We had the fortune of having a long weekend planned in New Hampshire and a forecast that shaped up to be GREAT for some winter hiking. We took full advantage and spent some time wandering the snowy White Mountains. Up first – Mount Pierce.
- Hike Date – Saturday, February 18 2017
- Distance – 6(ish) miles
- Elevation – 4,310 feet
- Equipment – snowshoes (Dion 121’s) – trail well packed out by prior hikers
- Planned Route – Crawford Path up to summit OR Crawford Path –> Mizpah Cut-Off –> Mizpah Spring Hut –> Webster Cliff Trail (also Appalachian Trail) –> summit –> Crawford Path back down (making a loop)
- Actual Route – Crawford Path –> Mizpah Cut-Off –>Mizpah Spring Hut –> steep climb up AT to SW summit (NOT actual summit), brief wander in someone’s packed snowshoe tracks, realization this path was making a circle in woods and not packed out to summit, white blazes covered by snow, take in the nice views and head back down the way we came…. no summit today (oops).
The weather was WARM for February, with the forecast calling for temps rising into the mid 40’s on the heels of a couple of storms that had dropped feet of snow. As always, we dressed in layers (many that were quickly shed for the climb up) and carried extra gear, snacks, and water.
This hike starts out across the street from the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center in Crawford Notch. A parking lot is available off Mt. Clinton Road; this was full so we parked along Rt. 302 along with a pile of other hikers’ cars and entered the trail off 302.
The trail was well packed but softening up due to the warm temperatures. This is a very popular winter 4000 footer hike due to the mostly below treeline, well traveled trail and gradual terrain – we saw lots of other hikers out there with us.
Crawford Path climbed steadily but gradually pretty much right from the get-go. We lasted about 10 minutes before we started sweating and shedding outer layers. After ~1.5 miles we came to the intersection with the Mizpah Cut-Off trail, which would bring us to the Mizpah Spring Hut. I had studied the trail maps and researched the facebook forums and online trail reports prior to choosing this hike, and we opted to take the right up the Mizpah Cut-Off, with the plan to approach the summit via the Webster Cliff Trail and then descend back down Crawford Path via a lollipop-type loop.
This portion of the trail was stunning. Continued gradual climbing through snow covered trees… it was like a fairy tale! The trail was well packed and we reached the Nauman tent sites and the Mizpah Springs Hut (the hut is closed in Winter). There were a couple of groups setting up camp for the night at the tent site, brave souls!
From the hut it is a quick but STEEP, switchbacking uphill to a clear summit area that is actually (I believe) the lower SW summit of Mount Pierce. The actual summit is just shy of a mile from the hut. The white blazes of the AT were easy to follow along the already broken out path leading out from the hut. We came over the initial early summit area and were greeted with fantastic views of the frozen, snow covered trees and Mount Washington in the distance. Stunning!
Unfortunately, our planned route went a bit awry at this point. I had read a report and believed that it said that the route from the hut all the way to the summit of Pierce was already packed out. That’ll teach me to gloss over the details. Spoiler alert – It wasn’t! Whoops! We followed the packed trail along, back down into the trees, but weren’t really looking for the blazes ourselves. It turned out that whoever had attempted this before us bailed out and did a little loop in the trees, leading us back to the trail we were already on. Having never hiked this route before and without a great sense of where the trail headed from there to finish the traverse over to the summit, we decided to hike back down the way we came up. Oh, well. we missed out by probably half a mile… just a good excuse to head back up there and officially bag Pierce! The views were amazing and it was a great day for a hike, so there was nothing to complain about. Until next time! I learned my lesson and found some new resources for hike route planning that would have been VERY helpful for this one.