Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Mt. Whiteface via McCrillis Trail: 10/8/19

This less-used route from the SW is the oldest trail on the mountain. Though it lacks the spectacular views of the popular Blueberry Ledge Trail, it offers expansive woods, long stretches of good footing, and a few unique vistas of its own.

Mt. Whiteface overlooks the broad intervale that bears its name. The Blueberry Ledge Trail ascends the humpy ridge to the right. The McCrillis Trail ascends through the fan-shaped hardwood area on the left and continues up the narrower spruce ridge above.

This route starts with 1.7 miles on the Flat Mountain Pond Trail. The view over the large wetland 1/2 mile in was more colorful than it was 5 days earlier. Sandwich Dome on the left, the southern Flat Mountain on the right.

Shortly after crossing the Whiteface River (still easy despite recent rain) and entering the Sandwich Range Wilderness, you turn right onto the McCrillis Trail. This route was opened in the 1850s by the McCrillis family, who owned a farm in Whiteface Intervale and took in boarders. In his 1876 White Mounatins guidebook, Moses Sweetser deemed it "somewhat difficult" and noted that it was very obscure in places.

In the next 1.5 miles - the first 0.4 mile of which is a traverse to join the original trail route - the trail passes through a vast, open northern hardwood forest that blankets the lower south slope of Whiteface. Good footing all through here.

Interesting fungus.

A remarkable quadruple-trunk maple.

The trail adopter has recently been at work cleaning drainages and cutting back beech saplings that lean into the trail. Thank you!

Acres and acres of hardwoods.

The understory was still green, but the canopy promised bright colors looking from above.

At about 2700 ft. the trail enters wild spruce forest. From here up to the south summit the climb is pretty relentless.

The path brushes by some neat boulders.

Higher up I made a short but gnarly bushwhack to some rough ledges down on the west side of the ridge. This is tricky terrain - the chasm in this picture looked to be about 20 feet deep.

But what a view! Looking over the valley of the East Branch of Whiteface River to Mt. Israel, the southern Flat Mountain and Sandwich Dome.

The headwall of the East Branch valley.

Sandwich Dome zoomed, behind the cliff-faced south shoulder of the West Spur of Whiteface.

This more restricted view is available via a short scramble to a ledge visible up on the left side of the trail.

This view up to the "white face" can be seen from a ledge on the right side of the trail.

A couple minutes farther up the trail another ledge provides a more open view. Even though this perch is visible from the trail, there is no side path to it.

This huge slab gave Mt. Whiteface its name. It reportedly was exposed by a great slide during a rainstorm in 1820. In the 1840s geologist Charles T. Jackson and his survey team stayed at the house of Neal McCrillis in the Whiteface Intervale and ascended Mt. Whiteface via the ravine - presumably of White Brook - to the south. During their sojourn McCrillis regaled them with the story of the slide. After a dry spell, there were heavy rains for several days. “The slide took place in October, 1820,” wrote Jackson in his report, “with prodigious violence and great noise.“ The stream on the south side of the mountain was dammed up, briefly forming a pond. The raging watercourse then burst its barrier, “sweeping in its impetuous course rocks and trees in promiscuous confusion, and cutting a deep ravine in the side of the mountain several miles in extent.” The slide struck the side of a barn in the Intervale, but the animals within escaped unharmed. The meadows of the Intervale were covered with an enriching fine sediment, in places four or five feet deep

View to the southeast.

Colors in the valley.

Mountain ash berries.

This ledge scramble just below the south summit was pretty tricky as the rock was wet and quite slippery.

A ramp of ledge makes the final approach to the top.

Looking back, a peek at Flat Mountain Pond and Sandwich Dome.

The expansive southern view from the ledgy south summit.

Top of the south summit.

On the highest outcrop is a triangle etched into the granite by the U.S, Coastal Survey in the 1870s.

Heading north on the Rollins Trail, a glimpse of Mt. Osceola and South Tripyramid.

The site of the shelter known as Camp Shehadi, built by the Wonalancet Out Door Club in 1899 and removed in 2002.

Meandering along the ridge to the wooded true summit of Mt. Whiteface.

A cairn marks the spot.

I returned to the south summit, then dropped down Blueberry Ledge Trail to its uppermost outlook, one of my favorite perches in all the White Mountains.

I wanted to peer down into The Bowl - the glacial cirque between Whiteface and Passaconaway - during foliage season, and I was not disappointed.

Eastward to the Wonalancet Range, Paugus and Chocorua.

North to the Prresidentials and Wildcats-Carters, beyond Mt. Tremont and Bartlett Haystack.

An impressive ledge above.

Mt. Passconaway and the headwall of The Bowl.

I spent an hour here, during which I briefly met a trio doing Passaconaway and Whiteface - the only hikers I saw all day.

The way home.

A massive maple back down in the hardwoods.

Reaching for the sky.

Dusk at the wetland.


  1. Great report and pics Steve. Been reading your reports for some time. I especially like how you spend lots of time on summits or viewpoints. I do too. Don't understand why some people reach the summit, take a pic, then head on down. What's the point?

    1. I agree, Rob - I like to spend some time enjoying the fruits of my labor!

  2. So glad to see the McCrillis Trail getting the appreciation it deserves! It's a wild, beautiful route and, as you noticed, never lacking in solitude.

    I've been the adopter of that trail for 3 years now and enjoy every trip I take out there immensely. So cool that the trail has over 150 years of history.

    I'm happy you had a nice time there!

    1. Thank you for your good work on this wonderful trail! I certainly appreciate it as the quiet way up Whiteface.

  3. I saw some posts from 2017 that indicated that the trail was hard to find and pretty rough. But it sounds as if it has been improved since then, so we're going to give it a try! Thanks H. Desmarais!

    1. Yes, the trail is in excellent shape thanks to the adopter. Enjoy it!