Member Trip report
Willey Range Hike
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
It was forecast to be a nice day, so I headed up to the White Mountains to hike the Willey Range on Saturday, April 7th. It had snowed during the last 24 hours, but it seemed to be mostly in the southern part of the state. In any case with the strong winds in the morning, I figured I'd just have to wait to see what it would be like up in Bretton Woods.
It was chilly (upper 20's) when I arrived near the Crawford Depot at 8:30AM. I got ready and headed for the Avalon Trailhead, which entered the woods behind the station. It was almost 8:45 and I noticed a number of other hikers start just before me. As I made my way up the trail, I soon passed these hikers...all except one...a solo woman. It was easy going and while I was carrying my snowshoes, the microspikes were sufficient. I made it to the junction with the A-Z Trail at 9:30. The woman ahead of me had continued up the Avalon Trail, so I was left to break trail up to the col between Mts. Tom and Field. For the most part this wasn't too bad and except in one spot, the trail was fairly easy to follow. There was about 3-4 inches of fresh snow, but even with the strong winds there was still a faint depression in the snow where the trail was. The trail was a times steep and by 10:20 I had reached the col and the spur trail for Mt. Tom. I headed up the trail and at times there were snow drifts up to my calves. I popped out of the woods at the first view along the trail and while the view over to Mt. Field had gotten a bit overgrown, there was a nice view of Mt. Carrigain. I continued to the summit and found the trail split at about 10:40. I first ventured right to get the eastward view and then went over to the actual summit along the other path. The summit (4051') itself was in the woods in a small clearing and just beyond there was a wonderful westward view of Hale, Zealand and the Sugarloafs. I re-traced my steps back to the col, running into two French Canadian guys on my way down. They were somewhat new to hiking in the Whites and seemed relieved that someone had broken the trail out for them.
In the col, I headed for the junction for the Willey Range Trail just beyond this spur trail. I continued to break trail until I made it about a third of the way up when I ran into the woman from earlier. She was just doing a loop around Field and Tom in the opposite direction. I made good time and reached the Avalon Trail junction at 11:40. The summit was only a short distance from here and I reached the top of Mt. Field (4340') just about 5 minutes later. The views back to Zealand, Hale and Tom were incredible. From the other ledge the Mount Washington Hotel was clear, but the Presidential Range was obscured by cloudcover. Once again I was on my own for breaking trail, as I began to descend the other side of Mt. Field. At least initially the path was fairly obvious. There was a point, where there were great views southward to Carrigain and the Hancocks. By the time I reached the col, I lost the trail a couple of times...the first of which it took me awhile to find it with bent over trees hiding the actual trail. In another area just a little further, the woods were open and it was difficult to determine the direction of the trail. Luckily I found a blue-blaze after some searching and was on my way again. There were two minor sub peaks to traverse on the way over to Mt. Willey and by 1PM I had climbed up the last steep section to reach the mostly treed summit (4285'). I descended briefly the other side to visit the view, which was pretty spectacular now. Mount Washington and the Presidential Range had emerged from the clouds. I wasn't the first to arrive, as there was a single set of tracks from the other side. It was odd that they ended at the view and not the summit though!
As I was alone and there probably wasn't going to be anyone else here for awhile, I just decided to start back by following my path again to Mount Field. This was now fairly easy and about a third of the way back I started running into other hikers. There were two modest-sized groups, which I passed, but it wasn't until I reached the area of blowdown on one of the subpeaks, that I finally ran into the French Canadian guys again. We chatted again for a bit and then I continued to descend into the col before finally climbing back up to the summit of Mt. Field, which I reached again by 2:10. There was a guy hanging out here waiting for his group to return from Willey. It was his first hike and it was a bit much for him. I chatted with him for awhile. Also, while I was here a Gray Jay finally appeared. This range is famous for them and it was unusual, that I hadn't seen them earlier.
I started down and when I reached the trail junction, I turned onto the Avalon Trail. This was steeper in spots, but it had been used by some hikers through the day (some of the hikers apparently had sledded it as the steeper sections were smoothed out). I made good time and by 2:40 I could see Mount Avalon in front of me. It was only a few minutes later that I reached the short spur trail for it and I decided to head up for the view. After a short, steep ascent, I was on the top of Avalon (3442') at 2:50. The Presidential Range was pretty clear now. I descended back to the main trail and continued on. This was about half a mile back to the A-Z Trail junction and this portion of the trail was steep for a good part of the distance. I reached this junction by a little after 3PM and for the rest of the return the trail grade moderated. I popped out of the woods behind the railroad station again at 3:35PM. I packed up and headed home.
Despite that it was spring, it turned out to be a really spectacular winter-like day. This range was a good choice too, as much of it was sheltered from the strong gusting winds at times. The views were as awesome as ever and it was a good experience breaking trail across much of the range.
Total distance and elevation gain: 10.0 miles with approximately 3750 feet in cumulative elevatin gain.
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