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:


  1. Hi Mark,

    Your photos from this one are just incredible. It was such a nice day yesterday; good to see that you were able to take full advantage of it. My brother and I were on Carrigain, so we enjoyed some of the same spectacular views. Congrats on 33!

  2. Hey Mark,

    Wow, great trip report and pics! Looks like a beautiful day in the mountains. I'm convinced you only hit the Willy range on gorgeous days, based on your previous Avalon shots from a few years back.

    I hate seeing those Gray Jays up there in the cold. It makes me feel bad for them. Wish they'd fly south!

    I really like the route you guys chose too. I always thought about hitting Tom, Field, Willy, then Avalon...but I actually like your route much better.

    Great TR!

  3. Congrats! Looks like you had a great day, and plenty of feathered friends!

  4. Very nice views. Those icy trails look treacherous and remind me of recent conditions here in Maine.