Saturday, December 03, 2011

Field, Willey and Tom are 1-2-3 on 12/3 for 31,2,3

After a great day of hiking on Sleeping Giant on Friday our legs were warmed up and we couldn't wait to get back to the Whites for the first time since Columbus Day weekend.  I hadn't really counted on getting in another day trip north with the typical December conditions - but yesterday was far from typical.  The forecast was for "abundant sunshine and clear skies with temps in the 30s".  The snow from the last week or so was washed away.  Just a perfect day for a late fall hike.  After a bit of debate we finally decided on Tom and Field.   Somehow these have remained on our list even for all the times we've hiked (and stayed) in Crawford Notch.  Perhaps they were too close.  I had hoped to get in a Tom/Field/Willey hike earlier in the fall but logistics never worked out and with the days so short now I figured we'd settle for two.

Happily our good friend Val was able to join us for the hike.  It was great seeing her and hiking with her for the first time since Adams in July.  We also have her to thank for turning this into a perfect triple (actually quadruple) peak day.  She suggested that rather than Tom and Field we do Field and Willey and then based on time make a decision on Tom.  Great idea!

We got an 8am start from Highland Center.  The brook crossings at the beginning of the hike were a bit more interesting than usual due to the washouts from Irene.  It was cold enough that all the exposed rocks were frozen so we took the approach of stepping on only submerged rocks.  Really wasn't too bad and we all got across with dry feet.  The trails down low (and for than matter all day) had just a dusting of snow and the walking was easy.  As the Avalon trail started to get steep there was quite a bit of black ice but we held off on the Microspikes and skirted it until after the Avalon spur.

Nat and Val on the snow dusted Avalon Trail

Icy trail below Avalon spur

The climb up the Avalon spur was a bit interesting with the ice.  We got up without too much problem but the butt-slide down was slightly more challenging.  We made it just fine though.  When we started at 8am the Presis were completely shrouded in the clouds but by the time we reached Avalon there wasn't a cloud left in view and we were treated to what I think is one of the best views anywhere in the Whites.

Presis lined up over Saco Lake

Long line of presidents

We did some summit sitting and had a snack.  I think of all the places to just sit and gaze at the beauty this is one of my very favorites.  As a bonus we had a pair of Gray Jays join us.  This is definitely one of the places they love to hang out and it wasn't the last place we'd see them during the day.

Summit sitting on Mt Avalon.  I feel like I'm being watched...

Ah ha!  I was being watched.

And he brought a friend with him

Nat and Val

Nat and Mark on Mt Avalon

Sunshine streams down on Crawford Notch

There was a long day ahead so we pried ourselves away and headed up.  As we got higher the frosting on the trees grew thicker and more beautiful.  Snowshoes aren't always required for a beautiful walk in the snowy woods.

Soon after Avalon we gave in and put on our Microspikes and it made the going much easier as the trail got even more icy.  I actually wound up keeping mine on for the rest of the day and it made for easy going.  They weren't really needed at least half the time but it was easier than taking them off and on.  We quickly made our way up to Mt Field and were treated to more of the beautiful views and our 31st 4000 footer summit.

More beautiful views from Mt Field

Did he follow us?

We're being watched again

Handsome little guy

Mt Field for #31

We headed out across the ridge to Mt Willey.  The going here was easy with less ice than there had been on the Avalon trail.  The views along the ridge were beautiful.

Views west along the ridge

Nat and Val negotiating some icy ledges

We arrived at Mt Willey summit, grabbed our summit shot and waited for the large group ahead of us that was having lunch at the viewpoint.  While we waited our little friends showed up again.

Mt Willey for #32

Now I know he's following us

The viewpoint ledges on Mt Willey provide one of the most spectacular views that I've seen yet and an absolutely incredible perspective overlooking Webster Cliffs and up the entire Presidential range.  We had the ledges to ourselves and took a long break for lunch (which we were 'forced' to share with our friends).

Presidentials lined up over Webster Cliffs

Beautiful look down Crawford Notch

Surveying his domain

Nat shares her lunch

So does Val

Oooh, oooh!  Pick me, pick me!!

Nat and Val

Mark and Val

It was almost 1pm by the time we left Willey and it was looking like we'd have to forego Tom if we wanted to finish without headlamps.  The going on the way up had been pretty slow and we'd lingered over all the views (which I never regret).  We headed back across the ridge to Field and started making a quicker pace.

Heading back through the frosty forrest

More views along the ridge

When we got back to the Avalon Trail junction we made the decision to continue on the Willey Range trail.  Even if we decided to skip Tom it was still new trail to see and only a few tenths more.  As we descended from Field the trail (which is largely smooth ledge) quickly became a river of ice.  With the Microspikes and some skirting of the edges of the trail it was easy going.  It wouldn't have been much fun with bare boots.

Slippery sidewalk between Field and Tom

We were still making good time and it was 2:20 when we reached the Mt Tom spur.  There were a number of other people at the junction preparing to head up.  Everyone was dropping their packs to make for a quicker ascent and we did the same.  We figured if we hurried we could get up and down in 45 minutes.  One of the other groups suggested that we race to the top.  We laughed and said we knew we'd lose.  I'm not sure where we got the burst of energy, but we made it to the top in 18 minutes (and narrowly won the 'race').  We took a walk around the summit and checked out the views at the points where blowdowns have opened things up.  This isn't as much of a viewless summit as it's made out to be.

Views back to Field before Mt Tom summit

Ice sculpture on Mt Tom

Mt Tom for #33 and the end of a fantastic day!

We headed back down and got back to the junction 40 minutes after we left - even with time to enjoy the views!  I'm really glad that we didn't decide to skip this one when we were so close.  I look forward to going back in the winter when the snow is deep and the views are even better.  We grabbed our packs and headed down and made great time all the way.  We were back at the trailhead at 4:30 and managed to avoid the headlamps by a narrow margin.  What a great day!  Thanks Val for suggesting this route and even more for joining us!  I'm sure we wouldn't have had this great a day otherwise.

Nat's happy to be done!

Packing up to head down

Nat and Val negotiate the last of the icy trail on A-Z

This day was truly a bonus!  We'd never expected to get a day another this year where we could bag three more peaks with aday trip from Rhode Island.  With the holidays coming and lots to do this will certainly be the last trip of 2011, but what a great year it's been.  After starting out with a winter where we never managed to make it up north we made up for it with 9 trips between the beginning of June and yesterday.  All in all we bagged 15 new 4000 footers and 17 overall and had an absolutely wonderful time along the way!  We're already looking forward to getting back up this winter for some fun in the snow and planning trips for next spring, summer and fall.  We're keeping our fingers crossed that a few of these will work out to be more than just day trips (although those have been great too).  If we don't have any more rambles to report in the next couple of weeks we want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and happy trails in the new year.

Here's the journey in maps and aerials.  There are more pictures here:

Friday, December 02, 2011

Standing on the Shoulders (and Chin) of Giants

It's a sunny Friday morning in December.  The temperature is going to be in the 50s.  You've got vacation days to use up.  What better to do than go for a hike!  So we packed our stuff, jumped in the car and headed south. Wait, what??  South??  NO - THAT'S THE WRONG DIRECTION!  Actually, it was very much the right direction.  For several years we'd been planning to get down to Sleeping Giant in Hamden CT and this was the perfect day.  Sleeping Giant State Park is located about 5 miles north of New Haven which isn't exactly a place you'd expect to find good hiking but this is definitely a diamond in the rough.

Sleeping Giant has over 30 miles of well blazed trails of all levels of difficulty crisscrossing the park.    For our first time out we decided to take the two that are rated the most challenging - the blue and white loop.  As we would find out during the day, Sleeping Giant is very similar to Blue Hills Reservation in MA in the number of trails and their character.  This is a good thing - Blue Hills is another unexpected gem on Rt 128 south of Boston.  The blue/white loop on the Giant is much like the Skyline loop in Blue Hills.

We started the day off on the blue trail from the parking area across from Quinnipac College.  This is part of the 24 mile Quinnipac Trail that is in turn part of the 825 mile blue blazed trail system managed by the Connecticut Forrest and Park Association around the state.  Starting on this trail provides no warm up opportunity.  Immediately on leaving the parking lot the trail drops down into a ravine and then makes a really steep climb up to the giant's chin.

Starting into the ravine from the trailhead

Peaceful flow

Nat scrambles down a steep chimney 

Giant's chin ahead

The Giant's chin is a steep knob that rises about 500' above the ravine.  The climb up the chin is amazingly steep and rivals anything we've done in the White Mountains.  It's a great way to get the heart pumping at the beginning of the hike.

Cliffs on the chin

Not much left for this poor guy to hang on to

Nat starting up the chin

Steep climb!

And it gets even steeper!

The views from the chin and from the many cliffs all along the route are great.  To the south they stretch to Long Island Sound beyond New Haven and the many other hills and crags in this part of Connecticut are visible in all other directions.

First views down from the top of the chin

Quinnipac College over the cliffs on the chin

Long way down!

Mt Carmel ahead

This hike is pretty much a continuous series of ups and downs - there are very few flat stretches (although those can be found on many of the other trail systems in the park).  This was exactly what we were hoping for from this hike since we needed to get our trail legs back in shape for a trip north on Saturday.  From the chin we dropped back down, crossed the tower path and headed up the side of Mt Carmel to the tower at the top.

Path traverses the cliffs

Fun scrambling!

Tower on Mt Carmel

Views to Long Island Sound from the tower

From Mt Carmel we continued the blue trail across the park, winding up and down the many ridges and knobs along the way.  Our turn-around point was Hezekiah's Knob where the blue and white trails intersect near the east side of the park.

Typical stretch of  trail

Lots of ledges

Uh, which way???

Cliffs on Hezekiah's Knob

Nat doing some cliff gazing

Heading back on the white trail we were treated to more of the same up and down scrambling that we had on the blue trail.  The white trail skirts the southern summit ridge of Mt Carmel all the way across and then drops back down to the valley at the very end.

Descending from Hezekiah's Knob

Heading back up Mt Carmel

Rock ledge sidewalk

Mt Carmel summit Cairn

It was just an amazing December day!  We even found wildflowers that we're clearly confused about the season.  There were also many others out enjoying the day and we met several happy passers-by on the trail.

Confused flower.  Isn't it time to go to sleep for the winter?

He wasn't alone.  There were lots of them

Happy trail dogs stops to say hello

We're definitely glad that we finally took a walk on the Giant!  It's great to have options like this for the days that a drive to New Hampshire is just too much.  And it's a great warm up when that drive to the Whites is just a day away...

Here are a few views of the route.  There are also more pictures here:

Map of the park with route highlighted

Topo of the route

Elevation profile - not much flat walking here

Aerial view of route