Crawford Notch – Christmas Eve Climbing – Mts. Tom, Field & Willey

Mt. Tom
4,051 ft.
Mt. Field (2X)
4,340 ft.
Mt. Willey
4,285 ft.
A Cold & Beautiful December Day in Crawford Notch
The Prouty Mountaineering Program
(the first Prouty Challenge Event benefitting Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center)
Prep Hike #7  10.0 Miles
December 24, 2011
Wes Chapman
Mt. Washington Hotel & Mt. Washington – the entrance to Crawford Notch

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Crawford Notch – Mts. Tom, Willey & Field

Crawford Notch is named for the eponymous family which moved into the Notch in the late 18th century, and by 1819 had established the Crawford Notch House (visited by 5 Presidents) and began to cut trails up the Presidential Ridge. The most famous of these trails – the Crawford Path – is still in use, and forms the basis of a large part of the Appalachian Trail through the area. Crawford Notch is a large glacial valley, with the characteristic U shape of a continental glacier valley, but with numerous late stage alpine glaciers in the cirques along the peaks. Mts. Tom, Field and Willey are 4,000 + foot hills which form the Western Ridge of Crawford Notch, and make for a terrific day hike – albeit requiring a little bit of doubling back on Mt. Field for a straight shot back to the car. The Presidential Ridge starts up out of the East side of the Notch with Mt. Webster, then trends NE to Pinkham Notch.

Crawford Notch
Nomenclature
Mt. Tom was named for Thomas Crawford, the first proprietor of the Crawford House, and Field was named by Professor Hitchcock of Dartmouth (also the State Geologist for NH) for DarbyField, the first person to climb Mt. Washington in 1642. Mt. Field was originally named Mt. Lincoln, but as that name was previously taken by Lafayette’s sister mountain in Franconia Notch, Mr. Field was given the honors. Mt. Willey was named in honor of the Willey family, which died en mass in a horrible catastrophe in 1826 in a gigantic landslide after a torrential series of August rains. In a particularly ironic twist, the family fled their home to a shelter in which all 9 people died, and the house was not touched by the landslide. Nathanial Hawthorne captured both the horror and the irony of the tragedy in the short story, The Ambitious Guest.
The Route

The day started clear and cold (5 degrees at the base) with a 9:30 departure from the AMC Center at Crawford Notch and 3-4 inches of fresh snow – ideal for tracking. While still in the parking lot, and to my amazement, I saw a bunch of people headed up the Avalon Trail towards Mt. Tom, so I stripped down to some light climbing clothes and gave chase. I started to catch people after turning from the Avalon Trail onto the A-Z Trail, and kept passing them all the way to Mt. Tom where I caught up with a pair of Ladies from Vermont, and three French–Canadians. The weather at the top was quite brisk – well below zero – and I was frozen into helmet head hair that would have done Mitt Romney proud.

A very frosty morning on Mt. Tom
You can see 21 of the 4,000 foot Hills in the White Mountains from Mt. Tom – and the air was crystal clear for the viewing. I enjoyed the company of several strangers at the top, but was amazed at the large numbers of people out on Christmas Eve day, until I recalled the trip that my daughter Mary and I made up Mt. Monadnock just a year before – and the crew of lunatics that were out that day. Little did I know. The Ladies from Vermont were good climbers and pretty rugged, but they said that they originally came from some small Island in Greece – funny, they had no noticeable accent.
North & South Twin from Mt. Tom

In any event, I had been given strict orders not to be late for Christmas Eve dinner, so I took off at a trot – headed for Mt. Field down the Willey Range Trail. The tracks before me fell off to one person with big feet, and a big dog. Just as I came up to the top of Field, I came upon a set of snow shoe prints – but with really big strides. At the top of Mt. Field I came upon the snowshoe traveler – having a snack in a dark patch of woods, and dressed for a trip in the Antarctic. I took a couple of pictures and headed down a small steep section – when he came flying by me – literally. He was going at a dead run on MSR plastic snowshoes – falling head-over-heels twice, and not seeming to care at all. This was shaping up to be the strangest day I’d had in the Hills since leaving the Aliens in West Texas.

I continued the 1.4 miles towards Mt. Willey, which has a nice view down the Notch. I figured that I’d have my lunch there, and then retrace my steps back up over Field and then out to Mt. Avalon and down to Crawford. As I approached Mt. Willey I came upon the biggest guy I’ve ever seen in the mountains, with a dog to match. I’d seen this guy’s tracks before, but I was still surprised. This guy was a huge man with big feet, and also dressed for a trip to the South Pole. We exchanged pleasantries, and I beat feet towards Mt. Willey and lunch – trying to avoid being lunch for this guy’s hybrid lion/dog.
Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range

I got a couple of terrific shots of Mt. Washington and headed back to Mt. Field, and then down the Avalon Trail to Crawford Notch. Along the way I noticed that the number of tracks had picked up tremendously – the trail was completely tracked up and I could no longer identify the number of fellow pilgrims. This was in part due to the fact that the trail was steep, and large numbers were descending on their butts – butt tracks are quite distinctive. Most comically, they are always paired by multiple hand tracks down the sides. No question about it – there were a very large number of timid hikers right in front of me.

I started to catch up with them in bunches of 2-4 people, and they were all Chinese – both men and women. The line went on and on. I must have passed 3 dozen over a half mile stretch. I asked one guy where they were from and he said Boston – funny, it didn’t sound like the North End to me. Finally, somebody told me that they all went to school together, but didn’t say where. It looked like a Christmas Eve reenactment of Chairman Mao’s Long March – the day just kept getting stranger. At this point I was cutting into the safety zone I had for getting home in time for dinner, so I was making tracks. I came flying out of the woods at Crawford Station, hopped into the car and leaned into the gas all the way home – talking to myself the whole way.
Crawford Station at Sunset
This day was the best that winter hiking has to offer – great views, easy traveling and the wildest crew of fellow travelers that I’d met since last Christmas Eve. Honestly, it makes me look forward to Christmas.
Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

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