We set up camp at a campground in Crawford Notch Friday night and slept that night through some rain early in the morning (like 3AM early). But we got up to skies that seemed to be clearing some. The initial plan was to do a traverse of Mount Martha, since it would be a shorter hike (getting us out before the afternoon rains that were forecast) and probably be below the cloud deck. But after stopping at the Highland Center for an updated forecast (which called for rain to fall between 2-4 PM, to the tune of 0.1-0.25" of rain), the guys decided they wanted to hike Willey, Field, and maybe Tom. I offered up the suggestion off the top of my head to leave one of our cars at the depot and start down the notch at the Willey House. This would be about 1.5 miles shorter than the normal "loop" from Crawford Depot, but adding what I knew was a steeper climb up the backside of Willey. The guys, not knowing much better (and I wasn't much better) agreed.
The climb up Kedron Flume from the Willey House was steady but not awful. The short stretch on the Ethan Pond Trail was fine too. After that it was up the 1.1-mile, 1600-foot stretch to the summit of Willey (I didn't know it was that much elevation before I suggested this route). The first couple tenths of a mile of this are also fairly gentle in grade, which was a bad omen. Needless to say, it got steep in a hurry. It is rather eroded in spots, and partway up there are several ladder staircases, with roughly 100 total steps that scales a rock face. Above this it doesn't really let up until near the summit.
However, we made it up in good spirits and hung out at the view overlook just below the summit for a while. There was a pair of gray jays there doing their usual mooching act, which my friends found quite amusing. The views were decent below the cloud deck, which was not terribly far above us. As we continued on, we started getting light rain around the Willey-Field col. It was roughly 1PM (we got started up at 9). We didn't linger on the cloud-shrouded summit of Field, where the rain had more or less stopped for now. The decision was made to continue at least to the spur trail to Mount Tom, and decide from there. Once there we opted to head up, despite the weather clearly going down hill.
The normal awesome views into the Pemi Wilderness from Tom were blocked by a wall of clouds, and it was starting to rain again. A quick scramble back to the A-Z Trail, and we headed slowly down, as the rain came down steadily for the entirety of our descent. Reaching the depot around 4PM, we headed to the highland Center for a short while, during which the rain stopped, and then we headed back to camp and made dinner (luckily the rain was over).
This "back" approach to Willey was one I'd wanted to try someday, and it did not disappoint in steepness. I'm not in any hurry to do it again, but I imagine I'll be back soon enough. It was a nice change from the normal loop.
Summits: Willey (4285', NH48), Field (4340', NH48), Tom (4051', NH48)
Trails: Kedron Flume Trail, Ethan Pond Trail, Willey Range Trail, Mount Tom Spur, A-Z Trail, Avalon Trail
Mileage: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4000 feet
|Webster Cliffs over the Willey House|
|Crossing the tracks on Kedron Flume Trail|
|Looking down the flume|
|The flume streaming down the mountain|
|Willey Range Trail getting steep|
|The infamous ladder section on the Willey Range Trail|
|Stairs and Resolution from the Willey overlook|
|Gray Jay friend at Willey|
|Looking towards Webster Cliffs from Willey|
|Tom in the mist from Field|
|Normally you could see deep into the Pemi Wilderness from this spot on Tom...|
|Summit carin on Tom|
|Mount Willard from the Highland Center|