Trip report: Mts Tom, Field, and (attempt) Willey (NH4k #13-14) and Mt Carrigain (NH4k #15)

Day 1: Tom, Field and (not quite) Willey via Avalon Trail, A-to-Z Trail, Mt Tom Spur, Willey Range Trail, Avalon Trail.

We drove up to Crawford Notch Sunday morning, arriving around 11AM, topped up our water supply at Highland Center, and hit the trail.

The weather was gorgeous–clear, sunny, and cool but not freezing–and we made fairly quick progress to the intersection with A-to-Z.

We paused for a quick break, and chatted with an older gentleman who had stopped for an M&M break. He was on his way to Mt Avalon and suggested we stop there as well. We kept it in mind (see below) but continued onwards towards Mt Tom. The A-to-Z trail was steeper than what we’d traveled on earlier, but still quick going on nicely packed snow.

Another quick break at the Mt Tom Spur intersection, then up the short spur through a dense forest of tiny trees, up a steeper section (with a bushwhacked detour around the most dicey spot), and onto the summit!

Although it had gotten overcast, it was still clear below the clouds, and the views into the Pemigewasett wilderness were fantastic! We admired the views a while, until the chilly winds drove us back into the trees and down the trail.

Another break at an intersection (that’s me gesturing with a peanut butter sandwich), then onward towards Mt Field.

The trail was less well packed than A-to-Z, but still quite manageable thanks to the snowshoers who had come through before. It was a surprise to step off the trail and find myself thigh-deep in snow. All around was a wonderland of snow-frosted evergreens!

On the summit of Mt Field we encountered a pair of grey jays, who decided we might be good for some snacks and followed us for the rest of our trip (they were sorely disappointed).

By now it was starting to get later in the afternoon, and we had to decide whether or not to go after Willey or to turn around and head back. We set a turnaround time and continued on.

We were rewarded with these views from the side of Mt Field. The trail was even less broken out (rough, but still doable without snowshoes) and full of ups and downs. We made good time, but were left with a half mile to go to Willey’s summit at our turnaround time. Not knowing what the descent on the Avalon Trail would look like, we reluctantly turned around, with summit of Willey tantalizingly visible before us.

The views from Mt Avalon were incredible! H with Southern Presidentials and Washington behind him…

Webster-Jackson (I think)…

We made a brisk descent along the steep sections thanks to some butt-sliding and impromptu skiing, and were back at the trailhead by 5:30, well before our goal of 6PM. In retrospect we probably could have made it to Willey and back safely, but I am cautious by nature, especially on trails I don’t know (which is still most of them).

We had a good but expensive dinner at Highland Center and headed to the Notchland Inn, our home for the night.

Day 2: Carrigain via Sawyer River Rd and Signal Ridge Trail

We spent Saturday night at the Notchland Inn, which was lovely. The highlights were giant friendly Bernese mountain dogs, a bathtub, and a fireplace. We did not get up early, as had been my ambitious plan (residency has cured me of ever wanting to get up early again), but enjoyed breakfast and a lot of coffee before we eventually got underway to Sawyer River Road, our destination a few miles down Rt 302. The road was flat and just a touch slushy and sticky. We were passed by a number of surprisingly polite snowmobilers before reaching the Signal Ridge trailhead.

The trail started off flat, with many water crossings…

with some interesting snowbridges and ice formations…

The crossings were only a little dicey in the morning.

We quickly found ourselves at the intersection with the Carrigain Notch trail.

Carrigain Brook was quite unencumbered by ice! (But still easily crossed with a rock hop.)

The flat part ended shortly thereafter and we began to ascend for what seemed like forever.

We were tantalized by a few views through the trees as we plodded upwards.

Finally the trees began to get shorter and the views more spectacular…

and we broke out of the trees and found ourselves on Signal Ridge!

A few minutes (and a few pictures) later, we arrived on the summit and climbed the fire tower to revel in the extraordinary 360 views!

Signal Ridge as seen from above.

The marker for Signal Ridge.

I found myself grumpy instead of elated by the views, but that was quickly cured by a cheese sandwich and some trail mix, and H and I soaked in the sun and our surroundings until we started to get chilly, then reluctantly headed down.

The descent was much quicker–a bit of a slide down the steep part just below the summit, and a mixture of foot-skiing and butt-sliding for the rest of the descent. The snow had an interesting tendency to form sticky balls on my microspikes and yank them off. We did the final mile or so of the trail alternating snowshoes and bareboots, and had to slog through the now very squishy snow-slush on Sawyer River Road.

We only saw a few other people on this gorgeous day and gorgeous mountain, but it was kind of nice to have things to ourselves.

Lovely weekend!

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