“Carter-Moriah trail follows a logging road up a steep bank, then winds moderately upward through second-growth woods past several brushy logged areas. The trail climbs steeply, enters the White Mountain National Forest, and continues up through hardwoods. At 2.0 mi., a ledge down affords good views, and the trail soon passes to the right of the insignificant summit of Mt. Surprise and its small flume. From here, the trail descends slightly, and then ascends gradually at first, but soon becomes steeper as it climbs over a series of ledges that have excellent views west and north; the ledges are slippery when wet. The trail stays near the ridge top but winds from side to side through the woods, crossing one wet, muddy stretch with deteriorating bog bridges. The trail traverses several ups and downs over ledgy humps. At 4.5, after a steep climb, a spur path leads right 50 yd. to the ledgy summit of Mt. Moriah, which affords excellent views.” — White Mountain Guide, AMC’s Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in the White Mountain National Forest¹ (emphasis mine)
It’s kind of obvious if you are going to climb a mountain and summit its peak, you need to go up. Yet, there are varying degrees of “upness” that should be noted. There’s a gentle pitch, moderate incline, or a steep climb. Often times, the logical side of my brain tries to persuade me that a gentle pitch is a much better, safer, way go up in altitude, but the adventurous side of my brain, disagrees arguing “Where’s the fun and challenge in that?” So a fight breaks out between the two sides of my brain whether or not to stay in my comfort zone or be pushed out of it. To bring an end to the disagreement and restore peace, I often use a tactic called avoidance. Avoidance in hiking looks a lot like choosing not to read the trail descriptions before I hike the trail. This way, the unknown serves as equal ground and those highlighted words (noted above in trail description) do not even get a chance to spark a battle in my mind.
Our day started early at 6:30AM. We were gifted with perfect sunny weather-warm but not hot, breezy but not windy. The AMC hiker shuttle dropped us off right at the trailhead. This was another gift because we thought we would have to walk roadside a couple of miles before we reached to the actual trail.
True to the above trail description, the start of the hike (and most of the day) was strenuous with steep climbing, rock scrambling, and ledge walking. There were several times when I felt my confidence falter and thought I should have trained more, the rocks were too steep, my pack was too heavy, and I didn’t think I could do it. Those thoughts and moments were fleeting as I felt a renewed strength from God and I used another tactic-positive encouragement- while I cheered myself on with phrases like “slow and steady,”” one step in front of the other,” “you can do it.”
Along with the challenge of this trail comes great reward. The Carter-Moriah trail is absolutely beautiful and offers a good diversity of natural things to admire in the form of boulder sculptures, moss covered trees, scratchy treeline ledges, mushy bogs with bridges, and cute little, colorful mushrooms dotting the sides of the trail.
We hiked most of the morning, stopping here and there to catch our breath, continued up and over the “insignificant” summit of Mt. Surprise (Δ 2194 ft), and then onto Mt. Moriah (Δ 4049 ft) for lunch. It was our first 4,000-footer “bagged” on this trip. At the summit, we were blessed with excellent views and new people to talk with.
We chatted with other hikers, met an AT-thru hiker named Silver, and was introduced to a captain of the White Mountain Search and Rescue Team. We asked her to share her best tips and she told us a few things she wished every hiker knew in terms of safety. Here are two of them:
1.) Have a map! Do not rely on technology- like cell phone or fancy GPS devices. She had seen many people getting lost even with the GPS devices because they did not know how to use them correctly. Again, always have a physical map!! (CHECK √ )
2.) Make sure you always have enough supplies that you could spend one night outside if you had to. This includes water, food, matches, warm layers, and a sleep sheet. I had everything she mentioned and more… 😉 (CHECK √)
To be on a mountain top humbles me. To witness the breathtaking, dramatic landscape from such a height makes me feel small, childlike, full of wonder. From the summit of Mt. Moriah, we could see the Mount Washington and the Presidential Range-where we hiked last year- and The Carter Range- where we were heading next. From our vantage point, those next mountains seemed so far away. Yet we would be close to North Carter by 5:00 PM. When we were near North Carter, we would start looking for a place to camp.
The trail to North Carter descends very steeply down the ledges of Mt. Moriah and then follows a ridge crest as it winds its way through the woods. Occasional ledge lookouts, with additional views, spur you on along the trail. Several more signs along the trail would be helpful so you could determine your location along the trail. At times, it was difficult to know how far we had come or how much further we had to go. We pressed on and made our way to Imp Campsite.
We were not planning to stay at Imp Campsite, but we wanted to check it out. I had never been to AMC Campsite before and I was pleasantly surprised. Imp has a beautiful shelter, tent platforms, composting toilet, and even a “living room” chair. Our thru-hiker friend, Silver, was there and staying the night.
After taking a good look around Imp, we got back on the trail. By this point, I was really starting to feel tired and was more and more ready to find a spot to rest and set up our site for the night. This was to be the first time either of us had camped trailside. Our good friends, Gazelle, Hero and Silver, had given us a few tips and we knew we needed to be below the tree line, 200 ft. from the trail, and should pitch our tent on a flat area (not on moss or leaves to avoid bugs and mites.) Onward we went, on the lookout for a perfect spot, up and over one more mountain, Imp Mountain (Δ 3720 ft), before we found the place. It was really to be a perfect spot, and we were excited about trying this new experience.
Using Imp Campsite as a model, we quickly designated a cooking spot, a bathroom spot, a bear bag area, and a sleeping area. We were about to realize the result of a not so perfect shakedown….