My friend David and I popped up to New Hampshire mid-week to hike two winter 4,000 footers, Mount Field (4340′) and Mount Willey (4285′) in Crawford Notch. While I’ve climbed these peaks many times, I’d never climbed them during the winter peakbagging season and needed them for my Winter 4,000 footer list.
The recent blizzard dumped a lot of snow in the Whites, so we spent most of the 7.6 mile hike snowshoeing through powder. Starting at the Crawford Depot, we hiked up the A-Z Trail, the Avalon Trail, and the Willey Range Trail to Mount Field, then over to Mount Willey, and back.
Normally, I try to avoid the Avalon Trail because it is so steep, but the upper half of the A-Z trail was not broken out so we were forced to take it to save our energy. Even then, the trail had only been hiked by a 2 or 3 people ahead of us, so flotation was necessary for most of the hike. The snow was also very dry and fluffy and without snowshoes we would have postholed.
One of the things I really like about winter hiking is that the topography of the mountain landscape, its undulations and rocky outcrops, become much more visible when the leaves have fallen off the trees. There’s something about seeing great swathes of trees covered in snow and rime ice that heightens one’s appreciation of the the ridges and peaks and how they correspond to the contour lines on a map that is less salient than the rest of the year.
After climbing Mt Avalon, we took a break and took in the views of Webster Cliff, Mount Jackson and Crawford Notch. Low cloud cover occluded the southern Presidential range and Mt Washington, but there were patches of blue sky and the sun was trying to burn through. Temperatures were in the low twenties and warmed slightly as we continued up Field, stripped down to our base layers to vent the heat of our exertion.
As we climbed, I couldn’t help thinking that Mount Field is under-appreciated, probably because it is so hard to get a clear view of it from anywhere except Mount Avalon. Even then, it’s a nondescript flattish peak with a long summit ridge that runs from Mount Willey to its col with Mount Tom.
We summited Mount Field close to book time and had a quick snack. Mount Tom, Mount Zealand, and Franconia Ridge were all visible to the North and West. There’s also a viewpoint facing Mount Washington and Crawford Notch to the East.
As we ate, we were joined by a family of Grey Jays including a pair of youngsters, looking for a handout. These birds are notorious scattermongers in the Whites, storing food in multiple caches scattered throughout the forest. They followed us to the summit of Mount Willey, as well.
From Field, we headed to Willey along the ridge, making our way through trees heavily laden with new snow. While someone had clearly snowshoed here a few days prior, their footprints had been filled with drifting snow. Although the view west was partially obstructed by trees, I could make out Mount Carrigan and Signal Ridge Clearly in the distance, Mount Nancy, which I had climbed the previous week, and Mounts Anderson, Lowell and Vose Spur.
After reaching the summit of Willey, we worked our way to the outlook below the summit that overlooks Crawford Notch, directly across from Mt Webster. By now, the sunlight had lost its fight with the fog and the day was waning. After another quick snack and shooing away the Grey Jays, we turned back and hiked back to Field and back down to Crawford Depot, making astonishingly fast time – 2.8 miles in about 70 minutes – down the steep Avalon trails.
Despite what turned into a grey cold day, driving from Boston to New Hampshire with David and hiking with him had made for a pleasant outing. I hope we get a chance to get out of town again for another winter hike this year.