From Mt Hight, looking at the Presidential Range.
Photo by Ryan Linn
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Wild River Wilderness Backpacking Loop

Over the weekend, I met up with Philip (of Sectionhiker.com) and Steve, both Appalachian Mountain Club trip leaders, for a two-night backpacking trip through one of the wildest regions of the White Mountains.

Ryan Linn       Trip Report       10/25/2013
Ryan Linn
Trip Report
10/25/2013

Over the weekend, I met up with Philip (of Sectionhiker.com) and Steve, both Appalachian Mountain Club trip leaders, for a two-night backpacking trip through one of the wildest regions of the White Mountains.

The Wild River Wilderness is one of my favorite parts of the National Forest, though I spend very little time there. The Wilderness is a densely vegetated valley around the Wild River, walled in by the Carter-Moriah Range to the west, and the Baldface-Royce Range to the east. Both of these ranges are very popular with peak-baggers and day hikers, but deeper into the middle it gets wild in a hurry.

Steve and Philip at Zeta Pass.
Photo by Ryan Linn

We started on Friday morning at the trailhead for the Nineteen Mile Brook trail, one of the most popular trails in the Whites since it leads directly to Carter Notch Hut.

We had an early start on a sunny, cool day, but it was still a weekday, so the crowds were small. Most of the people we passed on the way up to the Carter-Moriah Range were peak-baggers, probably heading up to Carter Dome rather than Mount Hight, which was our destination. Hight, technically a shoulder of Carter Dome, doesn’t count as a 4000-footer, though the views from the peak are the best in the entire range.

We started on Friday morning at the trailhead for the Nineteen Mile Brook trail, one of the most popular trails in the Whites since it leads directly to Carter Notch Hut.

We had an early start on a sunny, cool day, but it was still a weekday, so the crowds were small. Most of the people we passed on the way up to the Carter-Moriah Range were peak-baggers, probably heading up to Carter Dome rather than Mount Hight, which was our destination. Hight, technically a shoulder of Carter Dome, doesn’t count as a 4000-footer, though the views from the peak are the best in the entire range.

Steve and Philip at Zeta Pass.
Photo by Ryan Linn

From Hight, we walked up the Carter-Moriah Trail a short distance and then started down the Black Angel Trail. Black Angel goes all the way down to the Wild River, then back up to the other side of the Wilderness toward Meader Mountain.

As soon as we turned off of the Carter-Moriah Trail (which is also the Appalachian Trail) it was obvious that we’d entered a more wild area. The trail was less eroded, thick with duff and soil, choked with roots and fallen twigs, surrounded by dense moss beds– everything felt more like a wild forest than like a well-trodden hiking trail.

A hiker fords a wide river that runs through a green forest in the White Mountains National Forest.
Philip fords the Wild River.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A hiker admires a beautiful waterfall in the White Mountains National Forest.
Philip getting water at Blue Brook (with Steve up top).
Photo by Ryan Linn
A hiker fords a wide river that runs through a green forest in the White Mountains National Forest.
Philip fords the Wild River.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A hiker admires a beautiful waterfall in the White Mountains National Forest.
Philip getting water at Blue Brook (with Steve up top).
Photo by Ryan Linn
Clouds settle into a valley below an evergreen forest.

Being three well-heeled hikers, we made faster time than expected, even with a ford of the Wild River. We pushed a few miles beyond our planned to camp, ending up for the day at the Blue Brook Campsite high on the shoulder of Mount Meader.

Blue Brook, along with several other campsites in the Wild River Wilderness, once housed a lean-to, but has now been converted to a tenting site that I think is a lovely little area. The fifteen foot waterfall for a water source sure doesn’t hurt. We had an early evening, and I was asleep by 8 PM– I especially love backpacking in the fall, since early sundown means more sleep.

Undercast clouds hugging the Royce Range.
Photo by Ryan Linn
Clouds settle into a valley below an evergreen forest.
Undercast clouds hugging the Royce Range.
Photo by Ryan Linn

Being three well-heeled hikers, we made faster time than expected, even with a ford of the Wild River. We pushed a few miles beyond our planned to camp, ending up for the day at the Blue Brook Campsite high on the shoulder of Mount Meader.

Blue Brook, along with several other campsites in the Wild River Wilderness, once housed a lean-to, but has now been converted to a tenting site that I think is a lovely little area. The fifteen foot waterfall for a water source sure doesn’t hurt. We had an early evening, and I was asleep by 8 PM– I especially love backpacking in the fall, since early sundown means more sleep.

On Saturday morning, we awoke to a misty trail. We quickly gained the Rim Trail near Mount Meader, and walked the ridge along to Eagle Crag, then North and South Baldface, returning to Eagle Crag for the descent.

As we walked along the ridge, the thick clouds broke, showing a welcome sight: to the east, as far as the eye could see, dense clouds hugged the ground below, while the land and sky to the west were perfectly clear. As we walked across the open saddle between the Baldfaces, the clouds shifted and swirled around us, but generally left a beautiful view all around. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but they don’t do the views the least bit of justice.

A hiker traverses a rocky mountain range in the White Mountains National Forest.
Steve on Eagle Crag heading to North Baldface.
Photo by Ryan Linn
Two hikers climb a steep rocky slope with a mountain range in the background.
Steve and Philip climb North Baldface. The Carter Moriah Range and Mahoosuc Mountains in the background.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A hiker traverses a rocky mountain range in the White Mountains National Forest.
Steve on Eagle Crag heading to North Baldface.
Photo by Ryan Linn
Two hikers climb a steep rocky slope with a mountain range in the background.
Steve and Philip climb North Baldface. The Carter Moriah Range and Mahoosuc Mountains in the background.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A sea of clouds settle into the valley below an exposed ridgeline.

After the Baldfaces, we dropped into the Wilderness once again, this time on the Eagle Link Trail. Just like all the trails from the rim of the Wilderness, the Eagle Link heads down to the river, through dense vegetation with little sign of humanity.

This time, rather than continuing across the Wild River back up to the mountains, we turned south on the Wild River Trail, walking along the headwaters of the river, crossing many heavily eroded tributaries. Part of the erosion and overgrowth is due to damage from Irene a few years ago, but there’s also a lack of trail maintenance here. Most people say that as a negative thing, but a place that gets little traffic and maintenance is great as far as I’m concerned (lots of traffic with little maintenance is the bad thing). Like I said before, it just feels more wild.

Looking down the ridge of South Baldface, into the sea of fog.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A sea of clouds settle into the valley below an exposed ridgeline.
Looking down the ridge of South Baldface, into the sea of fog.
Photo by Ryan Linn

After the Baldfaces, we dropped into the Wilderness once again, this time on the Eagle Link Trail. Just like all the trails from the rim of the Wilderness, the Eagle Link heads down to the river, through dense vegetation with little sign of humanity.

This time, rather than continuing across the Wild River back up to the mountains, we turned south on the Wild River Trail, walking along the headwaters of the river, crossing many heavily eroded tributaries. Part of the erosion and overgrowth is due to damage from Irene a few years ago, but there’s also a lack of trail maintenance here. Most people say that as a negative thing, but a place that gets little traffic and maintenance is great as far as I’m concerned (lots of traffic with little maintenance is the bad thing). Like I said before, it just feels more wild.

We moved on to Perkins Notch for the night, another campsite on the site of a removed shelter. I’d stayed at Perkins Notch in winter a few years ago, so the terrain looked familiar, but things are very different in summer. Perkins Notch is a beautiful spot, but not so great as a campsite. The campsite is a wind funnel, and the water source requires a swampy bushwhack.

Luckily, we arrived just minutes before the rain started, so I was able to pitch my tarp in a decent spot. Philip and Steve, having more experience tenting in this area, warned me against pitching on the official tent pads. In the morning, they looked like swimming pools, so I was glad for that advice.

Two hikers travel through a sparse green forest with distant mountains in the background.

A friend in Conway described the rain on Saturday night as “epic,” and I’m willing to agree. It rained hard throughout the night, and for the first time in eight years my silnylon tarp didn’t hold up.

Part of that was my own fault, for not getting up in the middle of the night to tighten the guylines– silnylon stretches when it gets cold and wet. After tightening the lines a little too late, a stake pulled out due to softening ground, and some of the saturated ground flooded beneath my ground sheet. Still, I got enough sleep and stayed dry enough that I could have stayed out another night if I’d needed to.

Descending into the wilderness again.
Photo by Ryan Linn
Two hikers travel through a sparse green forest with distant mountains in the background.
Descending into the wilderness again.
Photo by Ryan Linn

A friend in Conway described the rain on Saturday night as “epic,” and I’m willing to agree. It rained hard throughout the night, and for the first time in eight years my silnylon tarp didn’t hold up.

Part of that was my own fault, for not getting up in the middle of the night to tighten the guylines– silnylon stretches when it gets cold and wet. After tightening the lines a little too late, a stake pulled out due to softening ground, and some of the saturated ground flooded beneath my ground sheet. Still, I got enough sleep and stayed dry enough that I could have stayed out another night if I’d needed to.

In the morning, we got an early start toward Carter Notch, stopping at the AMC Hut for a quick snack. It turned out to be the final day of the season for the crew, so we helped get blankets and food stores ready for helicopter pickup in exchange for leftover pancakes and good conversation. It turns out I’d even met the hut master on my AT hike in 2007, which was a big surprise.

The rest of the hike out was a mellow walk down the 19 Mile Brook trail, passing the turnoff where we’d headed up to Mt Hight two days earlier. By noon, it was another cool, sunny day with a brisk wind. I dried out some of my equipment in the parking lot, then headed home with my sanity-recharge (aka backpacking trip) complete.

A hiker crosses a rocky stream.
Steve crossing one of many tributaries to the Wild River.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A building with wooden shingles sits nestled in a foggy green forest.
A wet morning at Carter Notch Hut.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A hiker crosses a rocky stream.
Steve crossing one of many tributaries to the Wild River.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A building with wooden shingles sits nestled in a foggy green forest.
A wet morning at Carter Notch Hut.
Photo by Ryan Linn

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Presidential Range, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Photo by Ryan Linn
Presidential Range, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Photo by Ryan Linn

White Mountain National Forest

White Mountain National Forest is home to New Hampshire’s highest peaks and over a thousand miles of hiking trails!

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About the Author
A man wears a blue shirt, blue backpack, and a tan baseball cap.

Ryan Linn

Ryan is also known as “Guthook”, which is where our apps get their name. Already an avid hiker, he hiked the Appalachian Trail, New England Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail before joining forces with Paul to create the Guthook Guides apps. Ryan handles iOS development for our apps from his office in Maine, and usually runs away to the forests and mountains throughout New England. He also volunteers with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Baxter State Park in Maine is his happy place.