View Full Version : Mt. Willey, November 23, 2008

11-24-2008, 10:11 AM
This is cut and pasted from our hiking blog -- http://trishandalex.blogspot.com

Accompanying pictures can be found there.

Ethan Pond Trail, Willey Range Trail.

5.4 miles roundtrip.

****I am extremely grateful to MadRiver for accompanying us on this hike. He was extraordinarily patient with our slow progress. I don't know of many other adults who would hike with someone else's kid and not mind the snail's pace. In addition, he was great fun to talk with -- Alex and I enjoyed his company immensely.****

This was our first 4K hike in wintery weather. Alex and I did well, but we took a very, very long time getting up this mountain.

MadRiver had agreed to join us for this one, since I'm new to winter hiking and it's safer to have more than one adult out there with Alex in this kind of weather. He would arrive at the trailhead an hour or so behind us, and catch up with us on the trail.

It was a beautiful, COLD morning when we arrived at the parking lot. I had Alex wait in the car while I layered up and got out packs and poles. I then had her layer up inside the car. I put microspikes on both of us right away, since I could see there was snow and ice all around us, right next to the car.

Once ready to roll, we beat feet to the trailhead, took a picture, then dove into the trees to get out of the wind.

Ethan Pond Trail starts a bit steeply, and then levels off. It was slow going for us -- we had to stop many times to remove certain layers and put on others, adjust gloves, figure out how to keep Alex' s hair out of her eyes with the balaclava and facemask on, drink water, look at bird tracks in the snow, check out icicles, etc. Also, it was difficult navigating through the snow. Lots of rocks were just barely covered up, many were poking out a bit, roots were just a tad buried in the snow -- we had to watch our footing carefully.

The first half mile took us an hour. Alex was frustrated at having to deal with all the clothes. Also, she couldn't hold her poles very well with her gloves on. She did NOT look happy, and I asked her if she wanted to turn back, that we could wait til the snow melted and just do this in the spring. She responded that she didn't want to have to come all the way back here on another day. "We're here, let's do it now."

So we slogged onward. Here we are next to a bog bridge.

The upper part of the Ethan Pond Trail is an easy stroll -- or, it would have been if we didn't have to watch for rocks and roots hiding under the blanket of white. MadRiver caught up with us a few tenths of a mile from the junction with the Willey Range trail. I let Alex go ahead, then quietly explained to Rick that I wasn't sure how far we'd get today. We were warm and well prepared, but I knew Alex wasn't exactly loving this.

We got to the Willey Range Trail and took a break.

Again I asked Alex if she wanted to keep going, and again she exclaimed forcefully that she did NOT want to have to come back on a different day. She had done all that work to get to this point and she wanted to keep going. Since we were warm and the day was bright, and we had Rick with us, I agreed we would keep at it.

The Willey Range trail became steep after a bit. Lots of icicles (which Alex enjoyed immensely).

We got to the ladders -- and for the first time, Alex broke into a smile. She thought this part of the trail was fabulous.

We scampered up the ladders and continued on our way.

The going got very tough now, since the snow was deeper and we kept thinking we were farther along than we really were. There were several more steep pitches after the ladders, and after completing each pitch we expected to be almost at the top. Alex had a hard time finding handholds to pull herself up and over steep rocks because everything was covered with inches of snow. Alex became more and more frustrated, she just wanted to be there already, and at one point she was near tears. I told her we could stop and turn back, no worries. Her response was a downright snarl -- "I don't WANT to turn back!!" while stomping onward. I had never before seen her so pissed off at a trail. I have to admit, I admired her perseverance. We had taken forever to get to this point, she had busted her ass, we were warm and well prepared -- damn it, she was NOT giving up now. She stomped onward. I helped her as much as I could without carrying her -- held her arm, had her heavily lean on me while getting up particularly steep bits, etc.

Finally, FIVE HOURS after we started from the parking lot, we reached the summit (cairn is behind MadRiver).

We checked out the very lovely views of the Presidentials and the Webster cliffs from a neighboring ledge.

We sat on the ledge and had some grub. I learned that in order to light the fuel for my little stove, I need to take off my gloves. When I take off my gloves, my fingers quickly become too cold to be of use. Therefore, instead of making our own hot chocolate, we bummed some off of MadRiver, who carried his ready-made in an insulated thermos (which is what I'll do next time).

My cellphone had no reception, but MadRiver's did, and he nicely allowed me to call my husband. We were running WAY behind schedule, and I didn't want my husband to freak out if we returned after nightfall -- which was a slight possibility at this point.

We headed back down, and in short order Alex's attitude changed for the better. She had a grand time butt-sliding in the snow at every opportunity. She sang, engaged us in her "name game," and became that bright happy kid I usually hike with. She was a very happy camper since the descent was a million times easier than the ascent.

She wanted to take this picture of MadRiver and I on the Ethan Pond Trail.

It took us a little over an hour and a half to get back to the trailhead from the summit. Here we are, today's goal accomplished.

I told Alex she had definitely earned this peak. She declared that she was proud of herself, and she and MadRiver proceeded to celebrate by making snow-angels.

So ends this adventure.

I don't know if Alex will want to do another hike of this caliber in winter conditions. She definitely wants to keep our plans for December 6, which is to hike to Carter Notch hut and spend some time with a bunch of other hikers. However, she now says she's not so sure she wants to try to summit WildCat A or Carter Dome from the hut, that she may want to wait until the snow has melted. I've assured her that whatever she does or does not want to do is fine with me.

So who knows when our next 4K hike will be.....in two weeks, or maybe in the spring...could be a few months before there's another entry in our blog, who knows...if we don't do 4Ks anytime soon, I've no doubt we'll happily be out there (with Sage!!) tramping around smaller hills and building snowfolk.

Happy Almost-Winter, everyone!

11-24-2008, 10:36 AM
A long trek for sure, but what incredible views from the top. Just breathtaking! Nothing like a little glissading on the way down to raise the spirits too. Thanks as always for sharing the journey.

11-24-2008, 10:39 AM
That was a great tr and the pictures where beautiful. Your reports on your daughter always crack me up. I hope to someday to meet you both on the trails. Thanks for sharing with us and I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.

11-24-2008, 11:06 AM
Thanks, guys.

I've a feeling that once she's used to snowshoes, and if the trail isn't too steep, that she'll LOVE winter hiking. However, I'm not sure we'll be hitting very many more (if any) 4Ks 'til next May. Who knows, maybe Waumbek in early March or something (with a group). We'll see what she feels like doing.

11-24-2008, 04:26 PM
Hi Trish,

Congratulations, as always!

I think that many people find Nov/Dec hiking to be really frustrating due to the hidden features (i.e. rocks, roots) beneath a couple inches of snow.

Before you give up on the idea of winter 4K's for Alex, if you could find a well packed-out trail in Feb or early March, it's a whole different experience. It's like walking on a white carpet. No rocks or roots at all. Actually, some of the trails that we have done have been easier than summer.

Mt Pierce has been a favorite that we've done multiple times in the snow. Here's Tim on the Crawford Path.


Just an idea!

11-24-2008, 04:55 PM
Thanks, Valerie -- my plan is to go on lots of small hikes in December, January, and early February -- small ones, getting used to and playing around with snowshoes. If she enjoys this, then perhaps mid-late Feb or so we'll set out again for a 4K (with people, I don't want it to be just us if the temps are low).

I have deliberately saved a few "easy" ones for possible winter attempts -- Waumbek being the most likely.

We'll see what happens.

KD Talbot
11-24-2008, 10:25 PM
Sometimes just harder than others! :) Great job! Tim and Val are right on about packed trails being easier than summer climbs. Not always, sometimes the snow won't consolidate and sometimes it's too wet and sticks, but in the right conditions it can be awesome!

Consider Welch/Dickey near you in Thornton for getting used to snowshoes and other traction devices. Lots of exposure up there too, and great views!


Jimmy Legs and Little d
11-25-2008, 02:53 PM
Glad to see that you and Alex summited Mt. Willey after last week's report.
Don't feel bad; it took us close to 5 hours to get to the summit a couple years ago in winter. As others have said, winter is a great time to hike and if the weather is good and there is decent snowpack on the trail - GO FOR IT....Another winter 4000ft I might suggest would be Mt. Cabot in addition to Mr.Waumbek.
little d