November 25, 2011, day after Thanksgiving. The targets for today's hike would be Tom, Field, Willey and a little known peak Avalon thrown in at the end while passing by. The hike would start at the Highland Center off of Route 302 and go to Tom, Field, Willey and then back to the trailhead.
The mountains got about 6-8 inches of new snow on Tuesday so Wednesday I ran down to EMS and bought some snowshoes. Hiking through snow, UGH, I swore when I first started this journey that I would never hike in the winter or the snow. Yet I have the bug and I did not want to stop hiking yet until I at least got to the halfway point, 24! So the hell with it I'm going to go for as long as I can until it gets real bad and then start up again in the spring.
Up before the crack of dawn and out the door early a little after 4 AM. I make it to the Highland Center about 6:15 and not quite sure where to park due to all the snow and the state not plowing some of the lots for hikers. After a few minutes scoping out the area I end up parking off to the side on the driveway leading into the Highland Center. I turn on the dome light in the car so I can try and figure out where the trail starts and take a guess and get ready. On with the hiking shoes, strap the snowshoes to my backpack and off I head towards the train depot looking for the trailhead at 6:35. I find the start of the trail just past the station and off I go. I get a little ways in and something does not feel right. I'm forgetting something, oh yeah, my hiking poles. Must of been a godsend that I forgot something as I turn around and head back to the car. As I get closer to the car I can see a light on inside, I not only forgot my poles but I forgot to turn off the dome light. That would have been a nice ending to my hike, dead battery! Grab the poles and turn off the light and off I go again (remember this little sequence for later).
The trail, Avalon, is nicely packed out here due to it being a popular trail with three mountains easily reached from the Highland Center, Willard, Avalon and Tom. No need for the snowshoes yet or the microspikes for that matter. It actually is kind of cool hiking with all the new snow with everything having a fresh coating. It's very refreshing from the bare trees and bare ground of the in between seasons of fall and winter, kind of brightens up everything. Hiking the 2.8 miles up to Mt Tom in a little over two hours from the first time I left the car I get some views of George to the east (from the false summit) and the Pemi Wilderness to the west (from the real summit).
Back down the spur path and a short trip back on the A-Z Trail and I reach the Willey Range Trail. No one has been on the this section of the trail today and the only tracks are of someone with snowshoes either the day before or Wednesday. But I bareboot it all the way to Field stepping in the tracks of the previous hiker. This is not one of my favorite things, stepping in someone else's foot prints and not using my normal gait. Something I have always disliked even as a kid walking to school through the woods in winter. The trail itself is a pleasurable path through the woods slowly gaining grade and within an hour from leaving Tom I reach summit number two for the day. Enough of this walking in someone else's prints so off comes the pack and on with the snowshoes. A few pictures and on to Willey.
Much easier now in snowshoes, there are two sets of fresh tracks but it so much nicer stepping in ones normal gait. An hour and fifteen minutes and one false summit later I make it Willey.
Some snapshots towards the east and more from a viewpoint west and it's time to head back to Field the way I came. Arriving at Field for the second time there are a few gray jays waiting for me that were not there the first time. I share some of my granola bar with them and head off down to the intersection of Avalon Trail.
Heading down Avalon and I come to flat meadow spot and get a view of Jefferson and Mt Washington. Always a cool site no matter where in the White Mountains you are. Something about Washington just brings out a smile on my face every time I see it. At 1:30 I reach Mt Avalon, a short 100 yards up from the trail and only 3442 feet tall but what a bang for the buck so to speak. Mt Washington almost staring you right in the face, the cliffs of Mt Webster and the Crawford Notch most impressive for a "small" peak. Off with the snowshoes and back down to Avalon Trail I go. Not such a smart move as this section of the trail turns out to be quite slick and a few times falling on my butt and out come the microspikes. So much better and easier. Something so simple makes hiking so enjoyable in these conditions. On the way out I make a side trip to both Pearl and Beecher Cascades.
Remember way back in the beginning when I had to go back to the car to get my hiking poles and found the dome light still on? Well, on the way up to Tom I had this sinking feeling that when I went back I forgot to do one other thing as I left, LOCK THE CAR!!! I couldn't remember if I did or didn't, but at the time there was no way I was going to turn around. Well I apparently did not because I made it back to the car at 3:10 and the doors were not locked. Thank god I parked at an AMC center and that hikers are a trusting lot. Anywhere else I am sure that the contents in the car would not have been there eight and half hours later.
One final footnote to this whole trip. So I've climbed 16 mountains now and other than the few birds out there I have not seen any other sign of wildlife on the trails. Some droppings here and there but no physical sightings of any animal. As I am pulling away from the Highland Center and heading north on 302 about a quarter mile up the road cars are pulled over to the side. So I slow down to see what is going on and on the right side of the road in the grass is a moose just leisurely walking around. I stop and get out to take some pictures of it and it slowly makes its way up towards where I am, walks past the passenger side of the car about ten feet away and then goes behind my car and crosses the road. This was pretty awesome as he was close enough that you could smell him (note the small rack).
A great ending to a great hike despite the leaving the hiking poles behind, going back, leaving the dome light on and leaving the car unlocked. Oh, and the shots on the way home of George and the Mount Washington Hotel (couldn't refuse the one last smile Washington brings to me)!!
Final numbers: 10.2 miles, 8 hours and 35 minutes, 3 peaks, # of peaks to date - 16.