This hike was not a Carpool Challenge, as I had arranged to drive in the morning so I would have a little more time to hike. With that in mind, I was planning a longer hike to Garfield, until a fellow WHS member wanted to hike on Friday or Saturday and was looking for a partner. With the magic of email, we set up a carpool with a Plan A and B. Plan A was Garfield, but given our late starting time and that fact that we’d never hiked together without the larger group, we decided that Field and Tom would be a better destination due to shorter hike length and more bailout points if things weren’t working out.
I picked up my hiking partner at the designated meeting place and we were off for Crawford Notch. Driving through Franconia Notch, we noted the socked in summits and potentially unpleasant weather and were happy with Plan B. After driving through Twin Mountain and only being able to see very little of the southern Presidentials, we knew the decision to hike the mostly protected trails of Field and Tom was a good choice.
After making final preparations, we were on our way around 9:45a. We headed over the railroad tracks and into the woods on the Avalon Trail. The lower part of the trail was muddy, which then turned to patchy ice. Once at the A-Z and Avalon junction, we noted the appearance of more ice and snow and we put on microspikes to continue up the Avalon Trail. The first section of the Avalon Trail is steep and was a mix of snow and rocks, causing us to chose our steps carefully. The more altitude we gained, the more snow and ice was on the ground, until we were walking among the the snow dusted trees.
We had seen no one on the trail, although I had noted there was someone on the trail before us, with boot and paw prints on rocks and in the mud of the lower portion of the trail. Part way between the summits of Avalon and Field, we met a party of two dogs and two men. I recognized the older gentleman and the dogs right away – I had met the trio on the summit of Washington in June. I never did get the gentleman’s name, but in both meetings his golden retrievers were friendly and well-behaved, and obviously well-loved. Those dogs were so excited to be out in the snow and on an adventure for the day. After exchanging greetings we moved on in separate directions. We kept ascending, met the Willey Range Trail and headed up the last little steep bit to the cairn.
At the cairn, we quickly put on another layer and then went down to the little viewpoint. We weren’t alone at the summit, as we were quickly joined by friends, the bold grey jays. After a picture session and everyone (including the jays) enjoying a snack, it was time to head over to Tom.
The mile or less to the A-Z trail from Field went very quickly, as it always seems to for me. The trail is picturesque, easy to follow and downhill, so that is probably why! We quickly headed to the Tom Spur, where my partner opted to leave his pack and enjoy the mile round trip to the summit without the burden of the pack. We headed over the summit and enjoyed the views out to Carrigain and surrounding areas, then to the other side to try to catch a glimpse of the Presidentials. We could see Webster Cliffs, and even some of Pierce, but the rest of the Presidentials were still in the clouds. While we were on the summit, it started to lightly snow fine little flakes.
Done with our quick visit to the summit and viewing area, we were ready to descend back to Crawford Notch. During the descent, we noticed that the precipitation had changed. It wasn’t fine snowflakes anymore, but small little granular pellets, more like a snow pellet. They reminded us of those styrofoam pellets you’d find in an old beanbag chair, except smaller. They didn’t make the clinking sound of ice, nor did they break when they hit the ground. They collected like pellets, not like snowflakes, so that in boot prints and other depressions, there were collections of little pellets. The air temps were at or around freezing – we were hiking down in just long sleeves without fleece or any other sort of jackets. Does anyone know the proper term for this precipitation? Snow pellet is the best description, but if you know anything about science, everything has a proper name! My husband said he had seen this precipitation before, too, but only a few times.
As we moved down the trail, we eventually came to patchy ice and the time to remove the microspikes and continue down the muddy trail to car. We arrived at the car and pulled out of the parking area at 2:45p, which was well before my partner’s goal time of 4:00p. After checking our time along the ascent, I figured that with no major problems, we’d definitely be at the car before 4:00p, and I was right.
Overall, we had a great hike – we both were prepared for the weather and terrain, hiked at a reasonable pace, stayed safe and had fun. Having never hiked together without a group, it was sort of like an interview – checking each other in knowledge, skill, speed and endurance, not to mention personality. We both agreed that we could hike together again in the future, and it is nice to have that option if we want to coordinate future hikes, especially in the winter.