The rugged Carter-Moriah Range lies on the eastern edge of New Hampshire's White Mountains immediately east of the famous Presidentials. Several peaks in the range rise above the magical 4000' mark and Carter Dome is the highest of the bunch. The Appalachian Trail passes over the entire range finally resuming it's northward track after a long S-turn through the Presidentials and Pinkham Notch.
The trail here is rough, steep and far less trodden than the more famous White Mountain trails. Steep climbs on narrow trail are in order to reach the top of either Carter Dome or its subsidiary northern summit known as Mt. Hight. Both summits are surprisingly flat and gentle concidering the ascents and bare rocks afford great views of the Maine hills to the east and the soaring gullies of the Presidentials to the west. An old fire tower used to stand on the summit of Carter Dome and the foundation can still be seen.
The standard route up Carter Dome starts from the Nineteen Mile Brook trailhead in Pinkham Notch on US16. This trailhead is 3.8 miles north of the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp and 7 miles south of the town of Gorham. From here, moderate trail heads up the brook of the same name passing a number of excellant (though frigid) swimming holes. 2 miles in, the trail splits with the left branch heading toward Zeta Pass on the north side of Carter Dome. The right branch continues along the brook arriving at the impressive Carter Notch in another 1.8 miles.
Carter Notch is the impressive cleft between Carter Dome on the north and Wildcat Mountain on the south. Steep, thousand-foot walls have been shedding rocks for eons and the narrow space of the Notch is littered with monsterous boulders. There are also a pair of particularly picturesque lakes and the Carter Notch Hut.
The Hut is the easternmost in a series of eight backcountry hostels run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Unlike the other huts, however, Carter Notch is self-service with no meals provided.
The new parking fee system in the White Mountain National Forest is in effect and the Nineteen Mile Brook TH is effected by this. Parking stickers can be purchased at various local spots including Gorham Hardware in Gorham, NH, and many other spots. Weekly parking stickers cost $5 and season passes are $20. More information is available here.
When To Climb
Carter Dome can be climbed at any time of year though summer is more popular than winter. Nearby Mount Washington is famous for having the worst weather in the world and the highest recorded wind speed on earth. Winter conditions in the Whites can vary from relatively mild to full-on ice and snow with 100+ mph winds. 5' drifts and steep ice are not uncommon into spring. My first ascent was on December 23rd and was quite memorable.
Camping is allowed in the National Forest below tree-line except within 100 yards of trails and streams and within 1/4 mile of existing campsites and shelters. No camping is allowed in Zeta Pass. Carter Notch Hut provides fairly plush accomodations (bring sleeping bag and food), but it requires advance reservations and is quite pricey.