Postholes and patchy ice were problems on a recent climb of Mount Crawford in New Hampshire. Credit: Ron Chase

 For several days, the weather had been a rollercoaster ride of rain, snow, sleet and wind accompanied by extreme temperature swings. The varying conditions made it difficult to identify adequate circumstances for a Nordic ski or mountain hike. Much of the snow base on the ski trails had washed away, and accumulated snow on the hiking trails had fluctuated between hard and soft.

In need of a mountain fix, I identified a short window of opportunity. Frigid temperatures had followed a rainstorm so it was reasonable to surmise that snow-covered hiking trails in the White Mountains would harden to perfection for microspikes. A substantial snowstorm was forecast to arrive the following day.

 Announcing a proposed Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society mountain hike in the Whites did the trick. Three of the usual suspects who like me benefit from the flexibility of retirement signed on. Since dangerously high wind chills were predicted for the high peaks, we limited our choices to lower summits with exceptional views and minimal exposure to the elements.

After exchanging emails and phone calls, we decided on 3,119-foot Mount Crawford. Located on the south side of the Presidential Range near Bartlett, New Hampshire, the 5-mile hike entailed 2,116 feet of elevation gain. Most of the trek would be sheltered from northwest winds while partially exposed higher elevations would provide exceptional views of surrounding mountains if skies were clear.

Driving north of Bartlett on Route 302 along the Saco River, I was surprised to observe that the water level was exceptionally high. A veteran of several whitewater outings on the Upper Saco, it appeared sufficient to paddle, a winter oddity. When I met my hiking companions at Davis Path Trailhead, they concurred that the river was higher than usual. Since there were a couple of significant stream crossings prior to beginning the steep ascent, we speculated that negotiating over them might be problematic.

 No problems were encountered traversing a lengthy well-built bridge over the Saco River. Once completed, most of us affixed microspikes to facilitate hiking on the hard packed snow surface. A wide log spanned the first stream allowing for an easy crossing. However, the following partially open fast-moving freshet presented a challenge as there was no obvious safe passage. A slip into the icy water would end the day for the unfortunate victim. After some investigation, we found an attenuated section that could be successfully maneuvered on rocks and patchy ice.

 Shortly beyond, we began climbing steadily in a mixed hardwood and conifer forest. Blue skies observed through the trees suggested splendid views awaited us at the top. While there were some sectors of ice that were difficult to surmount, a more significant problem was substantial post-holing. Previous hikers had ascended without snowshoes when the snow was soft, leaving deep holes spread throughout the trail. The continuous hindrances caused awkward and unsteady footing. Amazingly, the post-holing continued to the summit, which must have been an exhausting endeavor for the scofflaws.

 After about 2 miles, we emerged onto a sloping bluff that offered exceptional views of the White Mountains in the south and west. Mount Chocorua’s distinctive alpine peak provided a prominent landmark. Frosty winds forced four Chowderheads to add layers and warmer mitts. The probability of severe wind chills at the summit seemed likely.

 We enjoyed sporadic views while climbing continuously for the remainder of our quest. The trail was temporarily lost in an area of barren rock. Another party of two was encountered when we relocated it. They were the only other hikers met until the trek was almost completed.

 The views at the summit were phenomenal. From an overlook just below the highpoint, we could observe the entire majestic Presidential Range. Manageable wind chills were a welcome surprise. After locating a site shielded from moderate winds, four seniors not acting their ages embraced a leisurely lunch while soaking up the glorious panoramic vista.

 Our return was largely uneventful except for a perpetual struggle to maintain stable footing due to the ubiquitous post holes which were more troublesome and hazardous while descending. Mount Crawford received several inches of snow the following day, likely filling the undesirable cavities. Hopefully, the next team of hikers will adhere to good mountaineering etiquette when confronted with the fresh powder and wear snowshoes.

Ron Chase, Outdoors Contributor

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are...