Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Willeys 9/21/13

Working title: Oompa Loompa

Peaks: Mt. Avalon, Mt. Field, Mt. Willey, Mt. Tom

Trails: Avalon Trail, Cascade Loop, Mt. Avalon Spur, Willey Range Trail, A-Z Trail, Mt. Tom Spur

Mileage/time: 10.2 miles, 3825 feet of gain, book time of 6:59, actual time of 8:33

It's been a long while, June 1, 2012 to be exact, since I'd been on the Willey Range. When I thought of long forgotten peaks, these ones came to the forefront. As if doing a Pemi Loop on Thursday wasn't enough, I figured why not add to my tally for the week. I must be insane.

A late start was in order, as I was meeting up with Cynthia (from the Facebook 4000 footer group) and her friend Nick, who were driving up from Massachusetts, and were both (self proclaimed) not morning people. I arrived around 9:30, found a parking spot across from Crawford Depot, and started to get ready. Shortly thereafter, they pulled in, and started to do the same. I must be slow, because they were both ready in a flash, and went across the road to use the facilities. I set about wrapping my right ankle, for the sake of safety, the last thing I needed was to roll it! Finally prepared, I joined them, and we started across the railroad tracks, hitting the trail at 9:47.

Originally, I thought there would be no redlining on this hike, and I was soon proved wrong! I convinced them to take the 0.1 mile Cascade Loop, to take a look at Pearl and Beecher Cascades.

Pearl Cascade

Beecher Cascade
After rejoining the Avalon Trail, the relentless climbing began. I'd been up this trail twice before, once coming down from Field in November 2010, and once going up in January 2011. Even with a light pack, it didn't take me long to start in with the sweating. Surprisingly, my legs felt good, and my ankle wasn't in too much pain. Cynthia and Nick provided all the entertainment I'd need for the day, bantering back and forth, insulting each other, a lot of it was pretty classic. Cynthia managed to get the Oompa Loompa song stuck in my head, and it pretty much stayed there all day.

Some stop and go hiking got us up to the junction with A-Z Trail fairly quickly, we then took a left to continue on Avalon, and our first summit of the day. Fall colors are starting to pop!

Some more steepness and some huffing and puffing, brought us to the Avalon Spur, and up we went. It was nice to be able to hang out here for more than a few seconds, as the temperatures were comfortable, and the sun was brightly shining.

Now the climb to the ridge commenced. It wasn't as steep as I remember it, but there were still some sections to keep you honest before you get there. Once on the ridge, it was only 100 yards to the summit of Field. There's a blowdown path just before the summit that provides some filtered views to the west, out over the Pemi.

West view from near Field

Cherry Mountain, Mt. Deception, and the Mount Washington Hotel
We then began the trudge over to Willey. This is one of my favorite areas on this hike, as the trail hugs the western side of the ridgeline, and passes through several blowdown patches. Some great views can be had just by staying on trail, and looking around, especially to the south and west.

Some mild steepness later, and we were on the viewless summit of Willey, as clouds streamed in from the west. Dropping down to the east, the views didn't disappoint.

A short break in the sun, and we were again on the move, retracing our steps back to Mt. Field. The winds were picking up, and the high clouds that had been blowing in were starting to lower and get darker. We took another break at the Field summit cairn, before heading down the Willey Range Trail towards our last target, Mt. Tom. With the exception of a minor bump, it's all downhill to the junction of the A-Z Trail.

We now turned our attention to the last big climb of the day, the Mt. Tom Spur. The winds continued to ramp up, gusting and pushing us around when in the open. There are some good views from a blowdown patch just below the summit of Tom, and some more restricted views nearer the summit itself.

Not sticking around long, we started our descent. The A-Z Trail drops pretty steeply in its first mile, before mellowing out, and making a stream crossing, just prior to its junction with Avalon Trail. It was here that I thought I felt a rain drop. I had, and they continued to fall from the sky. It made the rocks slick, and slowed our progress, but it wasn't that bad in the trees. It was full on raining by the time we popped out of the woods, blowing around through the notch. We retreated to our cars, said our goodbyes, and went our seperate ways. I ended up going over to Mike's place and hanging out with him and Stefanie for a while, before heading back to Portland.

Thanks Cynthia and Nick for an awesome day, and congratulations for knocking another three 4000 footers off your respective lists!

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