Ironically, my last hike of 2020 was a good one. I ended off the pretty horrible year on a high note, up 4,000+ feet in the sky on a beautiful day. Mt. Tom, Field, and Willey were coated in a very thin layer of snow and ice, thanks to the Christmas Day rainstorm sloughing off a considerable amount of snow. While I was lacing up my hiking boots, securing my gators and microspikes, and pulling on all my winter gear, the car read 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Zealand wore her dog coat in the freezing weather. My dad and I were hiking with friends Tim and Emily Dunham, so we did a two car shuttle, dropping one at the Willey House parking lot and starting from the one at the Crawford Notch Train Depot. We started there because it was about 400 feet higher than the Willey House, so overall, we would have more downhill.
Although the air was chilly, I shed my ski jacket early on the way up to Mt. Tom via the Avalon and A-Z Trail. Below, I still had four layers – a sweat-wicking athletic tee, a long-sleeve thermal, a mid-layer, and my sweatshirt. As always throughout a cold-weather hike, I was constantly trying to balance my inner thermometer based on the temperature, wind levels, and physical exertion. The trail up was relatively easy, though there was one challenging river crossing that will get easier as more of it freezes. Since it was gushing forcefully and there were no decent stepping rocks, we had to bushwhack a short section up the river until we could find a narrower section to hop across. My dad carried Zealand in an effort to keep her paws from getting wet and icy. The other river crossings were minor and partially frozen over.
We hit the turnoff for Mt. Tom and 0.6 miles later bagged the first peak of the trip. Although we remained below treeline, the trees were thinned, so the wind was chilly and I pulled on my jacket and a neckie. The true summit is just a caron surrounded by trees, but down a short path is a lookout with a cool view! The last time I was on Mt. Tom was four years ago with my whole family on a Father’s Day trip. I barely even remember it, so it was nice to be on the summit again.
Once we were on top of the ridge, it wasn’t too difficult to get to Field or Willey. We followed the Willey Range Trail, losing and gaining altitude quickly between the peaks and managing quick mountain views through the trees as we hiked. Both peaks were similarly wooded but Willey had a nice lookout and we could see snow-covered Mt. Washington. It was nice to be above the world, looking out to only mountains, with just one road cutting through the wilderness. After months of online school and frustration, I needed to escape to my happy place and feel that mountaintop dopamine rush.
I was cold on the downhills when I was working less, especially since the wind was picking up and snowflakes were beginning to fall. Even though I had a tube insulator for my water bladder, my water still froze in the tube. I tried to keep the water moving by drinking from it frequently, but I forgot about it for too long. Luckily, I wasn’t very thirsty with only downhill to go, and I had an empty plastic bottle to pour the water into in case I did need water. I could only imagine how rough the conditions were on Mt. Washington that day.
Although the trail up to the ridge was fairly gradual, the trail down was very steep and icy. I jammed my spikes in with each slippery step, and kept my poles in front, praying that my gear would hold. My dad recalled that the first time he was on the trail with my mom, he took a faceplant and cut his nose open, needing three stitches. Determined to keep myself from the same fate, I made sure I was planting each foot into a solid chunk of ice instead of wet rock. We soon reached wooden ladders descending an icy pitch and Zealand refused to take them. So, my dad and her took a wide path around them, making their own trail in the woods to get by in a dog-friendly manner.
The mileage to the car was short, but we had so much altitude to lose. Eventually, we could see the road below us as we rode the switchbacks back and forth across the pitch. Once we crossed the railroad, we didn’t have far to go to the car. By the end of the hike, the weather had warmed up to 30 degrees, which felt nice. At last we reached the parking lot and my dad and I together consumed almost a whole pizza that we picked up from Gorham on the way back to Maine. And of course I had my ice cream sandwich tradition. I look forward to many more happy hikes in 2021.