Exploring the Willey Range: A Bushwhacking Adventure
Curiosity and ideas draw me out of complacency. As a result, I enjoy venturing deep into the backcountry. I’ve found that the further I travel off trail, the faster I enter a state of flow and the deeper my respect for nature and wilderness grows.
This Autumn, curiosity lured me to an area of steep beauty: the Willey Range. I wanted to locate a series of landslides and cliffs in a remote pocket of the White Mountains and to climb the cliffs to the trail along the ridge. On a sunny Saturday, I drove to Crawford Notch and began my hike. Once I reached the proper location and elevation, I headed south along a contour toward my beautiful cliffs.
I carefully wove my body through the thick forest, over blowdowns, and across streams. Where possible, I place my feet on hard surfaces like dirt, boulders, and fallen trees to secure better footing and to avoid leaving signs of my presence. Along the way, I noted my elevation and direction at regular intervals.
Before long, I crossed four old, overgrown landslides, separated by thick pockets of sharp conifers. I climbed each landslide, taking some photos and stopping to observe the beautiful vistas, before continuing back into the forest toward my goal.
After climbing a steep, tree-covered crag, I encountered an immediate drop, of a few hundred feet or more. I had arrived at my cliffs much sooner than I expected. Still in the forest, I began my ascent, using care around the precipice. By peering off the cliff to my right, I noticed the more massive cliffs above me – larger, steeper, and more formidable than I had imagined them.
After some difficult climbing in the trees, I stumbled onto a gorgeous, open plateau below the cliffs. Glorious! Few New England landscapes can match the rugged grandeur of the White Mountains. I quickly turned my attention to the reality. I struggled with the idea of climbing the 100 foot wall of granite before me. Quickly assessing the situation, I climbed up the middle – any spot I could wedge my feet and fingers. After a struggle, I deemed the rock above too steep to hold without rope.
Backing down and continuing to the south side of the granite wall, I found a spot to ascend further, only to encounter a narrow, rocky chute, which I scrambled in vain to ascend. With crows mocking me from above and my fear of heights putting sense into me, I descended once again, where I took a break at the level area below the cliffs.
Daylight was in short supply, so I quickly spotted an outcropping on the north side of the cliff that appeared safer. Weaving and climbing my way over rocks and under branches, I reached a level spot in the forest.
The still view to the west, the setting sun, and cool air held my attention for several minutes. I became as still as the landscape. Knowing that darkness was imminent, I quietly and delicately pushed to the trail and descended, under a starry, Autumn twilight.
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