Willey and Field

January 29, 2017.

A traverse today joining Phil and Jen for three more 4000' with Andy tagging along. The plan is up and over Willey then on to Field and Tom. Starting at the Ethan Pond Trail head and then ending at the railroad depot at the top of Crawford Notch next to the Highland Center. There were discussions on which way to do the traverse but this makes the most sense due to the steepness of Willey Range Trail leading up to Willey.

We met at the bottom of Willey House Station Road where the AT crosses Route 302 because the access road to the trailhead is not plowed during the winter. It's ten minutes before eight as we start the trek uphill. It will be non stop this way all the way to Willey as we get our first look as to where we need to go, Mt Willey, from the road.

 

We reach the summer lot and then cross the railroad tracks where Phil and Andy decide to take off their snowshoes since the trail is pretty packed down. The trail is in good shape and the ascent is a steady grind but I know what lies ahead. I was out here two years ago doing this same portion of the trail when I did a big loop hike out to Zealand Notch. We reach the junction where the Ethan Pond Trail splits off to the left and the Willey Range Trail begins in under two hours.

 

I didn't have the heart to tell them it took me about an hour the day I was out here. Also there was another foot of snow on the ground when I was here that day two years ago as you can see by the sign. The trail above the junction became more mild in regards to the grade. But I still know what is ahead!

 

Finally we start hitting the steeps. Part way up the first section and a resident Grey Jey makes an appearance looking for a hand out.

 

A few minutes later and we hit the worse section of the trail. Two years ago I had no problems heading up this section due to the deep snowpack. This year it was tedious at best. I went up first and it was a bit hairy as the snowshoes just barely gripped in at a few spots. Some slipping and grabbing a few trees as I struggled up the steep incline. Reaching the spot below the final ladder I turned and waited for the rest of the group. Watching Jen struggle I knew Andy was not going to make it up with his snowshoes. So I took off mine and threw them down to him. Phil stubbornly made it up with just his microspikes on. Watching everyone struggle on this section and in hindsight we should have turned around before someone slipped and got hurt.

 

The next small section where the last ladder was still partially exposed was just as bad. It was coated in ice just under a thin layer of snow. There was no way to climb up either side. Wearing only microspikes now I fortunately was able to kick in holes just under each step for leverage and very carefully climbed up the ladder. This isn't one of my smarter moments but eventually we all made it up. Everyone was a trooper and since noone complained I think that was a huge reason for continuing on.

 

While waiting at the top of the ladder I did get the first peeks at some views across the notch. Stairs and Resolution are across the way were I was hiking a month and a half ago. A look down to Route 302 which seems a long way down. After a good fifty minutes struggling through this section we could finally move on.

 

We still had 700 feet of elevation to gain as I stayed in my microspikes and let Andy use my snowshoes. The trail seemed to drag on forever as I broke away from the group just wanting to get to the top. Heading up in spikes was for the most part adequate but there were a few sections where I wished I had my snowshoes. An hour later and I made it to the outlook just below the high point of Willey. It had taken us nearly three hours to reach the summit from the junction with Ethan Pond Trail. Not a good time for just 1.1 miles of trail. Directly across the notch are Webster with its' shear cliff face and Jackson right behind it. Washington is buried in a cloud behind them. A full 180° and Carrigain is visible where Jen and Phil hope to finish their 48 quest someday.

 

The rest of the group arrives and a Grey Jay is perched atop one of the rimed trees but has no interest in being fed. At the summit a mad and pouty Jen is not interested in feeling victorious. It was at his point we all agreed that Tom could wait for another day as this part of the hike had pretty much gassed us.

 

Heading down the Willey Range Trail and now moving at a better pace we reached the blowdown section of the trail. Beyond where the trail skirts around the western side of the ridge a look into the Pemi Wilderness which is one of my favorite remote sections of woods.

 

Through the dense cloud cover Bondcliff and Bond are just barely visible. The landscape is quite surreal with all the trees covered in layers of rime ice. It's a stark black and white world out here especially with the cloud cover.

 

The final push up to Field is a bit of a burner but soon enough we make it and along the way see only the third person of the day. We met one hiker earlier who came up the Kedron Flume Trail. The summit of Field is nothing much as it is a small secluded open wooded spot. Just below the summit there are views over to Tom and on a good day to the Presi's.

 

A few minutes later and the sun pokes an opening through the clouds and lights up the rime covered trees. Across the way Tom is also brightly lit up.

 

Back at the summit another feeding foray with the Grey Jays. This time Andy gets his shot or picture! Sticking to our plan of not doing Tom today we head down the Avalon Trail. It seems like a long trip but I think that was the nature of the day. Twenty minutes from leaving the summit of Field and I reach the open spot just before Avalon which can be seen straight ahead.

 

A few minutes later and I am at the spur trail that leads to the summit of Avalon. Lacking any energy I choose not to go up plus with the clouds there would have been nothing to see. I wait a few minutes for everyone else to arrive and learn that Phil and Jen introduced Andy to the art of butt sledding on the way down. Continuing down the Avalon trail, which is known for its steepness, the group shows off their talents.

Now I have never been a fan of butt sliding but I just couldn't be left out of the fun. So on the next section I let everyone go and then joined in on the fun. I have to admit that I have been converted as we slid all the way down to the junction with A-Z Trail. I was in the back of the group and had such a good run going that I slid right through the junction and continued down as far as the trail would let me. Sadly the A-Z Trail would not be conducive to any more sliding. Just shy of eight hours and we walked out of the woods a bit weary but ending up having some fun after the earlier misery.

No redline miles today but some great company accompanying Jen and Phil on their goal of doing the 48 4000 footers. I have changed my mind about butt sledding, thank you Jen and Phil, and Andy is buying some new snowshoes, Tubbs Flex Alps!


Final numbers: 7.2 miles, 7 hours and 50 minutes.

Redline Miles: 0, Total to Date: 1290.7