Mt. Willard- First Local Hike of the Year – April 5, 2023

Yesterday everything came together. The weather was acceptable and nothing on the to-do list except finalizing the tax returns. The taxes could wait a little more- I headed down to Crawford Notch to hike Mt. Willard.

The use of the word notch rather than pass to describe a path through mountainous terrain seems to be a New England thing, specifically in Northern New England. Most of the “passes” in the White Mountains are called “notches”. They are, west to east (roughly): Franconia, Crawford, Pinkham, Dixville, Evans and Grafton. Those last two are in Maine, the rest in New Hampshire. The only “pass” I’m aware of is the Kancamagus Pass on the highway of the same name. I think that one might be a johnny-come-lately, as I don’t remember it back in the day.

Anyway, I made the trip to Crawford Notch without issue, and arrived at the trailhead around 10:30AM. It was warm, about 40°, but otherwise a gray day.

Despite the lack of sun, visibility was good. Since the parking lots are still closed, and full of snow, I parked along Rt. 302, right in front of the Crawford House train depot. The trailhead to Mt. Willard is directly behind the station, across the tracks.

After checking the backpack over, I saddled up and crossed the tracks to start the walk. I was wearing the shell of the parka, but that would soon join the other layers in the pack as I warmed up during the walk.

The snow was hard-packed on the trail and about a foot thick. Good traction. I think I’d have been fine barebooting, but I wore microspikes the entire trip up and down. They helped a lot on the way down, preventing slipping on the snow and ice.

Mt. Willard isn’t a particularly long or difficult hike, but it does start off with a nice incline, and maintains it for better than a mile. Since this was the first “winter mountain hike” I’d taken in over 40 years, it was appropriate. 

After a short walk, the Mt. Willard Trail heads off to the left while the trail to Mt. Avalon and beyond continues straight. There’s a stream crossing not far after the turn, and then the ascent takes you along the south side of that stream, which turns into a gorge. There was an overlook with a sign stating Centennial Pool, but there was no pool evident- everything was frozen and snow covered.

After maybe a mile or so of ups, the trail becomes tighter. The evergreen trees are more canopied here, and the incline becomes less. Eventually it is just about level, and soon you come out to this view.

That’s the view south through Crawford Notch. The road down there in the center of the photo is US Route 302, while the one to the right are the train tracks- the same ones crossed at the start of the hike. They are still operational, and these days the North Conway Scenic Railway travels over them in the good weather. Years ago Wife and I took our sons on that trip, and it was fun.

I spent the usual 10 or 15 minutes dawdling on the summit, taking in the view. I shot a brief video of all that I could see- check it out:

Walking downhill on the packed snow was fun, and I think it was much easier than the rocks and roots which would be exposed once the snow is gone. I made really good time heading back to the trailhead. While I did not see any other hikers during my trip up, I did come across five folks and a friendly dog heading up on my way down the hill.

Total distance covered for this hike was about 3 ½ miles, with an elevation gain of 912 feet. Including “dawdling time”, it took me 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete.

All in all, this was a great start to the local season, as well as a good reintroduction to hiking on snow covered trails. I’m going to try to get back there within the next few days to go up the Mt. Avalon Trail. I hope the snow lasts until then.

Thanks for stopping by!

3 thoughts on “Mt. Willard- First Local Hike of the Year – April 5, 2023

  1. Pingback: Mount Pemigewasset: Up One Way & Down The Other – April 15, 2023 | PONDSIDE

  2. Pingback: Mt. Avalon: An Excellent Day at Crawford Notch – April 21, 2023 | PONDSIDE

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