I didn’t think this one through enough. An out and back using the same trail to hike three 4000 footers necessarily means you’re actually hiking five 4000 footers in a day. Ambitious. A bit reckless. A bit exhausting.
10 miles round trip, with 4400 feet of elevation gain seems easy on paper. In practice the rock scrambles and ladders bridging impossibly steep sections made it a test of willpower. Some of those rock scrambles were borderline ladder territory as well. As wake-up calls go climbing the Willey Range Trail served as a good one. My heart was racing and my layers were shedding in no time. My mood bounced between exhilaration, despair and frustration with myself for not planning this hike a little better. But it was a quickly drafted plan B, and in hindsight, a good hike. Even if I wasn’t mentally ready for it.
Mount Willey is 4255 feet tall and named after Samuel Willey and his family, who were killed in a landslide in 1926. Mount Field is 4327 feet and named after Darby Field, who made the first known ascent of Mount Washington in 1642. Mount Tom is 4052 feet tall and named after Thomas Crawford of Crawford Notch fame. The three peaks are relatively tame, other than the hike up the Willey Range Trail to the summit of Mount Willey. Approaching from the south, Willey is a tough ascent. It also makes a challenging descent. Starting and ending my hike with this trail set me up for a tough day. But I finished relatively healthy. And healthy with three more 4K’s checked off is enough for me.
If you go, consider an approach from Crawford Notch or Mount Hale. The people who I ran into didn’t seem to have the same endurance test of ascending the Willey Range trail. For views, Willey and Field have some good observation spots, Tom not so much. But views are only part of the story. Finishing this hike and summiting these three 4000 footers was its own reward.