Official End of Non-Winter 2016 : Mount Garfield / Field & Willey

Date of Hike: 3/19/16

Gale River Road: 1.1 miles  /  Garfield Trail: 4.8 miles  /  Garfield Ridge Trail: 0.4 miles  /  Garfield Trail:  4.8 miles  /  Gale River Loop Road: 1.1 miles
Total Miles: 12.1 (3,180 feet elevation gained)

Avalon Trail: 2.8 miles  /  Willey Range Trail: 2,2 miles  /  Ethan Pond Trail:  0.3 miles  /  Kedron Flume Trail: 0.7 miles  /  Railroad Tracks: 3.0 miles
Total Miles: 9 miles (3,220 feet elevation gained)

Trip Report:
-  "And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain."  So long winter, we hardly knew ye...No, really I'm being serious.  With winter officially ending at 12:29:59AM on Sunday the 20th, Saturday was the last winter hiking day.  However, winter really never arrived in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this year, with historically low snow levels and mild temperatures it felt like late November never ended.  The usual trail signs never became buried, blazes never had to 'tread head above water' from drowning in the snow, and trail corridors were easy to follow.  When you don't hear horror stories of people losing trail between Zealand - Guyot - South Twin, you know the year has been an anomaly!
- The good news is after last winter's sub zero, high winds, high snow, hikers deserved a gift, thank you El Nino!  This has helped me complete my remaining few grid peaks for the past three months easily (3 in January, 11 in February, 7 in March, with 34 over the next four months remaining) while preparing for a trip to Baxter, driving to Florida, learning to cross-country ski, and getting back to strength training at the gym.  In a perfect world, winter in the Whites would fall somewhere in the middle of these past two years, but that's weather in New England for you.
- Anyway, on Saturday I got up early and drove south for an early morning hike up Mount Garfield.  The trail started off dry with some ice until the first crossing, which I skipped along with the second crossing by taking a herd path to the ski-mobile bridge.  From here conditions were pretty erratic until the distinguishable right turn; snow, ice, water, crunchy mud, and more ice!  Luckily, there was a fresh inch or two of snow which made conditions easier higher up as it hid some of the ice.  I was able to bare-boot the whole hike but microspikes would have been a better option.  It was windy at the summit so I didn't linger too long, but did catch the clouds clearing above the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
- The hike down went by quickly as I jogged until I hit the icy and rocky spots.  I started running into hikers here and there, I even passed by a huge A.M.C group of about a dozen.  When I got back to the winter lot there were a quite a few cars parked everywhere, I was just happy I wasn't blocked in.  Back at the car I changed into dry clothes and ate some food while warming up before heading to Crawford Notch to start hike number two of the day.
-  My original plan was a Field-Willey-Field-Tom hike but I ended up changing it up half way through and dropped down from Willey which was an adventure!
- By the time I started this hike, temperatures had warmed up into the low twenties but it was a little more breezy in the notch so it felt almost exactly like my morning hike.  There were a couple of dozen people I saw as I headed up the Avalon Trail, which had some really nasty iced over steep sections below Avalon's summit, it was slow going but I made it up without issue.
- Once I gained the ridge and hooked onto the Willey Range Trail I remembered how much I'm not a fan of the hike between Field and Willey, which is odd since I love the stretch between Tom and Field.  So after chugging it up to Willey's summit I really didn't feel like making the down and back up to Field so I decided to take a chance and descend the steep as hell Willey Range Trail below Mount Willey.
- I have been down this once before in the winter of 2010, when there was so much snow that I was able to butt slide and plow down in my snowshoes for the steep parts, it was a blast, this year...not so much.  It was just a bunch of ice flows with a coating of snow on top of it.  There were a few hairy sections that I did not dare to go down on the trail, one spot just below the summit and the top of the infamous ladder steps.  Instead, I went into the woods and used my best monkey in a tree skills by lowering myself and swinging down from tree to tree.  It took some time but I was able to cautiously pick my way down.  Once past this section I was able to jog most of the way out to the Crawford Notch Scenic Railroad for a nice flat and easy hike back to the Jeep.  Unfortunately, my Apple Phone froze up at the site of the old Willard House so I wasn't able to take more pictures.  Still it was a nice day out on the last day of non-winter 2016! :)

 Early morning on the Garfield Trail

Up higher the trail has a solid base covered by a layer of ice with some fresh fluffy snow on top

 Summit of Mount Garfield

Owl's Head and the Franconia Ridge clearing 

Owlie :)

Looking to Galehead and the Twins

The lower section of the Garfield Trail has seen better day, it's pretty eroded in spots

Early / late morning along the Gale River Road

Heading up to Mount Field & Willey

View of the Twin Range from the Mount Field downlook

Mount Tom as seen from Mount Field

Crawford Notch from the Mount Willey outlook

Webster Cliff and the Presidential Range

Zoom-in of the Presidential Range

Descending the steep nasty section of the Willey Range Trail.  This is along the ladder section, which is half buried in snow and ice

Looking back up the ladders

Kedron Flume

Crawford Notch Scenic Railroad, Mount Willard in view

Heading towards the trestle

Every time I hike across this I have the standard Stand by Me moment :) 

Site of the old Willard House

Elevation profile for the day, click here for more details


  1. Chris, as usual, a pleasure to read and an inspiration to those less fit. Even though we might not like to admit it, this El Nino winter has been a boon to many hikers. I'm working through my winter 48, and during my annual trip to the Whites in Feb, I bagged 5 summits. Appreciated your wonderful photo essay of the Katahdin adventure as well. So long winter - hopefully we'll see you again in 9-10 months :-)

    -- Alex D. from PA

    1. Hi Alex, glad to hear you got some good hikes in while up in the Whites this past February! Hope you have another successful trip next winter too, and get to peak-bag some great mountains. Have a nice spring/summer/fall hiking :)

  2. This winter was historically bad for us who liked to ski! I'm sure mother nature will come back with vengeance next winter. I did enjoy the non sub-zero days this winter, nothing like starting a winter hike at 6AM and it's already in high teens to low twenties most days. I remember last winter it was consistently struggling to be zero at the start of our hikes...brrrrrrrr! This was the year of ice bulges!!

    Thanks for all your great reports, keep hiking those big miles.

    1. Glad you like the pics and reports, Phil. Hopefully next year you can get in some great skiing and hiking.