Tom, Field, Willey & Avalon
This week was a chance to more than double my number of 4Ks. That sounds impressive, but is essentially marketing fluff, since I only had two 4Ks under my belt. To this point I had grabbed, Tecumseh and Isolation. Ethan and I had planned on doing Washington and Monroe last weekend, but our schedules just didn’t work out so he ended up running that solo while I was otherwise occupied. On this day we would bag Tom, Field, and Willey, with Avalon as a side dish.
We started at the Avalon Trail head located just a tenth from the AMC Highland Lodge off of Rt. 302. It was a cold, windy start to the day as we headed to the trail head and we were looking forward to getting into the shelter of the trees. Once on the trail we found it a bit muddy with a pair of stream crossings at Crawford Brook. There had been several days of rain prior to our hike, so the streams were a bit higher than we had hoped and crossing without getting a tad wet simply was not going to happen. The water was cold, but my wool and Ethan’s synthetic socks had our feet warm again in just a few minutes. Avalon trail rambled along for around a mile before there was any appreciable elevation gain, when it slapped us with around +750ft in 3 tenths. This is only a moderate climb, really, but it was steep enough that we knew it wouldn’t be much fun coming back down at the end of the day when we were tired.
At the intersection of the A-Z trail we turned left and continued to climb pretty rapidly, adding another 600 or so feet around half a mile or so. This is a well maintained trail with lots of stone and log stairs, so cudos to the maintenance crew! Our course for the day was specifically altered to avoid this on the way back, since decending nearly 1,400′ in under a mile down tall steps didn’t sound very appealing. Ethan wisely routed us to return down A-Z Trail.
As we neared the summit I was a bit of a scramble up to the peak and even though it’s only 3,442 feet, we earned the beautiful view of the Presidentials that Avalon affords. Washington was white with snow and looking majestic as it is wont to do.
We wasted no time as we were to continue on from the summit toware Mt. Field along the remaining miles of Avalon Trail.
We continued on for nearly a mile, with a quick switchback a few tenths in, just before starting to climb toward the summit of Mt. Field. Not far from the summit the Avalon trail joins with the Willey Range Trail and keeping to the left at the junction soon brough us to the top of Mt. Field. There is a pretty substantial cairn at the top, but not that much in the way of views, thanks to lots of tree cover. We grabbed a quick snack and encountered a trail runner and her dog-o-saurus, a little guy dressed as either a dragon or a stegosaurus, either way he was happy to be out on the trail and was looking sharp on this nearly-Halloween day. We again didn’t delay long at the top and continued on toward Mt. Willey, another 1.5 miles or so away.
The Willey Range Trail follows the ridge of Mt Field and then on to the ridge of Mt. Willey – it’s a close, if not claustrophobic path, with trees immediately on either side of the narrow trail. My shoulders are wide enough that in places I was scraping both arms on spruce branches at the same time. The decent off Field was relatively gradual, with only one really steep section that I recall and the ascent toward Willey similar. The most striking thing about this section to me was the difficulty finding footing, the amount of roots and rocks is astonishing and the majority of the time I found myself either breaking my stride off short or having ot reach further than my normal stride to reach a good spot to place my foot. It’s easy to trip on the roots, so we were careful not to spend too much time gawking at the scenery.
Arriving at Mt. Willey we caught up with the trail runner (who had passed us) and turned around in short order to decend, doubling back to Mt Field en route to Mt. Tom.
1.5 miles later we arrived back at Mt. Field and headed left at the Avalon junction to continue on the Willey Range Trail and on for around .9mi till we hit the A-Z trail, turning right for a handful of yards, then left onto Mt. Tom Spur, and .6mi or so up to the summit. The summit of Tom was encroached with trees, but a little way to the side was a decent viewing spot, if you’re tall enough and/or stand on some rocks near at hand.
Back at the summit we sat to rest for long enough to eat a couple of bars and some water, giving our now pretty tired legs a brief respite. We chatted with a hiker who was headed down toward Mt. Willey to finish her day via the Ethan Pond trail, then said our farewells and took a side path to a better viewing spot a tenth or so from the summit. It was beautiful and well worth the diversion.
Turning back toward the Tom Spur, we headed down and hit the A-Z trail once again, for the last 2.5mi or so of the day. When we reached a certain point near the A-Z/Avalon junction we started discussing our time on the trail and how we were feeling at this point in the day. I was feeling pretty great, apart from my knees being a little battered from all the decents of the day, so when we realized “Hey we may just be able to do this in sub-6 hours if we hustle”, it was game on and we started picking up the pace as much as we could safely do with the steeper sections of Avalon that awaited us closer to the bottom. We made good progress and hustled up around 2.3 mph in some spots, covering even more ground than we anticipated. When we got to the bottom the train had just arrived a few minutes prior, which we knew full well since the whistle had been blasting loud and clear for several tenths. We meandered back to the car and looked at the time. We’d done the 10-ish miles of this trip in 5:40, which while certainly no record of any sort, we were more than pleased with.
- I love my Camelbak water bladder.
- As detailed in the Mt. Isolation post, I did decide to put some electrolytes in my water this time around, which seems to have helped with muscle cramping, but even more than that, I think, the ability to sip water intermittently instead of slugging it down on the move probably prevented me from diluting my electrolytes too much. Of course being a 4.5 mile shorter hike didn’t hurt on that front either.
- Headbands are awesome.
- I spent much more of my time on the trail looking at stuff I wanted to look at, mostly clearly. Very little sweat was dripping onto my glasses until the Avalon descent, which had me looking more or less straight at my feet for the duration. Contacts (or maybe lasik?) are the real solutions here, but the headbands helped immensely.
- My cardio continues to improve.
- As I get more hikes under my belt, spend more time at Taekwondo, and get out and run (when did that become a thing I do!?), I spend much less time “sucking wind” and more time enjoying the climb.
- Leg strength is… my… strength.
- I had no leg fatigue to speak of, and was able to scramble, hop, and climb with very little degradation as the day wore on.
- My knees continue to toughen, but I’m not “there” yet.
- The final descent down Avalon trail was hard on my now somewhat sore knees. At the end of the day, they were better than they’ve been before, but this is definitely a new strain I’m putting on them. I have no doubt as I put on more miles and off more pounds, this will only get better.
- My Merril Moab FST trail shoes are pretty awesome.
- I did my research on these, and it seems to have paid off. I hiked in wet socks almost all day and didn’t have much in the way of complaints about comfort. I did have a hot spot on the inside ball of my left foot and the beginnings of a blister in the same spot on the right foot, but I think with a little looser lacing in that region it would’ve been completely fine. Again, for 9+ miles in wet conditions, I’m quite happy. Ethan has bemoaned his quest for the right shoe, and I seem to have hit a homer my first time ’round. I won’t complain. They obviously won’t be what I need for the rugged winter ahead, but for autumn, they’ve been stellar!
It looks like we’ll be bagging the Hancocks next – which will bring me up to 7 of 48. Not bad for just over a month of hiking. I’ve got the bug now, folks. There’s no helping it.
I’m going to be assessing winter gear in the near future, which will be required for the harsh conditions that come starting as soon as mid-November up in the Whites.
Until then, enjoy these glorious outdoors and be safe!