Hikers: Matthew Reagan, Rebecca Williams, Olivera Kesler, Marie Kosley, Krzysztof Gajos, Dave and Juli Rasmussen, and Darren Obrigkreit
After some miserable weather earlier in the weekend, we were greeted by partly cloudy skies and some light flurries. After a group portrait in front of the trailhead sign, we started up the Crawford Path and found that the trail was well-packed and smooth, despite a wicked crust in the woods. The Friday night ice storm had coated many of the trees with a light layer of ice, giving us a beautiful backdrop for a climb. The Path gives an even, moderate grade, with few steep spots and a beaten path just wide enough for a snowshoe-clad hiker. The first two or so miles passed without incident, and we reached the junction with the Mizpah Cutoff ahead of schedule.
From here, the Path slanted north, climbing the ridge below Mt. Pierce. A few clearings to the west gave brief views of the Notch, and soon the trees (left) decreased in size and the snow became deeper as we approached treeline. We passed a few campsites along the way, as well as several other groups headed to and from the summit.
We broke out into the alpine zone after dressing up in everything in our pack, and were greeted by fairly good conditions--fog, 20-30 mph winds, and temperatures in the balmy mid-20's. Some hardy souls decided they liked this weather so much they'd camp in it, and their tent seemed to have survived the night quite well. Several other groups joined us at the summit, and a few of them were happy that we'd brought a compass ("No, that path goes out onto the ridge, not down to the parking lot"). Unfortunately, some equipment problems appeared around this time, as some sets of snowshoes wouldn't stay on and the summit winds made this a bad place to be adjusting equipment. Luckily, the summit had been blown clean of snow, and the ice wasn't particularly dangerous. Everyone stayed warm and comfortable long enough to take several summit photos (right).
Heading south from the summit, we descended into the scrub and followed the lightly-tracked Webster Cliff Trail (left) toward Mizpah Springs Hut. The trail was sheltered from the northwest winds, and deep snow and an icy coating made for surreal and beautiful scenery. We hiked over breakable crust through scrub, pine woods, through a small col, and on the lesser summit of Pierce broke out of the clouds and got our first views of the surrounding mountains, including Jackson, Attitash, Chocorua, and Carrigain. The sun had come out everywhere but the Presidential summits, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day (right).
Below the lookouts, the trail dropped steeply toward the Jackson-Pierce col, providing several opportunities for glissade and self-arrest practice (left). Most people didn't bother with the self-arrest part, though, since windblown powder made for a nice soft slide through the woods. We arrived at Mizpah Spring tired, snow-covered, and hungry.
We weren't the only hungry ones on the mountain, though. While we heated water for drink and filled up on fat and sugar, a hungry fox (right) came right up to our picnic spot. Everyone got great photos as it circled just a few feet around our group, smelling all of our equipment and checking to see if we'd be generous. We declined to share--with the fox's best interests in mind--and it went on its way.
The cookies and hot chocolate ran out around 3:30, and we headed down the Mizpah Cutoff with the sun quickly setting in the west. The cutoff was only lightly tracked, and those who kept their snowshoes in their packs had some serious trouble with the breakable crust, but less than a mile later we connected with the Crawford Path and had a speedy descent on the well-packed trail. We managed to reach the trailhead in a mere 90 minutes with only a bit of easy jogging. After a flash photo by the trailhead sign, we loaded into our cars and finished the day with some fat-laden pizza from Elvios in North Conway.
Thanks to everyone for a great trip!
photos by Matthew Reagan and Olivera Kesler
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