Hiking Journal, October 20-22, 1995 – Mt. Hale, Field, and Wiley
Thurdsay evening (10/19) I checked several weather sources about the weekend forecast. The news was not good: drizzle beginning Friday evening, heavy windswept rain on Saturday, clearing on Sunday. This kind of dampened my enthusiasm a bit, and I did no packing or planning that night. In fact, I stayed up till the wee hours surfing the net. I had told the folks at work not to expect me on Friday, but I was feeling like a fool.
Friday AM, woke up quite late. No rain yet, but gray skies. After a half hour of moping around, I made my decision to go. Threw the pack together in an hour or so, and was on the road by about 11 AM. Had to stop at Shaws’ for some grocs, and for a fillup, but then it was a straight shot up 93, to 3, to 302, down a mile or two to Zealand Campsite. Found the trailhead to Mt. Hale a couple of miles up that road. Hit the trailhead at around quarter to four. Strangely enough, the only sun I saw that day was on the last few miles of the trip, on Rte. 3.
It was a straightforward, uneventful walk up Hale Brook Trail to the summit of Mt. Hale. A bit over two miles, and around 2000 feet of vertical rise. Scared up a couple of grouse; they were plenty loud. The peak that you see from the trailhead is a false summit; the trail in fact keeps to the north of that peak. The sky was bright overcast for most of this walk, but when I got to the summit it was socked in, windy and cold. Scooted on down the Lend-A-Hand Trail toward Zealand hut, 2.8 miles away and a thousand feet down. Easy walk — at the end, I was almost jogging. Got to the hut around 7:30-ish, with a quarter or half hour of daylight left. It was already drizzling lightly. Inside the hut, besides the caretaker, was a family of four, and two young guys. A quiet group. I gladly paid the $15.00 for a bunk, just so as not to camp alone in the cold and damp. During the evening, I went through the hut’s register for summer of 1990, and found signatures from several hikers I knew: Wizard, Hunter, Wild Bill & Calamity Jane, Cool Breeze, LA and Capt. Noah, Virginia Varmints and a few others I can’t recall now.
Saturday AM, awoke to steady rain, or what sounded like it (might also be the roar of Zealand Falls, right next door.) Had a quick breakfast, suited up in full foul-weather hiking regalia, and took off, a bit after 10. The rain was light, and the air quite warm. So much so that I soon began to overheat, and peeled off the Goretex bottoms. The A-Z Trail was actually a tougher hike than I expected, and gained a fair amount of elevation before meeting the Willey Range Trail. The rain built steadily. By 11:30 I was at the Willey Range Trail, with the rain beating down. I decided it was going to be a long enough day as it was, and skipped the spur up to Mt. Tom — very much out of the way. By now, the trail was a torrent. After a few minutes of climbing, I realized my boots were thoroughly soaked through, and that it was really no use trying to keep them dry anymore. This in fact gave me the freedom to splosh willy-nilly up the trail, like a kid. I was soaked to the bone, but not cold.
Both of the summits on the Willey Range Trail — Mt. Field, and then, south a bit, Mt Willey — were non-events, at least on this grody day. Not much open ridge up here, which was fortunate. There are a few places near the summits where the trees open up for “views”, but there was nothing today but gray void, and a faceful of wind and rain. It was wild. The OR hat kept the worst of it outta my face. Most of this trail was mellow walking, but the descent off Willey was a killer. Steep as get-out, and seemed like it would not end. Water was gushing down, wailing down this trail. There were log ladders in a couple of places. It wasn’t that scary, but I had to be very, very careful in a few places.
Once that steep descent was over, it was 45 minutes to Ethan Pond Shelter. I had expected that I was probably the only fool in the woods on that day — I’d seen no other hikers until the corner of Willey Range and Ethan Pond Trails. When I arrived at the lean-to, there were two other sleeping bags set out, along side a case of beer. Chris and Tom, their owners, appeared a half-hour later, they’d been out looking for bear or bear-signs. New Hampshire guys. Then, a half hour after that, a dozen women — an AMC-organized trip of mostly first-timers. The ladies dropped some gear in the lean-to, but almost all of them stayed in tents out on the tent platforms nearby. A bit later, a fellow named Clay, and then a half-hour later, his brother and sister, Jeff and Meredith. Altogether, there were 8 of us in the lean-to, plus the AMC ladies. There was good chatter and sharing of munchies. I had a beer and a couple of smokes from Chris and Tom. The rain and wind intensifed all night, and made a hell of a racket on the tin roof of the shelter. But the shelter kept us dry, if not snug. It took some effort during the afternoon and evening, to stay warm and shake off the damp and the chill. I slept reasonably well, considering Chris’ incessant and loud snoring. I had the medium-weight down bag and the polypro liner. Inside bag and liner, it was snug.
Next morning the storm was gone. The sky was crystal clear, and the air much cooler than the day before. Took my time breaking camp and making breakfast, but I was on the trail by 9 or so. Ethan Pond trail was still a raging stream. Water, water everywhere. I continued the previous day’s sloshing, at least until the trail turned right to follow Zealand notch. There I took a short break, enjoying the view. Took off the boots and socks, wrung out the socks, gave my feet a few minutes of cool clean air, and muched down a few Pop-Tarts. Then, onward. Past the AMC hut, on Zealand Trail, I began to encounter day-hikers coming in from the road, including families, toddlers, and a couple of bare-chested skinheads. I hit the trailhead at around noon, but then had to walk another mile down the road to the Hale Brook trailhead. Had some tea and a pleasant chat with an older fellow at the trailhead, name of John Oliver, or something like that. He’d just done a day hike up and down Mt. Hale. Took off the boots and socks, and began the journey home, with the leftover trail food laid out on the passenger seat for munchies.
Aftermath: a terrific cold, which began late Monday, peaking Wed-Thursday. As of this writing (Sunday, 10/29) it’s more or less blown over.