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Sunday, March 17, 2024

Winter Hike - Mount Pierce (via Crawford Path) White Mountains, New Hampshire

Mount Pierce NH

Unpopular opinion...Winter is an amazing time to head to northern New Hampshire and hike.

I know, I know, we love the sunshine and shorts weather, sitting on top of a summit with a snack and a view while the cool breeze goosebumps your sweaty skin, but here's the thing. We tend to glamorize the glory and we forget about all the less-than-ideal conditions. We forget about the early bird start times to guarantee parking, the swarms of mosquitos and flies, the scorching humidity, and the crowded trails. Winter hikers are a different breed from summer hikers. While I truly think the outdoors are for all, the bluebird sky and mild temperatures bring about a different crowd of hikers that don't always have the same respect for nature. It was a different scene to see clean trails, sans toilet paper and food wrappers as winter conditions truly calls a more seasoned hiker into the woods.

On top of these perks, with the right gear, some of these hikes truly become easier in the winter. Instead of hopping over boulders, navigating root-covered and rocky terrain, or trying to follow trail blazes through the woods, you get to follow a pretty clear path as you go. Route finding is non existent if you are on a popular or established trail and its like walking up a compacted white carpet instead of skipping roots and boulders. While the elevation gained obviously doesn't change, a hard hike truly becomes a little easier when you get to follow a carpet of packed snow.

Start of the trail up Mount Pierce

I came up to Northern New Hampshire on a girl's hiking trip. I had met one of the girls during a trip to the Berkshires and when she was organizing a girl's hiking weekend at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch, I was thrilled to sign up and make the 4+ hour drive north during the month of March. I had been looking for a weekend away to charge my batteries sans kids and I was so excited to make new like minded friends who love to hike. Spoiler: I met five women as strangers and left Mount Pierce with a whole new set of adult female friends.

Instead of setting our hearts on certain hikes, we decided to ask the knowledgeable guides at the lodge for their advice on best hikes based on the current conditions. We were torn between Mount Crawford (less popular, shorter distance, beautiful views) and Mount Pierce (more popular on the 4,000 footer list, packed down) and the staff at the lodge suggested Mount Pierce as the packed snow and overall conditions would be better thanks to the popularity of the trail.

We went to the gear room, grabbed gators and poles for whoever needed them, and heads to the trailhead. It was the only dry day of the weekend, sunny skies giving way to clouds and the sunshine at the lodge had us so hopeful for clear views on Mount Pierce. If this area is known for anything, it's just how fast the weather can change and that weather at the trailhead means nothing above 4,000 ft and above the tree line. We were excited for a longer hike to get to know each other, to cross a 4,000 footer off our list, and summit famous Pierce covered in snow.

The trail follows a pretty continual incline up the mountain, heading left at the cutoff and right on the ridge. The day started clear and the higher we climbed, the cloudier it got. Hikers on their way down told us the less than ideal news that the summit was in fact socked in, but we continued to climb, stopping for breaks and for a few minutes with the famous Canadian Grey Jays of the White Mountains.

If you follow any avid New Hampshire hiker, I'm sure you've seen the iconic videos of these beautiful birds landing on your hand on a wooded trail to grab a snack. Hikers have been feeding them for a while and if you're in the right spot it's almost hard to miss these beautiful birds perched on the edge of the trail in the trees waiting for you to share that Cliff Bar. I can't remember who heard the birds first but I immediately knew what we'd come across, a pair of gray J's around 4,100 FT elevation just a bit short of the mount Pierce summit.

Gray Jays Mount Pierce

It was a fun few moments to feed the beautiful birds, watching them land on our hands, excited and nervous to see the birds up close. As we put away our snacks and continued on I knew it might be a contentious issue, especially with those and the Leaves No Trace community. I did some research back at the lodge and while I understand the risks of feeding wildlife I also think that little moments like these truly inspired people to get outside, to care about conservation, to love the woods and nature and the creatures within them. I guess I'm saying I think moments like these are worth it.

We spent a few minutes at the summit, the wind whipping and the clouds chilling as quickly. We met another hiker who ended up joining us for the way down and started a single line down the trail.

Snowy Mt Pierce Summit
Snowy Mt Pierce Summit

Because it's popular, the volunteer at the lodge was right. Snowshoes were not needed and as long as you stayed on the pack trail gators and spikes were all you needed for a comfortable hike up the mountain. If you stepped off to let someone pass you would certainly post holed but the trail itself was packed and easy to follow. I struggled a little with my "waterproof" Columbia hiking boots, quickly reminding myself that old gear doesn't hold on to the waterproofing forever and some materials can only take so much saturation. Hindsight, I wish I had worn a quick dry shoe because my feet got wet and my boots never dried overnight, causing me to use some dog bags over my socks for an extra layer between my dry socks and soggy boots.

Need to Know

Trailhead: Crawford Path Trailhead, off Mt. Clinton Road which is right off Route 302, you can also leave right from the AMC Highlands Center from a trail across the street. 
Trail: Crawford Connector to Crawford Path. Stay left at the intersection of the Mizpah Cutoff. At the end of the trail above the treeline, turn right onto the Webster Cliff Trail to the Mount Pierce Summit 
Distance: Alltrails says 5.9,  I clocked 6.9 miles
Elevation: 2,400 feet gained on the hike
Summit elevation: Mount Pierce Summit: 4,292 feet
Average time: 4 hours
Trail type: Out and back
Skill: Moderate (distance and constant elevation)
Dogs and kids: Dog-friendly yes (on leash) kid friendly no (distance and elevation). This would be a good first 4,000 footer for older kids who are seasoned hikers. 

While I'm sure the views are stunning, with so many mountains in the Whites and so many summits to seek, I'll probably cross this one off the list and move on, remembering the new group of women I met and the Beautiful Gray Jays we found along the way. Winter hiking is truly a gem as long as you're prepared.

Happy hiking,

Winter Hike up Mount Willard (52 With a View Hike)
Ripley Falls Hike
Bretton Woods Ski Area
Omni Mount Washington Hotel
Mount Washington Hike (New England's Highest Peak)

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