The Rapture of Being Alive on Carter Dome

Submitted by Nancy

Mountain: Carter Dome (4,832)
Date: March 10, 2007
Time: 7 hours, 21 minutes
Weather: Partly cloudy, 20s
Miles: 10
Elevation Gain: 3,828
Steps: 23,611
Trails: Loop -- Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Carter Moriah Trail back to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail
Holy Shit Factor: Barreling down the mountain high

"People say that we're searching for the meaning of life. I don't think that's it at all. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."
     Between a Rock and Hard Place by Aron Ralston

Picture Gallery

Video Clips
Help me up, will ya
Slip Slidin' Away

I am screaming down the mountain on my wind-pant covered butt, TOTALLY out of control. I had slid through the giggly, whoooo-hooo, this-is-incredibly-thrilling part to the oh-holy-shit-I-can't-stop moment of truth. I'm digging my elbows and snowshoes into the snow to slow what seems a suicide slide down Carter Dome. The trail veers off to the right just ahead. Pat is standing at the turn, yelling "I'll stop you!" at the top of her lungs. I'm coming so fast I'm at the turn in seconds...oh my GOD...

I guess I'd better start at the beginning.

We get to the trailhead at 9:09 after leaving Keene at 5 a.m. We've got the drive to the Whites down. We know where to stop for breakfast (McDonald's in Tilton), where to stop for our first pee-pee break (the Irving in Meredith) and where to stop for our last pee-pee-and-other-functions break (The Mountain Bean off Rte 3 in Twin Mountain).

The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail is hard packed and we bare-foot it up. Once we get to the Carter Dome Trail, the snow is less packed and we don our snowshoes. It is a pretty moderate climb but it is warm and the snow is soft and wet and is sticking to the bottom of my snowshoes. Okay, so how easy do you think it is walking up a mountain with huge, heavy, wet snowballs attached to the bottom of your snowshoes? I stop often and kick it all off, but within seconds I am carrying new snow balls which grow as I climb.

We get to the Mt. Hight intersection and decide not to do the steep hike up to that peak today. The soft snow and snowshoes are giving our hamstrings, quads and glutes a workout already without adding Mt. Hight.

The gusts of wind we experience going up are infrequent, but mighty. Instead of delivering a cold bite, they bring a tinge of spring warmth. It feels so refreshing and helps keep my dripping sweat somewhat at bay.

We get to the top of Carter Dome (elevation 4,832) at 12:50 p.m. and meet some nice guys who offer to take our summit picture. I will always remember the man we met on top of Whiteface -- our first 4,000 footer -- who told me, "There are no assholes above 4,000 feet." 46 peaks later, our experience has proven that to be true.

The climb down the Carter Moriah Trail starts off reasonably; not too steep. Pat had been talking about an opportunity to slide so I am anxious to get going. We slid down Sandwich Dome and not only was it a blast but it literally turned my opinion of winter hiking completely around (see The Upside of Winter Hiking on the website).

We get to a section that looks steep enough to be slide-able. Pat doesn't have her wind pants on so decides to snowshoe down and she offers to carry my snowshoes so I can slide. Whooo-hooo; what fun! But, I notice with a tinge of concern that my wind pants provide absolutely no resistance to the snow's surface and I am whizzing down, much faster than my previous experience on Sandwich Dome. I file that important fact away in my "what the heck" file and continue on.

Before long we arrive at what turns out to be an incredibly steep section that goes all the way down to the Carter Notch Hut. Pat tries sliding down in her regular pants, with snowshoes on and down she goes. Her pants provide a bit of friction so she is going at a good clip, but not whooshing down too fast. Unlike me. My wind pants, despite being duct-taped together in the rear, provide a friction-less slide and I take off, slip-sliding away. At first it is fun. I am giggling. Then it gets exhilarating; and I am screaming. All of a sudden, I realize I'm out of control and can't stop. I try to brake with the snowshoes and my elbows with no luck. This reminds me of riding my brother Jim's go-cart down Hurricane Road hill and realizing I had no brakes - thanks, Jim. Anyway, the trail turns. I don't. I barrel into the woods, finally stopping myself with my shin against a tree trunk. Ouch! Okay, climbing out of the woods in really deep snow is pretty funny and lots of work. Pat comes half way and extends her hand. What a friend!

The steep continues. I slide a few more times with close to devastating results which awaken in me the fear for my life and I decide to snowshoe it down the rest of the way. Smart girl, don't ya think?

It's too steep to walk straight down on snowshoes; I have to side step down. So there I am, carefully side stepping when my snowshoe hits a branch, I lose my balance, fight to regain control, and fall head over heels down the trail, landing on -- you guessed it -- my frictionless-wind-pant-covered ass.

So here is where I started this story -- screaming down the mountain at literally breakneck speed, totally out of control. I am digging my elbows and snowshoes into the snow to slow my suicidal slide down the Carter Moriah Trail, but to no avail. The trail veers off to the right and Pat is standing at the turn yelling that she is going to stop me. I have no time to really process this information, but if I had I would have been able to see what lay ahead for both of us. BAM!!!!! I hit her, fly off the trail and continue down my merry way in spite of my friend's valiant effort. I'm flying through the woods heading towards a cluster of trees that one way or another will be my final resting place. Luckily, my snowshoes catch on a branch before I get to the trees and I come to an unsteady, precarious stop.

Silence. I lay there assessing. I'm alive, I can move, nothing hurts. Oh my God, Pat!

"Pat! Pat! Pat!" I yell in panic.

Out of the top of my eye I see Pat's snowshoes sticking out of the snow. I hear her laugh. Relief floods through me and mixes with the adrenaline already coursing through my body. Thank God! I join in the laughter and we just lay there laughing, picturing our predicament, way off the trail in incredibly deep unpacked snow, Pat upside down and me barely clinging to my spot on the steep incline. My laughing makes me shift my body; I lose hold of the branch and continue sliding down to the cluster of trees where I stop for good.

Getting up is hilarious and hard at the same time. But we manage. Each time I put my weight on my snowshoes I sink down further into the snow. If I put my hand down and lean to get leverage, my whole arm disappears into the bottomless snow. I finally succeed in standing and look at Pat who is also upright.

We bushwhack our way back up the trail and check for damages. I had a cold rear end due to the fact that my wind pants had collected half the snow on the trail on the way down. Pat hit her head on a tree and her butt on who-knows-what, but is smiling.

We arrive at the Carter Notch Hut at 2:15 p.m. ready to take a break from the steep down. The hut is very dark, packed with winter gear, coats, backpacks and people (mostly young adults who all seem to know each other). We manage to squeeze into a corner and gobble down our lunch and then back out into the wide open spaces of mountain and sun. From the hut, the 3.8 miles down to the parking lot are moderate (except for that hill coming out of the Notch. Who put that there? I was definitely done with up.)

We are physically pooped, emotionally exhausted from the intensity of the slide down and feeling blessed by our shared experience. Most of all, having risked the consequences of friction-less wind pants on steep downhill trails, and having felt the spine-tingling fear of flying down said trail totally out of control towards what could have been my ultimate demise, I am reveling in the rapture of being truly alive.

We get back to the parking lot at 4:30 and change our clothes at the AMC Pinkham Notch Lodge. As I walk into the Lodge, I breathe a humongous sigh of relief. A group of hikers dealing with sore feet sees me sigh and bursts out laughing - they can relate.

We get back to Keene around 8:30 p.m. and Pat drops me off at home. Saying goodbye, I lose my balance on the icy driveway, and would have landed on my rear end again if Pat had not caught me. However, the effort causes me to lose control and expel a bit of gas, which sends both Pat and I into fits of laughter, which causes me to need to get into the house pretty darn quick. Too much information?

Ahhhhh -- the end of another awesome Pat and Nancy adventure.

4 out of the Winter 48
46 out of NE 67
48 out of the NE 100 Highest
40 out of the NH 48