Willey, Field, and Tom: Birdfeeding and Peakbagging
One way to make hiking the NH 48 a little easier is peakbagging. Peakbagging is when you reach more than one summit in one hike. This is really helpful when doing a list like the NH 4000 footers because many of the mountains are close together so it's easier to traverse from one to another than go all the way down and start at the trailhead again. The only rule is that the mountains must have a prominence of at least 200 ft from one another, so you must go down 200 ft and then back up 200 ft for the next mountain. Mt. Tom, Mt. Willey, and Mt. Field are all very close together, so they are a common combination for peakbagging in the whites. We also added in Mt. Avalon, which misses the 4000 footer mark standing at 3,442 ft.
The day started out early with a 45 minute drive to the Highland Center where we left one car for the car spot. I was hiking with my cousin Libby and her husband Paul, and I was grateful that they had an additional car that we could use since the starting point was about 4 miles from the end of our hike. We then took one car to Willey Station to park for the Ethan Pond Trailhead. We ended up hitting the trail at 7:48, a little later than we were hoping, but still early enough to beat the crowds and get a good parking spot.
We immediately crossed some railroad tracks and wondered if they were still in use. Our guess was that they probably were but we weren't completely sure. The Ethan Pond Trail was really beautiful and the weather was perfect for hiking. It was about 60 degrees at the trailhead with bluebird skies. It's been so hot recently that this was a nice, cool break from the heat. It was Libby and Paul's anniversary weekend, and I hadn't seen them since the wedding so it was really great to catch up with them! They also recently moved to NH so there was a lot to celebrate!
At around 9:00 we reached the famed ladders of the Willey Range Trail. They were truly amazing to look at and climb. They almost looked like the Lincoln Logs I used to play with as a kid! It was really fun going up them, and I was again thankful for the car spot that allowed us to do both this trail, and the A-Z and Avalon trails on the way back down. We reached the summit of Mt. Willey around 10:20, and took a quick break for a snack and water. There was a really nice view at the top, and you could see many of the fellow 4000 footers from there. We weren't completely sure which were which, so I used the Peakfinder app to help us. That thing is really great!
Next was Mt. Field, the tallest of the three standing at 4,331 ft. The hike between the two mountains was pretty easy, gradually sloping down for a little bit and then gradually coming back up. There was an area where there had been some really bad blowdowns with trees down everywhere almost creating a clearing. We summited Field at 11:23 and quickly moved on to Mt. Tom.
The trail when down quite a bit from Field to Tom losing much elevation in between the two. Mt. Tom is the lowest of the three at 4,052 ft, but there was a solid climb back up via the Mt. Tom spur. When we reached the summit at 12:32, there was a group of maybe six people eating lunch. We did the same and found out that one of them had actually finished his 48 with Mt. Tom! I think we were more excited than he was, seeing as he had intended on finishing with Moriah the week before but forgot that had missed the spur to Tom when he did Field and Willey years ago.
At the summit of Mt. Tom there were a bunch of grey jays waiting for food. I brought some crackers that crushed up in my hand for them to eat out of. It was crazy seeing them swoop down and land on me for the food. Libby, Paul, and I were amazed that they were so friendly! After chatting with the other people at the summit, we found out that they actually prefer dried fruit from trail mix. Who knew? As we descended, we reflected on the fact that this was probably the highlight of the hike for us. We descended until we reached the Avalon trail, and went back up to grab that peak as well. Although it was not on the NH 48 list, Mt. Avalon had the best views out of all four peaks.
On the way back down to the Highland Center, we used the A-Z trail and the Avalon trail because it seemed like that combination would be less steep than going back down Ethan Pond. If I only had one car, I probably would have ascended and descended this way, but there would have been a considerable amount of backtracking involved. Better than the extra 4 miles along Rt. 302 though! We also stopped at Beecher Cascade on the way down to see the waterfalls. They were small but beautiful! We made it back to the Highland Center at 4:34 so it ended up being a full day of hiking. We took a few long breaks and went at a leisurely pace making it a great day of hiking!
Overall, this was a really nice hike especially to test out some new gear. I have new Vasque hiking boots, so it was good to try to break them in. Unfortunately, I got quarter sized blisters on the back of both heels. Looks like I need to pay more attention to how I tie them in the future! I'm hoping they'll heal before I embark on the Pemi Loop this Friday, but it's looking like moleskin and duct tape will be my best friends for that. I was also hiking with a pretty full pack, so it was good practice wearing it for longer periods of time. The pack felt really light despite it being almost 20 lbs.
Mt. Willey [4,285 ft], Mt. Field [4,331 ft], Mt. Tom [4,052 ft], and Mt. Avalon [3,442 ft] via Ethan Pond Trail, Willey Range Trail, A-Z Trail, and Avalon Trail [9.3 mi, 8:46]
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