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08 August 2012

A Near Purr-fect Loop Hike via Wildcat Ridge Trail and Polecat Ski Trail

Using the word "purr-fect" is a bit corny to describe a hike involving trails that are named after cats.  Nonetheless, I did find this loop-hike to be very enjoyable and nearly perfect for my hiking tastes.

On other occasions, I've hiked the Wildcat Ridge Trail, but only the segment from  "D" Peak to its eastern end at the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail (located slightly beyond "A" Peak).  I've never hiked the 2.0 mile segment of this trail which runs between its western end and the "D" Peak.   The use of alphabetic letters for naming peaks is a bit unusual.  And so, for anyone unfamiliar with the Wildcat Ridge Trail, the map shown below might be helpful.  This map also has my complete route highlighted in pink.
Map showing my route which is highlighted in pink

This loop was overall about 6.7 miles, and the elevation gain was a tad over 2,400 ft.  At a leisurely pace and with frequent stops, it took just under 6 hours to complete.

The first 0.9 mile of my trek was on the Lost Pond Trail.  If you've ever been on this trail, then you know that it is not as mild-mannered as one might suppose it to be.  There are several places where you need to carefully watch your footing on uneven rocks, and when navigating through the boggy areas.  Nonetheless, there are very nice views across the pond toward the high peaks in the Presidential Range.

The sky in this next photo looks like it is "photo-shopped".  However, what you see is what you get! The sky really was an electric-blue shade on this exceptionally clear day.
View of Presidential Range from east shore of Lost Pond

After completing the Lost Pond Trail, it was time to tackle that 2.0 mile segment of the Wildcat Ridge Trail (WRT) which was new to me.  Quite honestly, I was unsure what to expect!  I had little doubt but what it would be steep.  However, I was uncertain just how tough it might be to negotiate some of the scrambles over ledges and rock slabs.

After now having hiked this segment of the WRT, I can confirm that many sections are indeed very steep.  But, it's not a continuous "steep" for the entire distance.  There are even some sections that are basically flat.   And in terms of negotiating the scrambles over ledges and slabs, I can see where this would be very problematic when wet or icy.  But when dry, these scrambles were generally less intense than those for many other trails in the White Mountains.

On some of the steeper slabs along the route, there are wooden steps fastened to the rock which are very helpful.
Wooden steps on steeper rock slabs along the WRT (Wildcat Ridge Trail)

Perhaps I should also mention that there are several ascents and descents along the route of this segment of the WRT, and therefore it does have a roller-coaster aspect to it. However, I'm pretty well convinced that this is true for almost any trail in the Whites which has the word "Ridge" associated with it! :-)

The next photo was taken from the WRT, and shows one of the "ups" that lay ahead of you along the route.
Trailside view of one of the "bumps" along the WRT (Wildcat Ridge Trail)

There are frequent views as you make your way up the WRT toward "E" Peak.  More and more of the Presidential Range is revealed the higher you go.
Presidential Range from lower part of WRT (Wildcat Ridge Trail)

 Presidential Range from upper part of WRT (Wildcat Ridge Trail)
There are also nice views looking southward down Pinkham Notch toward peaks in the Sandwich Range.
Southward view from WRT (Wildcat Ridge Trail)

Also, I took zoomed photos of various features in the Presidential Range.  The next image shows the Huntington Ravine.  The area labeled as "The Fan" was where my friend Marty and I were just a couple of weeks ago.
(Click HERE to read that report.)
Zoomed image of Huntington Ravine

I also took a zoomed image of Tuckerman Ravine, as seen in the next photo.
Zoomed image of Tuckerman Ravine

And last, but not least, I zoomed in on the summit of Mt. Washington (next photo).
Zoomed image of summit of Mt. Washington

In much less time than was expected, I was on "E" Peak!  As I understand it, the WRT passes within a few yards of the true summit.  I had intended to do a mini-bushwhack to officially bag this peak, but forgot to do so!  Oh well! My guess is that I didn't miss too much since it's wooded and viewless.  However, it is interesting to know that "E" Peak used to be considered as one of the NH 4,000 ft peaks.

It's a very short jaunt from "E" Peak over to the touristy area of "D" Peak.  During the warm-weather months, many tourists pay to ride gondolas on the Wildcat Express which terminates at the saddle between "E" Peak and "D" Peak.
A Wildcat Express gondola

Although I'd been there multiple times, I went to the top of "D" Peak anyway.  If nothing else, the newly reconstructed viewing platform made a nice spot for a lunch break!

After a quick bite to eat, I began the descent leg of my loop by using the recently mowed Polecat Ski Trail.  Sometimes an alpine ski trail can be unpleasant to hike since it's not really graded for hiking, etc.  However, the Polecat is very pleasant for hiking.  And in my opinion, the views are simply fabulous, especially in late summer and into the autumn season.  The next five photos show a sampling of some of the views that are "in your face" as you descend the mountainside.
Polecat Ski Trail View_1
Polecat Ski Trail View_2
Polecat Ski Trail View_3
Polecat Ski Trail View_4
Polecat Ski Trail View_5

Also, the Polecat Ski Trail has more to offer than the stunning mountain vistas.  There were fields of colorful ground cover, such as the patch of bunchberry shown in the next photo.
Field of Bunchberry

There were many butterflies along the Polecat Ski Trail.  They are so fast, and with my little "point & shoot" camera, I don't have the ideal set-up for capturing images of these little winged creatures.  But finally, with a little patience, I was able to capture one image worthy of posting. I'm not a butterfly expert, but I think this one is called a "Painted Lady".
A "Painted Lady" butterfly

Once I reached to bottom of the Polecat Trail at the Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort, I then did the 1.0 mile road walk along US 16 to return to my starting point at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. 

To sum it up, I'll once again repeat the corny word used in the title of my report.  This was a "purr-fect" hike!  I loved the scrambles over ledges and slabs on the Wildcat Ridge Trail, and the views were awesome, especially on the Polecat Ski Trail.  Also, not only was this a trail segment that was new to me (which I love), but it was also a section of the Appalachian Trail that I'd never hiked.

If I could change one thing about this adventure, I'd park at the Wildcat Mountain ski area and do the road walk at the beginning of the loop, just to get it out of the way.  Then, at the end of the loop, I could simply jump right into the car and head for home.


Arkie_in_CT said...

What a beautiful day you got, 1HH! Crystal clear views. I hope to do the Wildcat hike soon - thanks for sharing your photo. One question - isn't that Glen Boulder's cousin Split Rock on the Boott Spur Trail? Anyhow, wonderful report of, well, a purrfect day for hiking. :)


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Arkie in CT!

Thank you not only for your kind words about my report, but also thank you for catching my labeling error on the Tuckerman Ravine photo! You are indeed correct about the large boulder being Split Rock rather than Glen Boulder. I’ve corrected the photo labeling.

Thanks again!


JustJoe said...

Wonderful report John. That shot of the Presi's over lost Pond is amazing. I've never been on that trail, I'm going to have to check it out. I love hiking ski trails, (when permissible), because of the great views you get. And Polecat's one of the best for that.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Joe!

Yes, the Lost Pond Trail does offer some picturesque views. But like I sort of indicated in my report, that little trail is a bit rougher than what one might expect to find in such close proximity to a “touristy” area like the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

And I completely agree with you about hiking certain ski trails. It’s an especially nice experience on the descent phase of a trek. It’s like having a giant iMax screen in front of you to watch as you come down the mountainside!


Arkie_in_CT said...

Thanks, John. Picking up on your and Joe's discussion below, I want to do the Polecat descent sometime, taking in those many fine views. So far, I've hiked the three most famous Whites, Moosilauke first, then Lafayette and Washington twice and quite a lot in CT and Mass, plus a little in VT. I've posted a lot of photos at my Facebook stream - feel free to check them out. Haven't started posting on Blogger, though I've set up an account. Soon, I hope. I've also posted lots of photos at Panoramio.





Anonymous said...

Great Report John! Absolutely amazing pics, they are so vivid and clear! I have this "trail" on my list. When I did the 48 I hiked up from Wildcat, but after reading several reports on the WRT from PNVC I have decided that it would be a worthy destination in and of itself. I believe Brian and SilentCal maintain that section of trail to! Good stuff!

Hiking Lady

1HappyHiker said...

Chris, thank you for the links to your photos. You’ve been to some beautiful spots, and your photos do a great job of capturing the sights you’ve seen!


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for the compliments Hiking Lady!

Yes, the 2.0 mile section of the Wildcat Ridge Trail (WRT) that is highlighted in my report is indeed, as you say, “a worthy destination in and of itself”. This is especially true if you enjoy (as I do) scrambling over ledges and rock slabs, and being treated with views at several points along the route. Although I’m currently trying to do something new (to me) on each of my hikes, this is one of those segments of trail that could merit a “repeat performance”. :-)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for trail report. I always like to hear how veteran hikers think of the trail we take care of. We were recently told that we need to put more blazing but I think it's fairly hard to lose the trail when the grade is so steep. For what it's worth, I always take the tram up and do our trailwork downhill. Much easier on the knees. Thanks for the update! Silentcal

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Silentcal!

This is not being said just to be polite, or as an attempt to be funny, but “purr-fect” is how I would describe the 2-mile segment of the Wildcat Ridge Trail that I hiked (between Lost Pond Trail and Wildcat “D”). In terms of more blazing, I agree that it would be difficult to lose the trail with such a well-defined corridor. Since I’m also a trail maintainer, perhaps I look at things somewhat differently. On many trails that I hike, I’ll stop to do some minor maintenance such as clear debris from a drainage ditch, etc. However on your segment of trail, there was no need to do anything other than enjoy the hike! Thank you, and those who assist you, for such excellent trail maintenance work!


Rita Wechter said...

Wow! The views along this hike are amazing. And what a purr-fect day with purr-fect weather!
As always, I love your photo-documentation of this trek. You're right about the first picture—it almost doesn't look real!
Your pictures make me wish I was planning an autumn trip to New Hampshire!
Great post, John.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Rita for the kudos!

Regarding that first photo, I added the disclaimer about it NOT being “Photoshopped” since it looked so much like it had been! It was just one of those somewhat rare days when conditions were just right, (or “purr-fect”, as the case might be) for capturing some crisp and clear images.

Regarding your autumn trip(s), I’m fully confident that you’ll generate terrific reports and photos, regardless of where you and Tim venture forth! New Hampshire is a terrific venue for autumn travels. However, I’m certain that there are many other places across the U.S. which also offer stunning autumn scenes. You’ll find them, as you always do! :-)


Summerset said...

Great hike! I hadn't done this trail until this summer either; it certainly is steep, but there is a break about half-way up, which prepares you for the last steep bit to the ridge. I should also go back and do Polecat, but I'll wait until there is some snow!;) I got confused when I did the ski trails up last time and went up something much steeper. LOL.

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Summerset,

I remember your “rambunctious kittens” hike along the Wildcat Ridge (link below)!

And yes, the Polecat Ski Trail is definitely hike-worthy, in my opinion. Regarding hiking it during snow season, you likely followed the discussions last winter about the $10/person fee that was instituted for hikers to ascend the trails (no fee to descend). It will be interesting to see if the fee will be reinstituted this upcoming season.

As always, thank you for your comments!


Chris Harding said...

Looks like a fantastic hike and you got some great shots, as always seems to be the case the futher I delve into your blog. I learned to ski at Wildcat when I was a kid and Polecat was always one of my favorite trails when I wanted a nice long, easy run down the mountain. I haven't hiked Wildcat yet. However, I have thought about what it might be like to hike Polecat, but wasn't so sure I wanted to find out. Now I am. I'm definitely going to try to get this loop done in the next couple months, if not weeks. I might even try to shoot over to "A" to add it to my list.

Thanks for sharing your experience and photos.


1HappyHiker said...

Hey Chris,

Your kind words about my Blog are greatly appreciated!

Also, it’s terrific to read that you’re going to soon hike the Polecat Trail. If you can arrange your route such that you descend the Polecat, I think you’ll really like it. There’s nothing wrong with using it as an ascent route, I just happen to think that it’s more fun to have that awesome vista in your face while you’re coming down the mountainside.

Whatever you end up doing, you’ve got my best wishes for an excellent hiking adventure!


Don Robinson said...

Great report! You get some of the most beautiful pictures and I love your unique and varied route selections.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your very kind words, Don. Very much appreciated.
You post some very nice photos yourself on your blog: