Last weekend, we decided to be overly ambitious and try our luck at bagging three peaks: Willey, Field, and Tom. Hikers in pursuit of conquering the 48 usually climb them in one go, since they all belong to the same range. However, our plans were thwarted by an unexpected thunderstorm, which prevented us from getting Tom. Rain sucks.
We started our day around 9:00 AM by parking at the bottom of Willey House Station Road, where there is no suggested fee for leaving your car there. We walked uphill on a paved road for a short time until we reached the Ethan Pond Trailhead. Early on in the hike, we crossed railroad tracks and followed the sign for the Ripley Falls Trail. Eventually, we were led to two diverging paths at 0.3 miles. The one on the left traveled to Ripley Falls (a easy twenty minute hike we did the day before), and the right was a continuation of Ethan Pond Trail. One of the cooler things we encountered was a faded, carved sign nailed to a tree that signified that we were hiking on the Appalachian Trail. We even met a hiker who had started his journey three weeks ago, a bulging pack strapped to his back and his beard fully grown in. The grade was easy for this section of the trail. We walked at a gradual incline and the terrain wasn’t too rocky or root-covered. After about 1.3 miles, we turned onto the Willey Range Trail to make our ascent.
The Willey Range Trail offered us a much harder grade than Ethan Pond. For 1.1 miles, we trudged up a steep path of rocks, which were often slippery due to the many brooks crossing the trail. We didn’t think it was strenuous as the ascent to Osceola, but we also weren’t sore from climbing other mountains the day before. There were a good amount of rock-stairs that made the climb easier on us, but overall, there were many parts where the footing was unstable, due to a lack of supportive rocks and roots, and the damp ground. Eventually, we reached an entire section of ladders (literal, man-made wooden ladders) that carried us over steep, wet terrain. After this, it was a short, rocky, and sharply inclined ascent, so we reached the top around 12:00 PM. While the marked summit of Willey offered limited views, a path that veered to the right before the summit delivered a stunning panorama of the mountains around us, the valleys below, and the awesome vastness of our surroundings. After a quick high-five at the top to celebrate our fourth 4,000 footer, we resumed our hike on the Willey Range Trail and began our journey to Field.
The hike to Field was refreshingly short and relaxing. Overall, we only lost about 300 feet in between the two mountains. We rolled downhill at a gradual pace for a majority of the path, until we reached another sharp, rocky incline which indicated we were on the final leg of our trek to the summit. The climb up was easier than Willey, and the gaunt, ash-colored trees were a refreshing change from the thickly wooded paths from which we came. We reached the summit of Field at 1:30 PM. The views were infinitely more scenic than those at Willey. We stumbled across a cute father-daughter pair feeding the resident grayjays cheese crackers out of their hands. We whipped out the banana bread we brought specifically for this reason and began doing the same. Colin thought it would be a fabulous idea to place the bread on his head, and sure enough, a greedy little grayjay swooped in and perched on there for a bit.
At this time, the sky began to darken and the clouds rolled in ominously over our heads. On our way to Tom (luckily not too far along), we ran into a mother hiking with her kids, who asked us the way to get back to Route 302. She told us that the weather was probably going to worsen and she wanted to make her way down as soon as possible. We decided to follow her advice (her mommy senses were definitely tingling), and we took the same trail down, and eventually merged on to the Avalon Trail. The first half of the decent was a difficult, due to a steep grade and rocky path. We heard the first crack of thunder immediately after we got through the hardest parts of the trail, just after passing the trail to Mt. Avalon on our right and the sign for the Mt. Tom Spur Trail, working off to our left. It suddenly began to pour. Had we foolishly decided to bag Tom, we would have been screwed. The storm was merely a passing thing, and soon after we were pelted with heavy rain, the sun began to peek through the trees. At this time, we reached Crawford Brook, which was shrouded in a sheer mist—it was gorgeous. We stopped to take a few pictures and consult our guidebook, and we were on our way. We continued straight on our trail, ignoring the two loops that ran off to our right, and eventually crossed Crawford Brook for a second time.
We arrived at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Macomber Family Information Center on Route 302 at 4:00 PM, soaking wet, sore, and with dried mud caked on our shoes and legs. Our final mission was to try and hitch a ride back to the Ripley Falls parking lot—a good few miles away from where we were. After asking a few families who politely declined (we don’t blame them), we met a super sweet mother and daughter who were generous enough to drive us back right after they arrived at their lodge for the night. They weren’t even planning on going anywhere, let alone in our direction. It was a lovely reassurance that selfless, genuinely kind people still exist in the world.
No, we didn’t accomplish our goal of getting all three mountains. And sure, we could look back on that hike with disappointment and call it a failure. But we decided to relish in what success we had, and the fun experiences we encountered. Breathtaking views, a beautiful hike in the woodlands, friendly (albeit, super greedy) birds, nice people, and a hike that didn’t kill our legs made it all worthwhile. The thunderstorms deterred us for a little bit, but watch out, Tom. We’re still coming for you.