Veteran’s Day at Crawford Notch, NH

Trip Report:
Friday, November 11, 2016
Outside temp: 40 degrees F
Trails taken: Crawford Connector, Crawford Path, Gibbs Falls viewpoint, Mizpah Cutoff
Total distance (Out and Back): 5.2 miles
Total adventure time: 4 hours
It’s Veteran’s Day and neither Earl nor I have to work. Sweet!

We decide to hike because that is what we like to do. Our last few adventures have been in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of miles to hike and dozens (if not hundreds) of mountains to climb.

We look at our maps and decide to hike in the Crawford Notch area. We select Mt. Pierce, one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers as our “hoped for” destination. We planned our route to go to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Mizpah Hut, too. Although we were pretty sure it was already closed for the winter season, we figured we could reevaluate the hiking conditions and decide whether we wanted to continue on to the summit of Mt. Pierce.

Because of the forecasted cold temps, chance of snow, and high winds, we also had a Plan B, should we decide to abort Plan A early in the day. Plan B was to hike Mt. Willard, one of the 52 With A View mountains. Of course, one could ask the question, why hike a mountain with a supposed lovely view on a potentially cloudy and view-less day. My response is that bagging a peak is bagging a peak!

The sun was still sleeping when we hauled our gear out to the car and started the 2-hour drive to the Notch. We had been driving for about 20 minutes or so; the sun was barely awake and was still only thinking about rising out of its bed when I said, “I wonder if we’ll see turkeys today.”

“Maybe we’ll see a deer,” Earl said, as he slowed down, because there was young buck standing in the road. I could barely see it! Good thing Earl was driving.

We were still talking about the deer when, a few miles farther up the road, we saw two groups of turkeys in the fields. It was a great day for seeing wildlife!

More miles up the road and it started to rain. Earl said, “Why is it raining?”

“So we can see a beautiful rainbow!” I replied, pointing to the rainbow that appeared in front of us.

The car’s temperature gauge read 40 degrees when we arrived at the trailhead. It was 8 a.m. Our car was the only one in the lot. We pulled our gear out of the gear, reworked our clothing layers, and started up the trail.

We took a short side connector to view Gibbs Falls, a lovely cascading waterfall.

As we progressed up the trail, the rain started and stopped. The rain transformed into snow and sleet. Earl and I later had a discussion on the difference between snow, sleet, and hail. I was pretty sure it was sleet. Earl said it was snow. Turns out we were both wrong. We were hiking in a graupel storm!

Apparently this type of precipitation is called "graupel."

Apparently this type of precipitation is called “graupel.”

The trail was fairly wet the entire duration of the hike, but as we climbed to the higher elevation, snow was evident in the woods. Ice was present on the rocks and wooden bog bridges. A thin layer of ice covered puddles on the trail.

At the trail junction of the Crawford Path and the Mizpah Cutoff we reassessed the weather. We opted to continue hiking the 0.7 miles to the AMC Mizpah Hut and abort any plans to summit Mt. Pierce. By this point, the wind was blowing hard in the protected corridor of the trail. We knew that hiking above treeline would be risky.

Luckily the entire length of the trail was at a fairly moderate incline. I never felt like I was overexerting myself. There we no “holy crap” how-do-I-get-up-there sections and thus no “holy-crap-how-do-I-get-down-from-there” on the descent. I think that aspect of the trail itself also made it easier to decide to continue up to the hut. Had there been treacherous sections of the trail behind us, I may have expressed concern or caution about letting the weather impact the trail we would need to return on.

The boarded up AMC Mizpah Hut was huge! I experienced conflicting emotions upon seeing it. I thought it looked like a strange anomaly so far into the woods, and yet, it also looked like it belonged. We look forward to returning to the hut during the summer months when the windows are open and human activity is present.

For the two hours it took us to climb to the Hut, we saw no other people. Not long after heading back to the trailhead, though, we saw a woman and young man on their way up. Farther down the trail we saw a lone woman on her way to summit Mt. Pierce. Still farther we ran into more groups of two or more people heading up the mountain.

It concerned me that most of these hikers did not seem well prepared for the weather conditions they were hiking into. Some wore blue jeans (cotton!); others had no packs (meaning no layers of clothing to add); and still others had no hats or gloves. One young man was hiking with his hands in his jean pockets!

We did advise them of the high winds and icy precipitation (we didn’t know about graupel at that point) at the higher elevations before wishing them a “Happy hike!” Then we continued on our own journey back to the car.

Instead of heading up the road to climb Mt. Willard (our original Plan B), we opted to head in to North Conway for lunch.

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