Monday, January 11, 2016

Mt. Pierce (WINTER 4K 11/48), January 9, 2016

Mt. Pierce (4,311) via Crawford Path and Webster Cliff Trails, 1/9/16.

Mileage: 5.9 mile (RT)

Elevation gain: 2,469' 
Trailhead: Crawford Path begins directly across the highway from AMC's Highland Center. I-93 north to Route 3 north (exit 35) and follow road to Route 302. Take Route 302 east (a right) and travel 10 miles to the Highland Center (on right). We parked at the far end of the parking lot so as not to interfere with Highland Center guest parking. 
Hiked with Rich today.  We chose Mt. Pierce as our first hike in 2016; a chance to take our winter gear out for a spin (without committing to too long an adventure).  I'd hiked Mt. Pierce last June and was looking forward to a different visual experience this time around.
It was a slow, slippery ride up to the Whites.  I was glad to see road and weather conditions improve just as we turned onto Route 302.  
Highland Center prefers hikers to park at the Crawford Depot or Clinton Road parking lots but today their parking lot wasn't very full.  So we quietly parked at the far end of Highland Center's lot, took the stairs up to Route 302, crossed the road and headed up Crawford Path. 

Trailhead sign.
It was a balmy 30°.  The trail was quite broken out, easy to follow with moderate grades.  Several areas of the trail had ice flows with walk-arounds.
Good footing, easy grades.

It was spitting snow and would do so throughout the hike. We made it to Gibbs Falls in no time and continued on to the junction of Mizpah Cutoff (which always seems longer than it is).

At Mizpah Cutoff.

At the junction, we stopped for a minute to layer down and play with a gray jay.  The Cutoff trail also appeared to be in good shape.

Gray Jay demon-bird looking to steal our food.

Above the junction our surroundings softened.  Trees drooped with heavy snow and snow cover deepened.


The trees become shorter as the trail continues up. The Crawford Path portion of this hike remains in the trees (and mostly out of the wind) right up to the Webster Cliff trail junction. 

A mist enveloped us.

In the mist of snow; it hushed our surroundings.

This was taken just a few hundred yards before treeline.

Rime ice clinging to the branches.

At the Webster Cliff trail junction the tree cover disappears. Everything was encrusted with ice.  We turned right.

View at the junction. Nothing to see but shades of gray.

Webster Cliff trail. This side of the signs are protected from the elements.

The back of those signs - crusty with ice.

From the trail junction to the summit is out in the open.  Today it looked like a moonscape with the trail indeterminable and all terrain looking the same.  The wind was whipping (but manageable).

I remembered the way from my hike in June and swung to the right, calling for Rich who was already headed left  - into the abyss.  It's just about one-tenth of a mile to the summit but in a sea of white, you can really get turned around.  We spotted a cairn and headed toward it, stopping and turning around to see how we came so we could remember how to get back to the junction.
Cairns helped us find the summit.
In the winter white the summit cairn didn't look all that different from the trail cairns, except it is in a grove of trees and has a pipe and USGS marker near it.

Summit cairn.

The continuation of Webster Cliff trail appeared to be broken out but we weren't interested in going that way today.

We took a few photos and turned around to head back.  Our footprints had been wiped away by the wind but we could see where our poles marked the snow, all the way back to the junction.

We were able to see the trail on the way back in some spots.
We made it down in no time.  By afternoon the snow in the lower parts of the trail had turned very wet and the ice flows softened up.  After, we stopped for a beer at Tuckerman Brewery in Conway.