Mts. Tom, Field and Willey
Submitted by Pat (Nancy's Comments in italics)
Mountains: Mts. Tom (4,051), Field (4,340), and Willey (4,285)
Date: September 9, 2006
Time: 8 hours and 15 minutes
Weather: Sun, fog, brief shower, sun, thunderstorm - mid 60's
Elevation Gain: 3,348
Trails: Avalon Trail - A-Z Trail - Mt. Tom Spur - Willey Range Trail - Avalon Trail
Holy Shit Factor: minimal except during the thunderstorm
When we decide to hike on Saturday, the weather report says it will be the better of the two weekend days. Little do we know. As second-time special guests we bring along Luna (my Australian Shepherd) and Dejah (Nancy's daughter's Yellow Lab) for their second, third and fourth 4,000-footers. We pull into the Crawford Notch Depot, hoist our packs, (which seem to get heavier and heavier each hike as we pack more "just in case" shit -- do we really need all that extra stuff?) and leash the dogs - on the Avalon Trail by 9 a.m. We notice a large group of hikers start up the trail ahead of us and another couple behind us packing up white PVC pipes. I wonder what special project they have in mind as we start up the trail.
The trail is very civilized for the first mile and a bit, although I definitely break a sweat. (Okay, folks. By the time Pat breaks a sweat, I'm totally soaked, hair slicked down around my face -- very pretty. I have hair issues. Pat's hair, on the other hand, looks just as good on the summits as it does at the trailhead. Go figure!) I am anxious about my dog, Luna, and her unpredictable behavior toward strangers, but she is great at the start of the hike. She ignores all the hikers - we meet quite a few at the start - and is having a ball playing with Dejah, running up and down the trail. After a couple of easy water crossings, we arrive at the intersection of the Avalon and A-Z Trails at 9:48 a.m. We take the A-Z Trail - 1 mile to the Mt. Tom Spur. The sun that has accompanied us at the start of the hike fades to clouds and the forest becomes darker. It is amazing how much the sun affects my mood - when it's out, I almost always feel better, stronger, happier. When it's cloudy, my mood darkens and I am less prone to laughter. Nancy is very quiet on this hike. Usually she is the more outgoing and voluble of the two of us - silence not her norm. I ask if she is okay - she says she is, maybe a little anxious about the dogs, but she recognizes her silence. That's okay - for me the sign of a close friendship is being able to be silent together without feeling the need to fill every moment with words. By nature, I am a quiet one so I am at ease.
We pass the couple carrying the PVC pipe on our way to the Mt. Tom Spur. We hit the spur at 10:41 a.m., meeting a family heading down (two toeheaded kids and a couple of parents). The little girl wants to pet the dogs and approaches where I am holding Luna on leash, Dejah standing next to her. I think she wants to pet Dejah, but she smacks her hand down toward Luna's head without warning and Luna reacts by lunging at her. I am on alert so I pull her back before the little girl realizes what has happened. We quickly move on up the Spur and I am concerned about Luna's reaction. She hasn't seen many small children and maybe the little girl's too-quick approach frightened her. Regardless, Luna's reaction is not acceptable so I move into hyper-vigilance for the rest of the hike.
We reach the height of land at 11 a.m. (windy and 64.3) and we each explore different paths trying to figure out which leads to the real summit. There are no signs - I find a cairn on the southeast side of the mountain and Nancy finds half a cairn on the northwest side. We decide the summit of Mt. Tom (elevation 4,051) is the larger cairn and take a couple of pictures. (Okay folks. Here I go again. Is this the summit? No, maybe this is the summit. Or maybe here. Here's a cairn. Peakbagging should not be guesswork! Check out The case of the Signless Summit on our website.) On our way down the Tom Spur we meet three people - Luna behaves herself this time - who tell us about Flags on the 48 and that there are groups hiking all 48 4,000 footers in New Hampshire to remember 9/11. They are very friendly and I am sorry to miss the flag raising but we have two more peaks to bag and the weather is not very nice.
We arrive at the Willey Range Trail at 11:40 and hike the .9 miles to Mt. Field in 40 minutes. On the Mt. Field summit (elevation 4,340) we find an American flag flapping in a stiffening wind near an outlook and a group of folks sitting around the summit cairn eating lunch. (Because we've learned that you don't find assholes above 4,000 feet -- see Whiteface Hike Report -- I would have loved to talk with the summit sitters. But the dogs were presenting a major challenge.) Because the dogs are begging, we hike for five more minutes and sit on the trail to eat our lunch. Twenty five minutes later we are hiking onward, crossing the Willey Ridge toward the Willey summit. The ridge walk is a nice one, not much in the way of views, but neither is it a series of steep ups and downs. The Mt. Willey summit (elevation 4,285) catches us by surprise - mostly because we hear strange noises coming from the woods at the top. As we round the bend at 1:35 p.m., there are four hikers and a beautiful Golden Retriever taking down the flag they had raised as part of the Flags on the 48 commemoration. In fact, one of the hikers is Chris, the organizer of the event. They celebrate our 27th peak, share their own accomplishments and tell us more about the Flags on the 48 project. Really nice guys - tell us to walk down a ways to see the view of Mt. Webster and the Presidentials. We wouldn't have known about the view without their counsel. Although the view is hazy and most of the peaks lost in clouds, we imagine the breathtaking view in fine weather. The guys take off down toward the Ethan Pond Trailhead while we start back toward Mt. Field and the Avalon Trail.
A rain shower starts while we are on the summit, so we bring out rain jackets and pack covers. On previous hikes, we waited too long before gearing up for rain and ended up much wetter than we needed to be. The shower ends a half hour later and the sun comes out. We don't stop to take off our rain jackets - another mistake - and sweat our way back to Mt. Field by 2:50 p.m. (Okay, by now my hair is REALLY pretty!) I strip off the soaked jacket and for the first time that day we have the summit to ourselves. That respite is short-lived as four young hikers join us. Luna is aggressive, dashing toward the lead hiker and barking. I call her to me and get her on leash immediately. That is the end of our stressless peace. We eat a granola bar and repack our bags before heading down at 3:06 p.m.
Around 4 p.m. we approach the Mt. Avalon summit spur but decide to keep moving. Ten minutes later we hear the first thunder and begin to move faster down the trail. This is our first experience with thunderstorms in the Whites and I am impressed by the downpour, thunder and lightning. (Impressed...not the word I would use. More like scared shitless!) I know there are areas much harder hit than we are, but we receive our share of rain and wind. We slog through the last hour and joyfully reach the Crawford Notch Depot at 5:15 p.m. Changing out of soaked clothes into warm dry ones (We have become such smart hiking girls -- a change of clothes -- thank GOD!) is the best feeling I can imagine. Delicious. Pure bliss. One of our best lessons learned: always bring a change of clothing. The idea of driving 3 hours in soaking clothes makes me cringe. The dogs are exhausted, finally, and sleep all the way home. Another great day of hiking.
25 of NH 48
27 of 67 in NE
28 of the NE 100 Highest