Forums 2008 Flags on the 48 2008 Trip Reports Wildcat ‘A’

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  • Feldmrschl
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      On Saturday, September 13, four Zoran employees took part in the Flags on the 48 Memorial Hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Flags on the 48 hike is held every year to honor the memories of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is a living memorial wherein hikers from around New England climb the 48 peaks of New Hampshire with elevations of 4000′ or higher and fly the US flag on or near the summit from noon until 2pm.

      This year the Zoran hiking crew consisted of Ken Guerin, Chuck Hacala, Joey Tang and Jorden Mauro. The selected peak was the ‘A’ summit of Wildcat Mountain with an elevation of 4422′, making it the 20th highest peak on the list of 48.

      Wildcat Mountain is a ridge-like mountain with 5 summits labeled ‘A’ through ‘E’. Wildcat ‘A’ is the furthest from civilization and the tallest of the five. Because of these circumstances, this year’s hike was going to be more strenuous than last year’s climb up Mount Jackson, forcing Ken, the hiking crew coordinator, to limit this year’s participation to those who already had experience climbing 4000′ peaks.

      The hike itself was to begin at 7:30am and follow the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail for 3.6 miles to the junction of the Wildcat Ridge Trail at the height-of-land in Carter Notch. From there, the route would follow the Wildcat Ridge Trail for 0.7 miles up the steep ridge to the summit of Wildcat ‘A’. The entire hike was going to cover 8.6 miles in approximately 6 hours and 40 minutes. Total elevation gain would be 2935′. An optional side trip to the Carter Notch AMC Hut was also planned as the AMC huts in the White Mountains all have potable water. Including this side trip, however, would add approximately 0.6 miles and 30 minutes of hiking time.

      As Wildcat Mountain is one of the more northerly mountains in the White Mountains, the crew drove up to Gorham, NH on Friday night and stayed overnight at one of the many area motels. The drive up was uneventful, although the roads were packed as far north as Concord with NASCAR fans who were heading to Loudon, NH for the big race. We got off the highway in Concord and had supper at Pizzeria Uno before heading back out. Unfortunately, the drive north was a dreary affair due to the rain which had moved into the area since our departure. We arrived at the motel at 10 or so, settled in, made our plans for the next day and went to sleep.

      We met outside at 6am, packed up our cars, checked out, made some final pre-trail packing preparations and went out for breakfast. After breakfast, we drove to the trailhead, which was roughly 6 miles away.

      After packing our gear into our bags and lashing the flagpole sections, we began our hike at 7:45. The weather was humid, but the low temps made it tolerable. Low scudding clouds were very much in evidence, however the morning sun was soon drying up the air. The trail conditions were damp, which affected traction, but we made good time. The estimated time listed in the AMC Guide Book for hiking the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to the Wildcat Ridge Trail is 2:45, but we were able to make it to the trail junction in two hours, including some water and snack breaks along the way.

      Personally, the toughest part of the hike was dealing with the two 5′ flagpole sections lashed to my backpack. Throughout the hike, the tops of the PVC pipe hit overhanging branches and showered me with last night’s rain and pine needles. Within ten minutes of the hike, my hat, pack and arms were soaked. Most of the time, the branches I hit were minor things that only slowed me down a bit. The Wildcat Ridge Trail, however, was more closed in than the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and the overhanging branches were thicker. On that section of trail, I got caught in the branches about 8 times, 5 during the descent.

      At the junction of Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and Wildcat Ridge Trail, we met Ross Hahn. Ross had signed up to hike Wildcat on the Flags on the 48 web site. I had posted the group’s plans on the web site, including the 7:30am start time, but he had taken a wrong turn driving to the trailhead. He managed to catch up to us at the trail junction. Our crew now numbered five.

      Ross Hahn was a welcome addition to our crew. While getting acquainted on the steep slope, I learned that Ross was an avid hiker of the trails in Acadia National Park. In fact, he wrote and provided photographs for the trail guides that are available at the park’s visitor center. While hiking, we talked at length of the various trails that we hiked up there.

      As I mentioned, that section of Wildcat Ridge Trail is steep. Not the steepest I’ve ever hiked, but steep enough. As the crew gained elevation, we began to hike at our own pace and were frequently out of each other’s view. As I was in the middle of the group of five, I would occasional holler or whistle to make sure that we were at least within earshot, which we were the entire time. I think we were at most two minutes apart at any point on that trail. We made decent time, however, and soon everyone was at the summit. Or as close to the summit as we could figure out.

      The summit of Wildcat ‘A’ is unmarked, a rarity among the 4000’ers of NH. After finding the vista that overlooks Carter Notch, we took our packs off and took a quick jaunt around the summit to find a marker. No luck. We figured, anyway, that flying a flag among the trees at the top wouldn’t make much sense. So, we set up shop on the rocky outcrop that comprised the vista.

      As we were assembling the parts for the flagpole, we discovered to our horror that six of the nuts for the eyebolts had unscrewed and fallen off during the hike. One was a spare anyway, but the four sections needed three eyebolts at each juncture with two for the flag itself.

      As there was very little wind, in sharp contrast to last year’s hike, we decided to forego one of the sections and build a shorter flagpole. So, with the eyebolts and nuts we’d had, plus an ample supply of bungee cord, we picked out a stout, tough little tree and lashed the flagpole to it and raised the flag. By 11:50, it was flying, or as close to flying a flag can be with no wind.

      The weather at the top was gorgeous. Occasional cooling wind to break the sun’s heat and high, broken cloud cover. All the summits of the peaks in our view were clear of cloud cover. We could not, however, see any other flags flying. The Carter Dome crew flew their flag from a viewpoint just over the dome from us and the Carters were too far away. Still, it was an excellent day weather-wise.

      The only negative part of the hike was the cramped viewpoint. The rocky surface of the outcropping was jagged and broken and the hollows were filled with puddles from the previous night’s rain. The rest of the wooded summit is densely filled with evergreens and damp earth. I looked in vain for a place to lay down, but had no such luck.

      In our two hours up there, we encountered a lot of visitors. One crew of six hikers from Bates College were the first group we encountered. Following them were three young men who were going to hike down into the notch, then up Carter Dome across the way, then over to the three Carters. My legs shudder now just thinking of that trip.

      After a while, a group of experienced hikers came up and found the summit for us. It was roughly four feet away from us in the woods! There was still no marker there, that is, until Joey began constructing a cairn with some of the looser rocks around us. Soon, the crew each had a hand in constructing the new summit marker.

      Among the hikers in that last group was Ed Hawkins, a hiker known on on-line hiking forums as HikerEd. HikerEd is one of the seven hikers who has hiked all 48 of NH’s high peaks in each month of the year. In fact, his last climb up Wildcat was a solo hike earlier this year in the winter. He congratulated us on our flag and spoke about some of his hiking adventures. He’s quite a character.

      After HikerEd’s crew left the summit, a pair of Appalachian Trail hikers visited our spot. One of the hikers was a gentleman who was hiking the northern section of the AT. He’d hiked the southern and central sections on earlier trips. His hiking partner was a thru-hiker known as The Lollygagger. She’d been hiking since May 8 and was on her way to Maine. Out of the 2175 miles of the AT, she had less than 350 to go with more tough New England terrain ahead of her.

      The Lollygagger is keeping an on-line trail journal as she makes her way along the AT. It can be seen at: Lollygagger’s Trail Journal

      After a few pictures and pleasantries, we wished them well before they left to take on Carter Dome and the Carters.

      These were our last visitors of the day before we took the flag down, geared up and began our descent.

      The descent was uneventful, as all good descents are. I got snagged on branches a few times; I had to spin and hike backwards a couple of times. However, soon enough, we got to the bottom of the Wildcat Ridge Trail.

      As most of us were out of water, or close to, we decided to take our packs off by the trail junction and “slackpack” it to the Carter Notch AMC Hut for some water refills. It was a this point that Ross left our crew; he had prior arrangements with his wife for dinner. So, we bid him farewell and took off for the hut.

      The trip to the hut was well worth it. The trail passes by two serene ponds and was easy to navigate. While refilling our water bottles and using the facilities at the hut, we met the Carter Dome flag crew, a group of two men and eight boys. We exchanged more pleasantries and followed them back up to the trail junction.

      After retrieving our packs, it was time for the long hike back to the car. With the trail running in the north-south valley of a major stream, we were in late afternoon shadows throughout. I personally found the hike out to be tedious. After a long day, the trail is rather unremarkable. Unfortunately, with tedium comes carelessness and I wound up smashing my left knee on a rather large rock on the trailside and giving my right ankle a rock burn from grazing another large rock. In spite of the minor injuries, we all made it back to our cars in one piece by 6pm.

      From there, we drove to Wendy’s in North Conway for some much-deserved fat and calories before driving home. A cheeseburger and a Monster energy beverage never tasted so good. Trust me.

      Overall, the trip was a smashing success. We made good time during the hike, flew the flag, enjoyed some excellent weather and camaraderie and made it out in one piece.

      I can’t wait until next year’s hike.

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