My Big Finish on the Wildcats!
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
After eight months with finishing the NH48 on my mind I'm finally done! Yesterday was a gorgeous day for hiking, and the day went about as well as it could have. It's hard to put into words all of the emotions I felt, and to say that it was a roller coaster is putting it lightly. There were points at which I wasn't sure if I would make it across the ridge, and also points when I didn't want to. But before we get into all of that, lets look back exactly one year to my first winter hike and one of my first adult hiking experiences ever.
I didn't realize until I looked at Facebook yesterday morning, but on February 17th, 2018 I did my first winter hike with Lucy. We walked the gradual 3 miles out and back to Lonesome Lake hut. It was a real learning experience for both of us, and the day went anything but smoothly. I was wearing L.L. Bean rain boots with microspikes that I had bought the night before, and I was carrying a North Face school backpack with a small first aid kit, a water bottle, an extra layer, and a little bit of food. The pack was heavy, and not made for any type of physical activity, putting pressure on my still healing broken neck. I didn't own or know how to use snowshoes at the time, and the thought that I might need them didn't even cross my mind. Luckily the trail was packed out.
When we were about half a mile from the parking lot on our way down, a man in climbing crampons behind us kicked Lucy in her back right foot. She had been really good for the whole hike, staying just in front of me on the way up and just behind me on the way down. The guy behind us was following too closely, and I didn't hear or see him or I would have stepped out of the way to let him pass. When she was kicked she cried out, and her foot started bleeding pretty heavily. I packed her foot with gauze, but I could tell she was in a lot of pain. Thankfully some other hikers helped me distract her while I put a booty on her foot so we could get down. I was really worried about her especially because we had a good amount of distance to go. I carried her for a little while, but she's 60 lbs making it difficult going downhill in the snow. When we got back to the car I called around and found an emergency vet clinic in Littleton to take her to.
After hours of waiting for a diagnosis and then a few more waiting for her to get stitches, I finally brought Lucy back to the house. The cut was down to the bone and much more serious than I had thought. She was prescribed two weeks of rest in a bandage with a cone of shame, a very difficult recovery period for a hyperactive puppy. She wasn't allowed to run, jump, play, or even walk around except to go to the bathroom.
I felt terrible. I was one of those unprepared, uninformed hikers and Lucy had paid the price. I know it wasn't really my fault, but I should have been more prepared so this was a real wake up call. After that I started doing lots of research so that I could be better prepared for future hikes. I realized then that I had no understanding of what winter hiking entailed. In the past year a lot has changed. I've done my research, put in the time, and learned so much along the way. There were definitely bumps in the road, but I think I can now call myself a real hiker!
So fast forward a year to yesterday and the big finish. I slept in and didn't leave the house until 7:45, arriving to the base lodge of Wildcat about an hour later. In the car I started getting really excited that I might really finish my NH48! Even though it's only been eight months (and one day) since I started, I feel like it's been a long time coming. My original plan was to finish on October 14th, just before the four month mark, with a one-day Wildcat-Carter-Moriah Traverse. Unfortunately, weather and grad school had gotten in the way a bit, so I ended up needing the Tripyramids before finishing with the traverse. Then with my schedule I couldn't get out again until Thanksgiving, and by that time there was so much snow that a one-day death march was out of the question. This finish had felt so drawn out for me that I was overwhelmed with excitement that the day was really here! And to add to that it was a gorgeous day outside, perfect for the big finish!
My plan was to hike up Polecat, a green ski trail to the top of the mountain and then go across the ridge and back via Wildcat Ridge Trail. I brought a small sled as well so that I could sled down the green trail at the end of the day! I started at 9:00 and made my way up the beautifully groomed trails to the summit of D peak. I hadn't skied Wildcat in years (can't cheat on Cannon!), so I didn't realize that I was going up a blue instead of an easy green trail. It was steeper than I though but a good warm up for the rest of the day. I feel like you don't realize the incline of trails when you're skiing down because I've been skiing so long that nothing seems that steep. When you're walking up it's a completely different story.
That being said, it wasn't very difficult getting to the top of Wildcat D. It was a nerve wracking experience though because of all of the skiers coming down the trail. Because I was on the easiest trail for the most part, there were a lot of skiers that weren't necessarily in control, making me very nervous about getting hit. There were a few close calls but I ended up making it up unscathed.
After a quick break, I got on Wildcat Ridge for the traverse over to A peak. There are 5 peaks on the Wildcats, and I was going to be going over four of them. I didn't do as much research as I normally do for this one because I figured from other's accounts of their experiences on the Wildcats it didn't sound that hard. When I realized it was 1.8 miles to A peak I started getting nervous about timing. It was already 11:00 when I left the top of D peak and I didn't go all the way up onto the tower because I wanted to save it for the end!
After butt sliding down the steep downhill from D peak I started towards what I thought was A peak, which didn't look that far away. After a while I met some other hikers that told me I was really close which gave me hope! Unfortunately after the steep climb up, I reached the top and realized that I was only at the summit of Wildcat C. By then it was noon so I knew that I needed to hustle over to A to get back in time to get down before the mountain closed.
So I ran down from C and across most of the way to A peak. It was a little bit tough going because the high level of the snow pack resulted in face level branches at every step of the way. I started to think that maybe I wouldn't make it in time and maybe I wouldn't finish. I thought about turning around but instead I told myself that I could do it and kept on going. I sometimes have a habit of doubting myself especially when I hike solo. This was my first truly solo hike since Mt. Isolation at the end of September. I forgot how when you're hiking by yourself you can get in your head a little bit. I think I was also worrying because it was hard to think about being done with the 48. Having this goal that I was working towards for so long gave me a set direction, which really drove me to get out and hike a lot. Now that I was about to be done I think I subconsciously worried that I wouldn't be motivated to hike as much.
When I made it to the top of Wildcat A, I took a minute to embrace the beauty around me. I could see Carter Notch Hut in the valley and Carter Dome in front of me. It was still a beautiful bluebird day, and the views of Mt. Washington had been breathtaking all day. On my way back towards Wildcat D I met some other hikers making their way across. A few of them recognized me from a hiking Facebook group, and they all cheered me on which was really nice!
The last climb back up to Wildcat D was a challenge but when I finally got there the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment washed over me. I was so excited and relieved that I had made it to the finish line! At the same time I was a little sad that my journey for the NH48 was over. A few people asked me what was next, but all I could think about was taking a deep breath and relaxing. Finishing the 4,000 footers has been on my brain for so long now it's nice not to have to worry about it! It wasn't a bad kind of stress, I was just getting impatient constantly anticipating the finish. Now taking some time off and just hiking will be really nice.
At the top, I sat for a while and had a beer with my friend who met me up there for the finish. The views of Mt. Washington were amazing and it couldn't have been a better day. It was sunny and beautiful with hardly any wind. As I looked over to Adams and Madison I thought about how nice it would be to have been up there! I knew some people that were going up and I was a little jealous that I couldn't join them on this beautiful day. But like I always say the mountains are always there!
After hanging out for a bit we started on the descent. I had a sled to help me get down the ski trails but it was a lot more difficult than I thought! At that point it was 3:00 so there weren't as many skiers, but I still worried about getting in the way or hitting people. Not to mention the slopes feel much steeper on a sled! It was a tricky descent, but I had a few good runs on the way down and I jogged the flat parts to make it down faster. I was so nervous that ski patrol was going to come yell at me and send me down in the snowmobile, making the hike not count towards my 48! Luckily I made it down in one piece of my own accord, locking in the big finish.
It was a really great day to finish and I'm so happy that I'm finally done with my 48! What's next you might ask? Well time will tell, but I foresee myself going on to do the New England 67 and the Terrifying 25 lists as well as maybe a Winter NH48. Either way I'm in no hurry to get them done! I'm also really excited to do many of the 48 again from different approaches because there are so many trails I didn't get to the first time. Overall it was a great day for the finish and I'm really excited to see what's to come in the future!
#47 Wildcat Mountain (4,422 ft) and #48 Wildcat D Peak (4,070 ft) via. Wildcat Ski Trails and Wildcat Ridge Trail [9.7 mi, 3900 ft, 6:20]
Follow me on Instagram @lexi.brocoum for more pictures!