Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What's Up Willey?

What's up Willey? I was up Willey today. After spending the last couple of days fighting off some sort of minor "bug" I was ready to get in a hike and some fresh air. I needed Mount Willey (4,285') for my Winter 48 4,000 footer list. Many hikers usually include Mounts Tom and Field but I'd already done those in the winter. My planned route would be up the Ethan Pond Trail to the Willey Range Trail then up to the summit of Mount Willey and back down the same trails.

The weather forecast was calling for temps in the teens, cloudy and windy with snow showers late in the day. I was going to be pleasantly surprised by the change in the weather. On the drive to Crawford Notch the high summits were barely out of the clouds. I arrived at the Willey House Station Road which is only plowed out at the beginning of the road and found a spot to park.

It was cold but not frigid with no wind as I started the 0.3 mile road walk to the trailhead. I was following a well-packed path so started out barebooting. The Ethan Pond Trail was also well-packed but when I got to the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail I put on snowshoes just before the trail started to climb. This section could probably be barebooted but I like the added traction and wanted my legs to get some snowshoe conditioning.

The Ethan Pond Trail is very nice and in the winter with the leaves off the trees there is a view of the Webster Cliffs on the other side of the notch. I arrived at the Kedron Flume Trail junction and noticed that this trail also appeared to be well broken but a hiker that I met later would tell me that it was not broken out well at all with lots of post holing along the way.

Another 0.3 mile and the Willey Range Trail went straight ahead. There was one tricky brook crossing with the snow shoes on. The trail then started a steep climb. I was actually enjoying this steep climb and it was nice to have the televators on my snowshoes. My hike was about to get very interesting. I knew there was a series of wooden ladders up ahead from hiking this trail once before without snow. I was beginning to wonder where they were.

I didn't have to hike much further to find a ladder, the last one. They were all buried beneath the snow except for the highest ladder. This was going to be a real challenge. I stood below and carefully assessed the situation. Climbing the ladder was not going to be an option. I made the decision to swap my snowshoes for crampons which would give me traction and maneuverability. I was not sure on which side of the ladder I should climb up, there was ice below the snow. I decided to go up the right side grabbing what trees or branches were available. I was kicking the toe of my crampons into the ice and just as I neared the top of the ladder I looked down to see my left crampon was gone. After all that progress I now had to backtrack to reach my crampon clinging to the ice just below me. I crawled and clawed my way back up beside the ladder and when I reached the top I took a short break.

I kept my crampons on and continued up the trail. The trail was not as well-broken above the ladder and there was several inches of loose snow. The crampons were not working well in the deeper snow and steep trail so the snowshoes went back on. There was a lot of snow at the higher elevation. I arrived at the outlook just before the summit and was rewarded with some awesome views. The view to Mount Washington and the southern Presidentials was spectacular. I got some photos and video then moved on to the viewless summit. The weather had cleared up nicely even though there was a high thin cloud cover. Temps were in the 20's and there was very little wind.

The Mount Willey summit is easy to pass by without notice. I actually did go by it as I wanted to visit the viewpoint on the west side of Willey. There were more incredible views to the west. The wind also picked up on this side and I didn't stay long. It was up and over the summit and I began my descent. I still had my snowshoes on but was sliding down the trail on the loose snow. I met my first hikers coming up the trail. They also had a tough time getting past the ladder calling it brutal. I had to agree.

It wasn't long before I was back at the ladder. I put my crampons on but before picking my way back down beside the ladder I noticed a bushwhack trail going around it. Although there were several inches of unbroken snow on this trail I could see the outline of it. I easily and safely made my way down through the trees on this trail. This put me far below the ladder when I came back out onto the main trail again.

I kept the crampons on all the way back to the parking area. Along the way I met more hikers coming up. After the steep drop down the Willey Range Trail it was nice to hike along the Ethan Pond Trail with its gradual descent back to the trailhead. As I was doing the last 0.3 mile to my car the temperature was feeling considerably cooler and there was a slight breeze.

It was a beautiful winter day! Weather and trail conditions were better than I thought they were going to be. Mount Willey was #26 on my list of winter 48 4,000 footer summits. It was a fun hike and plenty of time to get home for the Super Bowl game. Go Patriots!

Enjoy the photos!

 Mount Washington barely out of the clouds on the drive to the trailhead

A 0.3 mile road walk to the trailhead

 A view of Mount Willey from the snow-covered railroad tracks

 Putting on the snowshoes

 Snow hat on a tree stump


 A view of Webster Cliffs seen through the trees on the Ethan Pond Trail

 Clumps of snow defying gravity on these tree limbs

 Ethan Pond Trail turns left and Willey Range Trail begins straight ahead

 A tricky brook crossing with snowshoes on

 This one section of trail was VERY difficult to get up or down

 More snow as the trail gets closer to the summit

 Starting to get some views through the snow-covered trees

 A view of Crawford Notch with the Webster Cliffs

 Mount Washington in the distance from the Mount Willey outlook

 Southern Presidential range

 Mount Washington summit cone and Mount Monroe in the foreground

 Snow creatures all around

 A southwest view

 Mount Carrigain

 West view

 South view

 Sun shining through a milky sky

 Back at the railroad track and trailhead

 A look back at Mount Willey

 Zooming in

 Mount Willey summit

 Lots of snow in the high elevations

 Back at the parking lot

 A last look at Willey from Route 302

A view of the Presidential summits on the drive home

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!

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