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08 January 2013

From Crawford Notch to Bartlett: Two XC-Ski Adventures

After having lived in Bethlehem for nearly 10 years, I'm still amazed at how much beauty you can experience even with just a few short hours of outdoor activity.  On a recent Monday (07-January), it was gloomy and spitting snow.  However, the weather forecast said it would become sunny later in the day.  I frittered away a good part of the morning waiting for the weather to clear, and weighing my options for an outdoor adventure.

By late morning I grew weary of waiting for the weather to make up its mind, and so I made up my mind!  I strapped my snowshoes onto my pack, gathered my XC skis and poles, jumped into the car and headed in the direction of the Crawford Notch.   The sky was overcast all the way down Route 302 from my home to the top of the Notch.  But, as frequently happens, weather conditions became better at the south end of the Crawford Notch and onward toward Bartlett.

PART 1: Crawford Notch

With the clearing sky, my first stop of the day was at the parking area at the Willey House Site.  My goal was to XC-ski along the Sam Willey Trail to a viewpoint at the end of that trail, and then continue skiing southbound along the Saco River Trail.  I kept my snowshoes strapped to my pack.  I knew from previous experience that it's a good option to be able to hide your skis in the woods and change your footwear to snowshoes.  On this trek, having this option would make it easier to do some off-trail maneuvering to reach a wetlands area off the Saco River Trail. 

And so, here are a few snapshots of things that I saw on the Crawford Notch segment of my two-part journey for the day.

At the end of the Sam Willey Trail is a nice view looking northward toward the massive south-facing cliffs of Mt. Willard.  (As you'll see in the left portion of the following photo, there was still a tad of lingering mist that had yet to clear out.)
Looking northward up Crawford Notch toward massive south-facing cliffs of Mt. Willard

In the photo shown above, you can see a small portion of the two large mountains on either side of the Crawford Notch. (Mt. Willey on the left, and Mt. Webster on the right.)  The next two snapshots provide a better idea of the size of these mountains which form the two walls of the Notch.

The following snapshot of Mt. Willey was taken by doing a snowshoe bushwhack to a wetlands area located a short distance off the Saco River Trail.
Mt. Willey as viewed from wetlands area a short distance off the Saco River Trail 

The next snapshot shows a portion of Mt. Webster.  Capturing the entirety of the Mt. Webster ridgeline wasn't possible from any vantage point along my route for this particular day.
 A portion of the Mt. Webster ridgeline

The following snapshot from my Crawford Notch ramble shows a scene along the partially frozen Saco River.   If you look closely at the top center portion of the photo, you can see the remains of a bridge abutment.  As I understand it, there once was a road that crossed the Saco River at this point to provide access to campsites along the east side of the river.
Partially frozen Saco River with portion of old bridge abutment visible at top center of photo

PART 2: Stillings Road

With still a few hours remaining in the day, I decided to continue driving southward down Route 302 to Stillings Road.  This is a place in Bartlett that I had first visited in early May of 2012 when I incorporated this roadway into a loop hike involving Mt. Pickering and Mt. Stanton.  To read a report of that Springtime adventure, please click HERE.

To access Stillings Road, you make a turn off Route 302 onto Allen Road, then follow that road for about 0.3 mile until it veers sharply to the right and becomes Rocky Hollow Road.  At this sharp turn, there is usually room (off the shoulder of the road) for 1 or 2 cars to park.  Although there are no signs, Allen Road eventually morphs into Stillings Road at the point where the USFS land begins.  Both Allen Road and Stillings Road are public roads.  However, the land on either side of Allen Road is private land.  The land on either side of Stillings Road is generally public land, but there are a few private seasonal camps scattered along the roadside here and there.

The following map shows the location of Allen Road and Stillings Road. (Click to enlarge.)
Map showing location of Allen Road and Stillings Road

Stillings Road generally follows the old rail bed for the Rocky Branch Railroad (RBRR) which was used for logging operations (1908 to 1914).  The following snapshot shows a section of the corridor where the old rail bed is particularly apparent.
Portion of Stillings Road where old RBRR bed is particularly apparent

This public roadway is ideal for XC skiing.  Being mostly an old railroad bed, it is predominately flat.  And although snowmobiles occasionally travel along this corridor, it is not a snowmobile route.  Also, the woods on either side of the corridor are fairly open which makes for some great off-trail gliding to investigate the shoreline of the Rocky Branch River, or whatever might strike your fancy.

I'm uncertain about the exact mileage, but at about 1.5+ miles up Stillings Road is the abandoned Stillings Farmhouse.  I'm attempting to get more information about this structure.  Any additional information that is obtained will be included as an addendum to this report.  For now, suffice it to say that Stillings Road was named after the Stillings family who once lived along this road.

Shown below is a snapshot of the abandoned Stillings homestead (see ADDENDUM at bottom of this report).  Back in the day, the family must have had a magnificent view of Iron Mountain while sitting on their front porch.  Iron Mountain can be seen through the trees being illuminated by the late afternoon sun.

Abandoned Stillings homestead with Iron Mtn being illuminated by late afternoon sun

Part 3: My trip back home

Okay, I said at the beginning of this report that my adventure for this day consisted of only two parts.  Well, there was a third unanticipated part that happened on my way home when I experienced two occurrences of alpenglow! For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term "alpenglow" it's a phenomenon which can occur when the sun is just below the horizon and a reddish glow is cast upon the opposite horizon.  Alpenglow is easiest to observe when mountains are illuminated, but can also be observed when the sky is illuminated through what is known as backscattering.

While travelling northbound on Route 302, I noticed a glow in the sky as I approached the Scenic View pull-off near the trailhead for Arethusa Falls.  I steered my vehicle into this area and did my best to photographically capture the view.  Although the "in-person" experience was better than what is shown below, perhaps this zoomed photo will provide an idea of the alpenglow being cast upon the Presidential Range.
Alpenglow on Presidential Range

Then, a few minutes later, as I approached the same Willey House Site area where I had parked earlier in the day, I experienced a second alpenglow event!  The very top of Mt. Webster's ridgeline appeared to be ablaze!  The lower portion of the mountain was "shielded" from the alpenglow by the sheer bulk of Mt. Willey just across the Notch to the west of Mt. Webster.  The next photo will perhaps provide some idea of what I saw.  As with the earlier experience, the alpenglow was more dramatic when viewed in-person.
 Alpenglow atop ridgeline of Mt. Webster
To sum it up,  my XC-ski adventures are just a few examples of the beauty one can experience  in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, even with just a few short hours of outdoor activity.


ADDENDUM (Added 13-Jan-2013):
A debt of gratitude is owed to Mike Dickerman (author and White Mountain historian) who provided me with the following information relative to the old Stillings Farm.
"In the book, The Latchstring Was Always Out: A History of Lodging Hospitality and Tourism in Bartlett New Hampshire by Alieen M. Carroll, there are a couple of pages of text regarding the Stillings family and their farm.  Peter Stillings, who came to town in 1796, was the original owner of the farm.  At some point he sold off half the land to his son, Peter, who apparently ran a farm and small inn.  He, in turn, sold his land to his son, Nicholas, who would build the Upper Bartlett House on the same property.  Incidentally, Peter Stillings was also among the "rescue" party that headed to Crawfiord Notch in August 1826 to determine the fate of the Willey family. That's just a brief history of the Stillings clan. If you want more info, I'd try and get a hold of the aforementioned book."


Steve Smith said...

Terrific variety of photos, John! Love the views from the beaver meadow. The alpenglow is amazing.


Anonymous said...

Wow, fantastic alpen glow. Sounds like a neat adventure!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Steve,

Thank you for your generous comments about my report!

Regarding the views from the beaver meadows, of course this is another instance where I have you to thank for making me aware of the various views available via the Sam Willey and Saco River Trails.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your comments!

As you state, this was a “neat adventure”. Even after having lived here for several years, it continues to amaze me how the White Mountains can provide a seemingly endless number of really neat adventures!


Anonymous said...

Neat, how did you hear about the old abandoned farm house? It looks like it would be worth checking out. I love the apenglow! Sounds like your day turned out to be a good one, despite the clouds in the morning! Sounds like 2013 is shaping up to be a good one for your adventures! Are you still planning on trying to do something different for hikes, or have you set a new goal for 2013~! Enjoyable blog posts as always!

Hiking Lady

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Hiking Lady!

Regarding the abandoned Stillings Farm, I seem to recall learning about it from something that I read on the Internet.

Thanks for asking about my goals for 2013! Yes, I still plan to try my best to do something that is new to me for each of my hiking adventures. Sometimes, it might be something as simple as doing a loop in a direction that is opposite to what I’ve done previously.

Thanks for posting your comments. I always enjoy your feedback about my reports.


Rita Wechter said...

Hi John,

Your first photo looks like a scene I took a picture of in Rocky Mountain National Park! Maybe my RMNP photo will turn up in a blog post sometime, and you can compare the two pics.

I applaud you for taking off on an adventure, even when the weather is unfavorable. Sometimes those days turn out to have the best endings—as yours sure did! Those alpenglow pictures are simply stunning! And even better, you were there to witness those awesome sights in person...

Here's to another year of exciting, interesting (and new) hiking adventures!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

First of all, as you so kindly did for me, I want to extend the same well-wishes to you for another year of exciting, interesting and new adventures!

And secondly, I’ll be eager to compare your RMNP photo to the first photo presented in this current blog posting of mine. It’s interesting to think that a scene from the Rocky Mountains of CO is similar to a scene in the White Mountains of NH!!


Steve K. said...

John, your photo of the Mt. Webster ridgeline is stunning! (I'm using it as the wallpaper on my laptop.) It looks Alpine or Himalayan, somehow. There's just something about the way that snow etches those rock faces that is soooo appealing. Thanks for another great trip report. Hope to get up to the Whites (from Michigan) later this winter.

1HappyHiker said...

Steve, I really appreciate you taking a moment to post your comments. I know what you mean about certain photos grabbing your attention for reasons that are often hard to explain. Regarding the photo that I posted of the Mt. Webster ridgeline, of course all the credit goes to innate beauty of the mountain itself. The next time I drive by there, I’ll be certain to relay your compliments! :-)

Best wishes for a fun-packed visit to the Whites, and have a safe trip when travelling from/to Michigan!


Summerset said...

Wow, double alpineglow, and after you had already had a full afternoon of adventure! Very nice photos. I know where that pull off is for the first alpinglow photo, neat view of Washington from there. It never ceases to amaze me how quick the weather can go from yuck to fantastic, especially around the notches. Last time I was on Tom, in just a matter of 15 minutes everything lifted and it was beautiful, right around late morning/mid-day.

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Summerset,

I agree! It’s truly amazing how quickly the weather conditions can change in the mountains. Guess that’s why the “Higher Summits Forecast” page of the website for the Mt. Washington Observatory always begins with the sentence “Mountain weather is subject to rapid changes and extreme conditions.” :-)

Equally amazing is how quickly the alpenglow phenomenon comes and goes. It’s almost a case of now you see it, now you don’t!

Thanks, as always, Summerset for taking time to read my blog, and post your comments!


Nedd M said...

Wow...that Mt. Willard pic is awesome. I'm getting the urge to do a NH hiking trip (live in New York ugghh).

1HappyHiker said...

Nedd . . . Glad you liked the Mt. Willard photo. Hope you can soon work in a trip to NH for some hiking!


1HappyHiker said...

For readers who might be following this report via the comments that are submitted, you might be interested to learn that an ADDENDUM has been added to this report as a result of information graciously provided to me via a personal communication from Mike Dickerman (author and White Mountain historian).


Anonymous said...

The land along stillings road is not entirly public property, although a small portion is national forest land, it is marked by a red blaze on rocks and trees, stillings farm is owned by the town of bartlett. From the 2nd bridge to the end of the road is private property approx 270 acre's

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Anonymous for emphasizing statements in my blog about the road corridor itself being public, but there are several parcels of private land at various points along the roadway. When visiting this area, travelers must stay on the public corridor. Venturing off the roadway is permissible only at those points where one is certain that the adjoining land is part of the White Mountain National Forest.