Updated: Nov 9, 2018
En route to climbing the sixty-seven 4,000 footers of Northern New England, this fall I traversed four New Hampshire White Mountains, Mt. Tom, Mt. Field, Mt. Willey (all above 4,000 feet) and Mt. Avalon (under 4,000 feet), in a 10.2 mile day hike. Not a unique goal by any means, I’ve been slowly chipping away at the 4kers year by year. This was my first 4-peaks-in-one adventure and it didn’t disappoint.
I began at the AMC Highland Center on Route 302 in Crawford Notch. The Center is a hub for leaf peepers this time of year; people were flittering about when I arrived but due to the foggy weather not too busy. I began my ascent on the Avalon Trail heading toward the A-Z Trail intersection first. The trail climbs gradually along this section which leads to two “exstream” crossings and to an intersection to head left to Mt. Avalon or right to the A-Z Trail and the Mt. Tom Spur Trail. I decided on Tom first. Once on the short Spur Trail, the climb became much more steep, with giant boulder slabs to scramble over. The peak of Tom holds a giant cairn to signal to hikers “You made it!”, but does not have a view of the surrounding mountains. It was foggy on this day, so I decided to experiment more with black and white photos, with great results.
Heading back down the Spur Trail, continuing on the A-Z Trail and crossing the intersection with the Willey Range Trail. Onto Mt. Field! More steep slab scrambling, which I rate as moderate to difficult based on the length and trail conditions. Mt. Field was similar to Mt. Tom in that a giant cairn greeted me and there wasn’t much in the way of a viewpoint. I ate my sandwich here as an aggressive grey jay bobbed and flocked from branch to branch, as they often do in the Whites.
The clouds hung around up to this point and I was pleasantly surprised when the sun began to peek through as I hit the saddle between Field and Willey. This was the toughest slog of the hike for me; it was steep, muddy and the trail was very narrow. Pushing through to the third peak of the day, I found the only outlook of the traverse at the top of Mt. Willey. The clouds began to clear and I got my first sunlit view of the mountains and foliage. It was exquisite and such a gift to have made it up to the top at that precise moment to enjoy the scenery! I was feverishly photographing at this point and was happy that I had pushed through to complete the traverse in this way.
On the way back, I stopped a few times to look back and capture more of the mountain tops peeking through the clouds, summitted Field once more and then turned back onto the Avalon Trail to climb my fourth and final peak. The steep route down hindered my need for speed on the descent, as I had to navigate wet, muddy and rocky conditions. New England hiking is no joke. I took some time to get Mt. Avalon because of this and once on the summit, took a short break and soaked in the final views as the fog again began to envelope the landscape around me. I truly had been witness to the brief foliage views the day had planned. After this, I bombed down that hill with zest, not at all like I had just hiked 9 miles. My knees were a little sore, as they often are, but nothing like I expected. I had more energy on the way down than I have had in the past.
Back to my car, taking off boots, cleaning myself up a bit, it began to slightly drizzle. I drove back down Crawford Notch toward Conway and stopped at Willey Pond house for a stunning view of the mountainside foliage just as it was getting a little too dark for photos. I considered myself lucky to be in the right place at the right time on this day.
This tough hike on a imperfect day of weather garnered more appreciation for my surroundings and helped me to notice a certain beauty that I may have missed otherwise. One to remember, one to share, one to repeat.
Tips for safe and happy hiking in the mountains of New England: The mountains may not be higher than 6,288 feet above sea level but they are no joke and not to be taken lightly. Always remember to bring ample food and water if taking a long trek. Bring a knife, headlamp and water filtration system just in case. Wear sturdy, slip-resistant, waterproof boots. Take a buddy or tell someone where you will be going and approximate how long it will take you. Bring layers (i.e. a baselayer long sleeve shirt, a mid layer fleece, and a waterproof jacket), Make sure to bring a hat, gloves, wear thicker, wool socks and an extra pair in case your feet get wet. The terrain is always difficult; roots, loose gravel, mud, large slabs of rock can be slippery and dangerous. The weather can change quickly; if it looks like it’s going to rain or storm, turn around and head down as long as it’s safe to walk the trail, otherwise seek shelter if you can. Make sure your phone is fully charged; your GPS should be on and at certain points you can get signal. Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy it while you can, take it all in, not everyone will get to experience it.