- Difficulty: Easy Beginning, Moderate Ending
- Trailhead: Sawyer River Road
- Distance: 10 miles
- Elevation: 4,700′
- Elevation Gain: 3,250 ft.
- Hike Type: Out and Back
- View: Excellent (360º)
After our great hike up Mt. Osceola last week, we decided to keep the momentum strong by tackling a large peak today. Mt. Carrigain sits at the balancing point of the White Mountains, deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The trail starts with an very easy flat 1.7 miles starting at Sawyer River Road. The trail crosses an old fire road (shown on Caltopo and some other maps), before meeting up with Carrigain Brook. There is a dispersed camping site a short walk down the fire road to the South (left as you’re approaching the mountain).
Shortly after meeting with Carrigain Brook, you reach an intersection where you can choose to continue up the mountain on the main trial, or circle around behind the mountain to go up the Desolation Trail (see Variations at the bottom). From the intersection, the main trail takes few turns and climbs steadily until you reach Signal Ridge.
Signal Ridge provides the first view of the summit, summit tower, and provides a true alpine feel. The trail is exposed to the winds and the cliffs to the North East (no real danger), and after slogging over 3 miles up to the ridge is a welcome change of pace. From the ridge you’re likely to first notice Mt. Lowell to the North East with steep cliffs, separated from Mt. Carrigain by Carrigain Notch. I’ve heard stories that there may have been a Vietnam War deserters camp located somewhere in the Notch, which I’d like to explore one day.
Once reaching Signal Ridge, the summit is only a few minutes away. After crossing the ridge and a quick climb, you find yourself standing below a fire tower at the summit. Many peaks in the White Mountains used to have fire towers, however most have been dismantled over time due to maintenance, cost, liability, or no need for them anymore. Carrigain is one of the few mountains that still has a tower, and it provides some of the best views in the White Mountains. From the tower you can see nearly every other 4000 footer on the NH48 list.
Carrigain is a very popular mountain due to the views, and on any given day during the summer you are likely to encounter quite a crowd at the summit. Try to get out early if you want to beat the crowds and enjoy a bit more of the wilderness that you’re surrounded by when climbing this amazing peak.
The most common variation is to take a right at the first trail intersection and follow the signs for The Desolation Trail around to the back of the mountain. The Desolation Trail starts in an area known as “The Desolation” due to the extensive logging and subsequent forest fires nearly 100 years ago. The trail is steeper and adds 3.5 miles and 400′ of elevation gain to the trip, but, you don’t have to entirely backtrack over your own footsteps. In the winter Sawyer River Road closes, adding approximately 4 miles of road walking / snowshoeing / cross country skiing to the day.