9/4/2015 The summer is winding to a close on the calendar, even though the weather seems to be as summery as ever. I decided to take a Friday off of work and go hiking before the weather changes its’ mind and starts to act like fall. Tami and I decided to hike Mts. Field, Willey, and Tom. We did the “standard” route of starting at the Depot in Crawford Notch, hiking the Avalon trail, a quick stop on Mt. Avalon to enjoy the view, continuing up to Mt. Field, over to Mt. Willey on the Willey Range trail, back to Mt. Field continuing to Mt. Tom, then back down the A-Z trail to meet back up with the Avalon trail back to Crawford Notch. We knew it was somewhat long, but we felt up to the challenge and wanted to get three more 4000 footers in before we hang up the boots for the winter. Yes, I realize that plenty of people never hang up the boots and just keep going all year long, but that’s not us.
Since the days are getting a little shorter, we got started on the drive at 5:30 am. By the time we arrived, got our boots on, had a bathroom break, and were ready to go, it was about 8:15. By the way, the composting toilets and the bathroom at the Depot are very nice. What a great thing to have available in the morning before we got going on the hike. Thanks to the AMC for all they do to provide environmentally responsible amenities. Once we looked around for the trail and came across it hiding in the tall grass across the railroad tracks, we started up the trail. The trail itself was in good shape and easy to follow. At the junction with the A-Z trail, we continued on toward Mt. Avalon, and that’s where we started climbing. Tami’s boots both started losing their soles, so she was climbing with flapping rubber underfoot and extra slipping due to the lack of grip. The trail flattened out a bit toward the top and there was an innocent looking sign stating that the Mt. Avalon summit was just 100 yards of the trail. 100 yards sounds like nothing, but it’s a bit intimidating in the morning of a long hike when you head out for a quick view and discover that it’s 100 yards of trail and another 100 feet of elevation gain. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the sheer rock wall and boulder scrambling was unexpected to say the least. We decided that we should have a snack at the summit of each peak and were looking forward to our first one at the top. The view from Mt. Avalon was worth it though. We were the only ones there and we could see almost 360 degrees with a little maneuvering around the trees. The view and the available mobile phone service inspired me to download and try out the Peak Finder app. It’s a handy app that tells you what all the peaks within view are from your current location. I found it easy to use and pretty accurate. I determined it was well worth the $3.99 price, especially since I’m a geek that likes to hike. The more data the better after all.
From there, we went on to Mt. Field. When we got to the Willey Range trail, there was another innocent looking sign stating that the summit was a mere 100 yards up the trail. This time, we were prepared for the misleading sign and weren’t at all surprised to walk a little bit and discover a rather steep climb which brought us up to the summit. There’s nothing remarkable about the summit of Mt. Field, but there is a spot where some trees have been taken down and it allowed a good view, all the way to the Mt. Washington and including the Mt. Washington hotel, the Cog Railroad, and the Presidential range. We sat on the cairn for a quick selfie and continued on to Mt. Willey.
The map for the Willey Range trail between Mt. Field and Mt. Willey makes it look like it is almost flat. Of course, the AMC rules about what counts as a 4,000 footer means that we knew we had to descend at least 200 feet before the final climb to Mt. Willey. Mostly, the ups and downs were pretty tame, but at least one sheer rock wall caused us to stop and plan our route so that we would make it without falling. Mt. Willey is also unremarkable at the summit, but there are a few views to be seen. We sat for some lunch and met a dog who was very friendly and visited us a few times. The person belonging to the dog never did show up on the trail, but we enjoyed the canine company before she ran off to find her person.
When we had eaten enough snacks, we went back to Mt. Field. From there, we continued on the Willey Range trail until we got to the A-Z trail. Despite the sign saying it was just one mile between the two, it seemed to last much longer than that. The hiking was easy since it was a gently downhill all the way, but that just added to the feeling of it being a very long mile. Surely an easy mile should feel fast. At the A-Z trail, we headed up the Mt. Tom spur to the peak. The top of Mt. Tom is another one without much view, and it included searching around a bit to find the actual summit cairn. People must have spent time trying to find a place for a view because there are trails leading here and there all over the top of the mountain. The most interesting part of this trail was the set of (natural) stairs built into the rock, followed by a log staircase to ease the climb.
Once we came back down Mt. Tom, we commented that despite our vow to have snacks at each summit, we actually only did that once. Tami’s boots were truly falling apart by this time and it was a struggle for her to keep them together on the hike back down. We had seen a young woman at the summit of Mt. Tom in her bare feet, but Tami didn’t relish the idea of following in her footsteps (literally) by removing the boots. When descending a rocky trail, it’s better to have bad boots than no boots at all. Heading back down the A-Z trail onto the Avalon trail, we just kept moving since it was getting later and we didn’t want to get stuck in the dark. We took a quick side trip to see the cascades on the way back down, and returned to the Depot about 10 hours after we left. Some French Canadians asked for our advice on parking for their Presidential Traverse the next day and we muddled through pretending we knew what we were talking about. They seemed satisifed, so we wished them well, got back in the van, and started our drive back home. That brings us both to 5 4,000 footers this summer. It’s a shame Shaun chose not to come with us, but he needed to stay home and rest instead.