The Wildcat Mountain Range has two White Mountain 4000 footers, called the ‘A’ peak or Wildcat A, and the ‘D’ peak, or Wildcat D. There are actually about 10 peaklets in total along the Wildcat Ridge Trail but those two are the only ones that count as 4000 footers.
In winter, most people climb up the D peak first and then follow the Wildcat Ridge Trail to the A peak, before descending to Carter Notch and hiking out the 19 Mile Brook Trail. This route requires a short shuttle from the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead on Rt 16 to the Wildcat Ski Resort parking lot a few miles to the south. You can also hike the same route in reverse and descend from the D peak.
When climbing the D peak or descending, hikers follow a sequence of ski trails that have been marked as a designated hiking route by the ski resort, so hikers don’t get picked off by skiers descending the mountain. You’ll often see this route referred to as the Polecat Ski Trail, although it’s actually a sequence of smaller trail segments linked together. While it is signed, it’s easy to remember the route, especially in the dark, because it follows the northernmost border of the ski resort. In other words, when climbing you always want to keep the forest on your left and when descending, the forest should always be on your right.
In the past, you used to be able to climb or descend the hiker ski trails any time you wanted. But starting in the winter of 2022-2023 (this year), the resort owner restricted the use of the ski trails to certain times of the day, when the ski resort is not in operation. The ski resort can do that because they have a special use permit from the US Forest Service, even though the ski slopes are on public land in a National Forest
If you’re a hiker, you can only use the hiker-designated ski trails before 8:30 am and after 4:00 pm. It doesn’t matter which direction you’re hiking, up or down, access is restricted to those hours.
The upshot of all this is that you’re likely to hike to or from Wildcat D in the dark. Since you have to be off the ski trail by 8:30 and it takes 2 to 3 hours to climb Wildcat D from the bottom of the ski resort, you’d have to start before sunrise to get off the ski slopes by 8:30 am. Similarly, since you can only descend after 4:00, you’ll probably hike some portion of the descent after sunset.
Hiking up or down Wildcat D by yourself at night can be a little spooky, but a bright headlamp does help light the way. But hiking at night in winter is not uncommon, especially on longer routes in the Whites, and it’s a good thing to get some practice doing.
Climbing up or down Wildcat D in the dark can actually be quite a treat when the moon is bright or when the sky is clear and you can see the stars. The Wildcat Ski Resort doesn’t have night skiing and they don’t light up the slopes or the chair lifts at night, so you can experience the wonder of the winter sky without any light pollution. That, alone, is a good reason to climb up or come down the Wildcat ski trails at night even if you don’t care about climbing a 4000-footer.