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Snowshoeing the McCrillis Path in Spring Snow

This sign should probably tell you to look for blue *and* yellow blazes because they both mark the trail.
This sign should probably tell you to look for blue *and* yellow blazes because they both mark the trail.

The McCrillis Path is a good trail to know about for planning backpacking trips near Mts Whiteface and Passaconaway in the White Mountain’s Sandwich Range. It’s seldom hiked and was closed for many years due to a landowner dispute. It links the Blueberry Ridge Trail which climbs Mt Whiteface, to the McCrills Trail (a different trail) and Flat Mountain Pond Trail off Whiteface Intervale Rd in Sandwich, NH, making possible a variety of loops and lollipop routes. It also provides access to a remote gorge and waterfall.

McCrillis Path (click photo for live link in Caltopo)

The McCrillis Path itself is a moderate snowshoe route through a very pretty section of open forest. Part of it coincides with a backcountry ski trail, which was probably a logging road at one point. I parked at north end of the trail for this hike, at the Ferncroft Lot in Wonalancet, since the southern lot was unplowed. Just 3.1 miles long, the route is blazed with blue and yellow blazes, which can be a little confusing since some trees have blue blazes and others have yellow blazes, not the two colors together.

When I hiked the McCrillis Trail, there were two feet of snow on the ground which made it harder to follow since it wasn’t broken out and I couldn’t see any evidence of a path on the ground: I presume the tread is more apparent the remainder of the year, making the trail easier to follow. When I say I snowshoed this trail in “spring”, I mean late March in “calendar spring:” it’s not unusual to encounter snow on White Mountain trails well into mid-May, especially at elevation.

A large tree blocks the McCrillis Path at the Blueberry Ledge Trail Junction
A large tree blocks the McCrillis Path at the Blueberry Ledge Trail Junction

I started my hike on the Blueberry Ledge Trail before turning onto the McCrillis Trail and immediately encountered a downed tree blocking the trail, a pretty good sign that I was about to hike a less popular trail. I skirted around it and found myself on a well-groomed, blue-blazed trail running through a lovely patch of open woods that had obviously been logged sometime in the past. There were abundant snow hare tracks in the snow and I suspect they enjoy the seclusion of this remote trail.

I crossed a stream about a mile up the trail and then came to a double-yellow-blaze indicating a turn. I followed it even though it was a different color than the blue blazes I’d been following so far, although I had doubts about this being the trail I wanted to follow. The route of the McCrillis Trail isn’t on any of the paper maps I was carrying because it’s been closed for a while, so I had to trust what blazing I could find and my gut. I rarely bother to download GPS tracks from the White Mountain Guide online for my hikes because their online planning application is so clunky and outdated, but I probably should have on this occasion.

Map of the McCrillis Path on The New England Hiker App
Map of the McCrillis Path on The New England Hiker App

The yellow blazes ended about 1/3 of a mile farther along at an obvious property boundary “corner” marked by large red paint circles painted on the trees. This is the standard way that property owners mark land boundaries in the Whites, but it can be real confusing when they occur mixed with trail blazes. I didn’t see any way forward and my location didn’t match any of the old maps I had, so I backtracked, which is usually a good strategy when looking for a trail that you might have passed.

Once back on the main trunk trail I’d hiked in, I went looking for more blue blazes. Didn’t find anything, so I followed a large logging road downhill a ways, then backtracked. Then I followed another herd path, but that was clearly not right either. I was getting frustrated. I had cell phone access so I even pulled up a trip report from Steve Smith’s Mountain Wandering website about this trail, but couldn’t make heads or tails of his description because he’d hiked in the opposite direction. Steve Smith is the co-editor of the White Mountain Guide.

Then I remembered that I had the New England Hiker App on my phone written by my friend Ryan Lynn, also known as Guthook. I’ve tested a few versions of it and given him some feedback about how to make the app better. I loaded up the Sandwich Range map set and he had the latest route for the McCrillis Path on it. I located my self on the map and snowshoed back down the yellow-blazed trail I’d been on. That part of my previous route had been correct.

Back on track, a trail sign provided much needed reassurance
Back on track, a trail sign provided much-needed reassurance

I still didn’t see the trail or any blazes, but I hiked in the direction that the app indicated and eventually found another blue blaze. I was back on the trail. Good deal. I related this story to Guthook later. I still fell off the trail a few more times, even snowshoeing down what I think was a waterfall at one point because the treadway wasn’t clear with all the snow. I sensed that something wasn’t right pretty quickly and backed off. If it sounds like I was bumbling around trying to follow a poorly blazed trail, that’d be about right. I knew I was close.

I soon passed a gorge and knew that the rest of the route ran next to a stream. The trail turned into a logging road which I followed down to Whiteface Intervale Road. I knew exactly where I was now. The trail continues down the road actually for another 0.6 miles to the Flat Mountain Pond Trail lot and I sauntered down to the end.

VFTT XC Skiers who gave me a ride back to my car
VFTT XC Skiers who gave me a ride back to my car

Now to get back to my car. I figured I could snowshoe back, but managed to bum a ride back from some passing cross-country skiers looking for a trail head. I’d lost a ton of time searching for that damn trail, but put it to good use over an early dinner at the Moat. A fine way to end an entertaining day playing in the snow.

Check out the New England Hiker App for iPhone and Android. There’s a new release out and the Guthook is giving the White Mountain trail maps away for free until Memorial Day. Imagine having all the trails of the White Mountain National Forest on your phone integrated with a GPS app so you can find your location instantly. Plus the map sets are updated automatically and you and never have to download GPS routes or maps again.

6 comments

  1. Thank You for the app info. How do you get all of the White Mtn maps for free? Some where free and some were pay.

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