good holds. Let's call it a little bit of 3rd class here and there.
One upside to all of this steep stuff is that there are great views back down the ridge, down the valley, and over to the Presidential Range.