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Mizpah Spring Hut, Mt Pierce Attempt,
Ammonoosuc Lake, Red Bench
May 1, 2010

Route: Crawford Path, Mizpah Cutoff, Webster Cliff Trail, Around the Lake Trail, Red Bench Trail


Mizpah Spring Hut - 3800 ft
Highest elevation on Crawford Path - 3850 ft
Red Bench - 1832 ft

Vertical Climb:

2848 ft


8.8 miles

Who Went:

Paul (solo)

I had a dual purpose for this trip. My first goal was to hike up to Mizpah Spring Hut to retrieve my trail maintenance tools. They had been locked up in the hut's basement all winter because I hadn't gotten back up there before the hut was boarded up for the season. I knew that an AMC crew would be working on opening up the hut for the season because the AMC huts manager, Eric Pederson, said that I could get in to pick up my tools. My second goal was to climb Mt Pierce and/or Mt Eisenhower. I didn't have any plans to work on my trail because I figured (rightly) that the snow on the Mt Clinton Trail would be too deep and probably unbroken.

What I didn't expect was that the Crawford Path and Mizpah Cutoff would be as bad as they were. By about 3000 ft, the snow had become fairly deep and was extremely slippery. Even my snowshoes didn't provide enough traction to make the going easy. Still, things weren't all that bad below the Mizpah Cutoff. At least the broken-out path was accurately following the trail. Beyond the Cutoff, I was certain that the tracks were off course at times; I don't remember ever passing the sign for the Webster Cliff Trail to Mt Jackson.

Still, I made it to the hut all right, entering through the back door as the front door was a good six feet below the snowpack. Inside, the hut was a madhouse of activity and clutter. Unopened supplies fresh from the helicopter were stacked three and four boxes high atop the dining room tables. The floor was littered with even more cartons and there was barely room to move around, especially since at least a dozen people were busily shuttling armloads of equipment up and down the stairs.

After rounding up my tools and eating a power bar, I decided to test the Webster Cliff Trail heading up to Mt Pierce. It didn't look too promising, but I at least wanted to give it a try. Shortly in, at the first hint of the steep ascent, I was stymied in my attempt to mount a short rise. No matter how hard I tried, my snowshoes would simply not dig in. The surface layer of newer snow was not adhering to the base layer, and I just kept slipping back down. My microspikes probably wouldn't have helped much either, and without snowshoes, postholing would have been an issue. Realizing that the route up would only get steeper and more slick, I decided to call it quits and turned around.

I didn't give up completely however, and still hoped to make it at least as far as Mt Pierce. So I headed back down the Mizpah Cutoff to the Crawford Path and then started following it back uphill. Things were going okay for a while until I met a couple who had just turned around. They warned me that the tracks I was following split up ahead and that the right-hand tracks merely looped back after a short distance. Taking their advice, I followed the left-hand tracks. But as I plodded steadily onward, I was also growing increasingly confident that my predecessors were not on the right track, which I felt was further to the north. Also, the Crawford Path is generally rather wide and easy to follow; but these tracks often ran between spruce trees barely a foot or two apart. I kept going for a while though, hopeful that they would eventually veer back to the correct route. But as time wore on, I was sliding around way too much, often dangerously close to suspected tree wells. Safety dictated that it was time to turn around.

Walking, sliding, and occasionally falling back down the path, I made it back to the Mizpah Cutoff and retraced my earlier route down to the Highland Center. Near the bottom, I met up with the two hikers and their dog who had stamped out the errant path. They had never made it to Mt Pierce because, as I suspected, they were too far to the south. But they did manage to work their way to the Mizpah Cutoff near the hut. From there, they gave up and headed back down. At least I wasn't the only one having difficulties that day.

By the time I reached my car, I was sick of snow but not of hiking. In fact, I was yearning for a chance to hike a snowless trail. So after stowing my pack in the car and resting for a few minutes, I decided to follow the Around the Lake and Red Bench Trails around Ammonoosuc Lake and to the Red Bench viewpoint, as they were trails I had never been on before. The small but scenic Ammonoosuc Lake had once been the site of the Crawford House boat docks. From the Red Bench, their were nice views up to Mt Washington.

Fox in the Highland Center parking lot. This fox seemed quite tame, and may have been looking for a handout before he slowly walked away. Perhaps people have been feeding them.

Gibb's Falls. This 35-foot fall is about four-tenths of a mile above the trailhead. It was flowing nicely on this hike.

Crawford Path at about 2200 ft, just past Gibb's Falls. Here, the snow was no longer patchy in the woods, but the trail, being wet, was mostly bare.

Crawford Path at about 3000 ft. Higher up, the entire trail was covered with slippery snow. Even my snowshoes didn't provide enough traction.

Mizpah Cutoff. The Cutoff had not seen much traffic, but the snowshoes tracks I was following did lead me to the hut, even though I was sure it was off-course at times.

Mizpah Spring Hut front door. This side of the hut tends to collect more snow, mostly because of a sloping roof, but even so, there was quite a lot of snow at 3800 feet.

Mt Clinton Trail sign. There were absolutely no indications of anyone heading in that direction.

Self-portrait on the Crawford Path on the way back down, not far below the Gibb's Falls Spur.

Mt Washington from Red Bench. The railroad is the White Mountain Scenic Railway that runs excursions from North Conway.

Closeup of Mt Washington from Red Bench. The train tracks belong to the Conway Scenic Railroad, which stops at the nearby Crawford Depot.

Ammonoosuc Lake. This small scenic lake was once the site of the boat docks for the famous Crawford House hotel.


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