Willey, Field, Tom and North Fork Loop
Perfect mini backpacking trip
Leah (who I ran the Vermont 50 with last year) suggested getting a few friends together to go hike in the Whites this week since many of us had time off work for Independence Day. Usually Cody and I are off somewhere exotic, but given COVID-19, we stayed closer to home. In the end, only she and I were game to head out on Thursday to do a relatively short backpacking trip.
We decided to do a backpacking trip to make the most of our short time as we were both away until Wednesday evening and Leah needed to be back in town by Friday early afternoon. Since the weather was looking iffy (thunderstorms might be in the mix), I suggested good ol' Tom, Field and Willey but done the opposite direction from a less-populated trailhead and with an overnight somewhere off the AT between Zealand Hut and Ethan Pond.
We really lucked out on weather. Not only did we not get caught on a summit in a thunderstorm, but we also managed to both set up and take down camp completely dry. As a bonus, the bugs were only a slight nuisance.
The hike up to Willey was the only really strenuous part of the trip. It's pretty much straight up after the branch with Ethan Pond Tr. There's a series of connected ladders that gains you around 200 feet in a hurry along huge boulders. When we were nearly to the summit, we stopped at an overlook to enjoy a clear view of the Presidentials and eat a sandwich. After Willey came Field which merited a quick photo stop and then on to the Tom Spur through a delightful stretch of forest.
This was my 5th time hiking up TFW so I don't have a lot else to say about these peaks other than they continue to be a delightful forested alternative to the more exposed ridge hikes in the Whites. In clear weather, each peak allows for decent views if you poke your head around the trees a bit. As expected, we passed many hikers in this section and I felt pretty glad to get onto more secluded trails when we descended the A-Z trail.
The A-Z trail from Mount Tom Spur to Zealand Hut takes you deep in the wilderness, away from any hint of road noise and into some dark damp woods. The descent is pretty steep and slippery at first and then levels out. The trail seems to be always wet (probably more so now due to all the recent rain). We stopped at 7.8 miles in to refill our water in a wide mossy stream. Shortly after, we passed a little brook that had a sort of mist rising out of it in the dappled sunlight surrounded by vibrant green moss. It was magical.
The trail got narrower as plants wet from the scattered showers rubbed against every part of my body. It was that time in the hike when the end is not really near and you're feeling the full work day of walking you've already put in. A sugary snack helped as we paused at the junction with Zealand Trail.
This next section was nothing short of spectacular as the Ethan Pond Trail (AT) follows an old railway path with a steep drop into a spruce forest to the right and the talus slopes of Whitewall Mountain to the left. Of all the trails in the White Mountains, this one most reminds me of hiking Out West and of our Colorado Adventure exactly two years ago.
We made it to the beautifully bouldery North Fork river when we crossed on the wooden bridge, then we found the perfect camp spot. It was just off the trail with two perfect tent spots and the rushing sound of the North Fork down a small slope, which even had a little path. We had our tents up and water boiling for dinner in no time. The flies descended on us right as dinner was ready so we ate in our tents, chatting through our screens and enjoying the small bottles of Merlot Leah thought to bring. After dinner, the flies seemed to disappear and I decided to go take a bath in the river. Is there anything better than having a solo dip in a cool river in the wilderness after a long day of hiking? I fell asleep to those thoughts.
They were still on my mind as we drank our morning coffee down on some rocks and took our time saying goodbye to the North Fork (for now). The hike out was a gentle meander through the forest, following wooden planks through the bog until we made it back to where we started.
Leah hiking up the final ladder up to Willey
View from the overlook at Mt Willey
Leah + Blue at the overlook at Mt Willey
Rye already tired at noon
Leah summiting Mt Field for the first time
View of the Mount Washington resort castle from Mt Field
Snacks on Mt Tom
View from Mt Tom
Sleepy pup at the water fill spot off A-Z
Leah and Blue taking a break by the water fill spot on A-Z
Mystical magical little stream in the woods
Planks on the A-Z trail
Morale-boosting stop at the junction of Zealand Trail
From Ethan Pond Trail along the old railway
And back the other direction
Blue on the North Fork
Setting up camp
Great morning coffee at the North Fork
Rye in the morning with last night's swim spot behind
Leah and pups
Lady Slippers along Ethan Pond
Blue leading the way out
Never too early for celebratory parking lot beers