Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crawford Cliff Attempt 1/21/12

Crawford Cliff (attempt) via Crawford Trail to Cliff Spur. 

Mileage: 1.2 miles RT from Crawford Path trailhead

Elevation Gain: 490'

Trailhead: From the AMC Highland Center in Bretton Woods, cross Route 302 to get to the Crawford Path trailhead.  If you are not staying at the Center, park in the Clinton Road parking lot on Route 302 just north of the Center (parking lot open year round) and take the Crawford Connector to the Spur.
Lessons Learned:  There is a reason why the Highland Center does not include Crawford Cliff on their "short hike" list.

Sometimes snowshoes feel more like clown shoes.

This was our volunteer weekend at AMC's Highland Center in Crawford Notch.  From Friday though Sunday Rich and I work the hiking information desk, assisting visitors and guests with trail conditions and trip options.  Volunteer weekends whisk us away from our day-to-day chores and concerns to the world of hiking, skiing, and just enjoying the outdoors. The hours are long but we get a four hour break on Saturday afternoon. That's when we hike.

Since part of our training requires familiarity with area trails, I decided we would try to find Crawford Cliff.  Seemed like a neat short hike with great views of the Notch. The Center has a list of short hikes they recommend to visitors, Elephant Head, Gibbs Falls, and I was curious as to why this nearby short hike was not on the list. 

Last year, I joined a group of other volunteers to hike Crawford Cliff. The leader tried in vain to find the path to the cliff; there was snow on the ground and I don't recall seeing any trail signs. 

My online research gave me squat, though I was able to find a picture of the view from the cliff (which included Mts. Tom and Field, and the Highland Center complex). 

That morning we hiked with several guests. We came back for lunch and went right out to find Crawford Cliff.  Finding the trail was easy.  We hiked 2/10 mile up Crawford Path, crossed the bridge over Gibbs Brook at the junction of Crawford Path and the Crawford Connector, and turned right at the "Mt. Clinton Road Parking" sign.

The spur trail is easy to see, to the right of the sign.
The spur trail parallels the brook, with a nice place to view the water called "The Pool."

The pool was a bit frozen on this day!
At The Pool, the trail goes left and up.

A sign and two arrows point the way up to the cliff.
It was evident that someone had hiked the trail a few days before and we followed those tracks up a somewhat steep and meandering path.  At one point we found a tree with a number on it, like a telephone pole - smack in the middle of the wilderness.

Interesting!  Is it a tree or a pole?
The path had been easy to follow to this point and the footprints continued up.   It wasn't long before the path leveled out, narrowing to about three feet with the steep downward pitch of the slope on our left, vertical rise on our right.  The footprints had disappeared and the snowy path continued to narrow to the point where we could not tell where the edge was.  Negotiating boulders was difficult and our snowshoes proved too wide to comfortably continue.  We were on the edge of a mountain in clown shoes!

The path slanted outward and became slippery with our snowshoes not easily catching, our poles not planting.  Rich stopped and waited. He could not comfortably go on. 

I continued on the little path barely cut into this steep slope until I could go no further.  I looked up, hoping to see that we were almost there - nothing but more goat path on a steep slope.  Should I stop and put on my microspikes? Could barely keep myself upright on this tiny patch of earth and few trees were below to catch me if I did lose my balance and slide off.  No. I needed to turn back.

I headed back toward Rich, which was not an easy task.  Getting down some of the boulders proved more difficult than getting up them but I managed to get down the more dangerous section safely, digging into the snow to find roots to hold on to while I lowered my "clown shoe" onto an outward sloping, slippery landing.

When we returned to Highland Center, I talked with the staff about this hike.  None of them suggest Crawford Cliff to their guests because of the rugged (White Mountain Guide calls it "rough") spur path to what they consider a "ho hum" view of the Notch.  In fact,  AMC trail maps flag the cliff with a "!" which indicates dangerous.

When we got home, we downloaded the trip information from our GPS to learn that we were (according to the data) only 350 feet from the cliff.  I plan to hike to Crawford Cliff this summer (or at least attempt it again) when I can see exactly where the path is  - but would not consider it again in winter conditions, nor will I recommend it to others.