Wednesday, January 12, 2011


John Compton and I agreed that with a forecast for sunny skies, high of 15 of Washington, and winds light & variable, an open peak was in order. We opted for an old standby, Mount Pierce, the easiest of the Presidentials and perhaps the best introduction for a newbie to winter in the high peaks. It was my first winter 4000-footer, back in February 1983, on a day just like this. I was hooked for life.

It was just 4 degrees when we met at the Crawford Path parking lot off Mt. Clinton Road. But there was no wind, and the skies were bright. The Willey Range rose across the valley, snow-caked and alluring.

We headed onto the familiar Crawford Connector, the link that leads up to the Crawford Path. The snowshoe track was solidly packed, but we wore our MSR snowshoes for stability and traction, and they proved useful in the softer conditions higher up on the mountain.

After crossing the bridge over Gibbs Brook, we turned L onto the Crawford Path itself, soon passing this historic marker. I remember attending the dedication ceremony in 1994, held in a large tent in the trailhead parking lot. Speakers included long time Fish & Game officer Paul Doherty (author of Smoke from a Thousand Campfires) and other North Country notables.

At 0.6 mile there's a short side path to an overlook at Gibbs Falls.

There had been been more snowfall here than in other parts of the Whites. The ice of the falls was mostly covered with snow.

As we climbed moderately up through the Gibbs Brook Scenic Area - noted for its extensive forest of old growth red spruce and yellow birch - there were plenty of winter wonderland vignettes.

We stopped for a break at the Mizpah Cutoff junction, where a Gray Jay joined us for a handout.

The track on the Mizpah Cutoff was narrow and laden with frozen postholes, dissuading us of the notion of a loop descent past Mizpah Hut.

Farther up the ridge, the firs were encased in snow and rime.

This little shrew scurried onto the trail in front of us, snuffled around for a minute, then scooted back up onto the snowpack and burrowed down beside a tree trunk.

The trail led through a wondrous corridor as we approached treeline.

It's always exciting when you pop out of the trees for the first views of the snowy Presidentials - Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, Clay and Jefferson. The day was exactly as advertised - glorious!

A zoom on Eisenhower-Monroe-Washington.

Rime-coated scrub at treeline.

Looking N to Mt. Dartmouth with the Pliny Range (Starr King-Waumbek-Weeks) beyond; Mt. Cabot and The Horn peer over in back.

Looking down on the Mount Washington Hotel and Bretton Woods village.

Rime-frosted trail sign at Webster Cliff Trail junction.

John approaches the junction.

The short alpine zone climb up to the partly wooded summit of Pierce. As usual, this pitch had thin cover with some ice.

John pauses to capture the scene.

A day to savor!

How often can you have a sit-down lunch break on the Presys in January?

Looking over towards Boott Spur, you could see how little snow had fallen on the south/east side of the range, compared to the north/west side.

After a nice long break, we headed south along the Webster Cliff Trail to the SW summit of Pierce and the fine outlook ledge just beyond, 0.6 mile away. In 0.1 mile we stopped to admire this view across the Dry River Valley to Montalban Ridge and the mountains beyond.

The track through here was fairly powdery and soft, and heavily postholed. We smoothed it out with our snowshoes.

Bare rock at the SW summit, looking back to the main summit and Mt. Washington.

It was downright balmy at the SW outlook ledge, which has always been my favorite spot on Mt. Pierce.

A variety of peaks can be viewed from this fine ledge.

A closer look at the mighty Mount Carrigain.

It was hard to leave, but after a half-hour or so we headed back across to the main summit, choosing that longer and more scenic route over the shorter descent past Mizpah Hut.

A pretty ramble through the ridgecrest woods.

Back at the main summit, we chatted with two hikers we had met on North Kinsman last March. One of the guys said they had arrived on the top of Eisenhower at 11:11 am, an odd thing considering today's date was 1/11/11. We suggested he buy a lottery ticket when he got home. As we were preparing to leave, a large group came up, hitting their third summit of the day after Monroe and Eisenhower. It was just a great day to be up on the Presidentials.

Another look at the N view before heading into the trees.

Cherry Mountain/Owl's Head (L) and Mt. Deception (R).

Down past the Mizpah Cutoff junction we paused to admire this wonderful gnarled old yellow birch, capping off a perfect winter day on Pierce.


  1. Another terrific report! I'm continually impressed by how you manage to capture every detail of a trip and make it interesting. For example, I recall talking with the hikers we'd met last winter on North Kinsman, but I'd all but forgotten about the connection one of them had with the numbers "one" and "eleven"!

    Lastly, I love the "Peak ID" that you added to some of your photos. If it's not an overly time-consuming process, I hope you'll consider making this a regular feature of your blog reports. For "Peak ID challenged" folks like me, it's very useful!


  2. Thanks, John - it was a great day! Doing the Peak ID is fun, and doesn't take that long.

    We got 12-13" in Lincoln. Should be some great 'shoeing and skiing out there now!