A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Stairs Mountain Backpack

July 6, 2018
Emilie Phillips

Day 1

Mt Crawford

The start (photo by Isaac)

We started our three day circuit in the pouring rain. If we hadn’t known it was a passing cold front, my Dad said he would not have gotten out of the car.

Milk snake

I don’t remember much of the initial climb up Davis Path. It was hot and humid and steep. We were dripping with sweat inside our jackets. The rain stopped only to be replaced by fog and mosquitoes. We paused to look at mushrooms, and Tyson caught a milk snake, supposedly rare this far north. It took us four hours to reach Mt Crawford. 2,000’+ of climb. The fog had dissipated and clear, cooler air was moving in.

Isaac and Emilie on top Mt Crawford

Mt Crawford has views in every direction, though you have to walk around a clump of trees in the middle of the peak to see them. My favorite views were up Crawford Notch and ahead to Stairs Mountain. Isaac admired the sharp peak of Mt Carrigain above Crawford Notch. We could also see a long waterfall on the side of the notch — maybe Arethusa Falls? Ahead Stairs Mountain and Mt Resolution looked like a giant ridge cloven by some prehistoric river that had since wandered off. The summit of Mt Washington was still in the clouds.

As we traversed towards Stairs Mountain, the sun came out. The wind started to rush up the slope, flipping the mountain ash leaves silver and green.

Stairs Mountain

My AMC guidebook is old, but forums online reported the Resolution shelter has been removed. There’s now a dry campsite on Stairs Mountain proper. We crossed a few rivulets passing Mt Resolution, but I suspect they were the runoff from the morning’s storm. The only reliable water source is at the old shelter site.

Packs loaded with water

The former access trail, now blocked with sticks, splits off Davis Path at the Mt Parker trail junction. Descending the trail was a desperate scramble. We slid down wet rocks, ducked under bushes, and clung to roots. We found a fist-sized flow of water. My parents filled their dirty water bag, but couldn’t get water to come out of the filter. They must have brought the Sawyer filter they found on the side of the trail rather than their good one. Luckily, we also brought our filter which worked fine. Isaac and I played hide and seek while Tyson and my Dad filled all hydration bladders plus eight liters of unfiltered storage. Our packs now weighed 35lb, 36lb, 38lb, and 39lb.

Sunset from Stairs Mountain

There is only one camp site on Stairs Mountain — all the way at the tip. The trail junction is signed with a discrete tent symbol. We took the two nicest tent sites. Another duo later pitched their tent teetering on the edge of the cliff. Isaac was under strict orders not to approach the cliff without adult supervision. My mother avoided the cliff-side view fearing a wind gust might blow her off.

Preparing dinner on Stairs Mountain

The chill winds following the cold front swept through camp. We bundled up in our synthetic down jackets, our wind shells, and our fleece hats. But still, it was a cold dinner. Others in the Whites didn’t fare so well that evening.

The cold or the wind woke me several times that night. I’d hear a low roar below us. Then the white noise would rise up the mountain, higher in pitch, and louder. The power behind the sound was formidable. Reaching the top of the ridge, the gust would blow through the tent, sweeping all the heat out of my summer-weight bag.

I checked later, Mt Washington Regional Airport, 2,400′ below us, reached a low of 39F. Mount Washington summit, 3,000′ above us, was down to 32F.

Photos from Day 1

Day 2

Mount Resolution

Saturday turned out sunny and comfortable. Isaac sat above the cliff, soaking in the view while we struck camp.

Mount Washington from Mt Resolution

Next on our loop was Mount Resolution, another of the 52 With a View. The trail up Mount Resolution follows a gradual grade. It pokes out to partial views several times, and then aims a little to the side of the true summit.

At Mt Resolution, we got our first good look at Mt Washington. Neither clouds nor Stairs Mountain blocked the summit and its sprawling shoulders.

360 degree from Mt Resolution South Knob

Half a mile down from the peak, my AMC map showed a little side trail to a sub peak. Mt Resolution South Knob rewarded us with the best 360° view of the trip. We took a last look at Mt Crawford, our first achievement the previous day.

Mount Parker

Trudy and John descending from Mt Resolution

The AMC guidebook says the trail from Mount Resolution to Mount Parker is lightly used and infrequently maintained. It wasn’t so bad. There were a few blow downs and a few places where the evergreens pushed in on both sides. The trail has a smooth bed of dirt much more pleasant to walk on than a typical washed out White Mountain root and rock scramble. We noted the trillium growing in the trail, and the one steep section with piles of moose droppings every yard.

John in the beeches

Mount Parker’s view was anticlimactic. We had put on miles since Mount Resolution. The higher summits and cliffs had receded into the horizon. We met four back packers on top Mount Parker heading the other way. They were very interested in the water situation at Stairs Mountain.

From Mount Parker, we descended into beech forest and turned off the main trail onto the Mount Langdon trail.

Mt Langdon Shelter

Mt Langdon shelter

I thought I had complete information on the Mt Langdon shelter. It’s outside the wilderness, so it hadn’t been torn down. Online comments said there was a good water source and tenting spots nearby. However when we arrived, we found all camping nearby is prohibited. I considered setting up the tent anyway, but my parents wouldn’t have it. They are upstanding ATC trail maintainers, certified National Forest Service sawyers, AT thru hikers, ATC Stewardship council members, etc.

Yet, we didn’t want to be eaten by bugs while sleeping unprotected in the shelter. So we compromised and pitched our tents inside the shelter. We would need a better solution if anyone else came for the night.

We needn’t have worried about company. The shelter was so disused that the privy was unscented when we arrived.

Our only misadventure that night was the seam at the foot of Isaac’s inflatable sleeping pad failed completely. We put our closed cell butt-pads under him and he fell back asleep.

Photos from Day 2

Day 3

Mount Langdon

Mt Langdon trail

In the morning, we set out to Mount Langdon. The trail from the shelter to the privy had seen more traffic than the trail to Mount Langdon. If you don’t have excellent trail finding skills, I would not attempt this route.

The foot bed depression was lighter than a game trail. Up front, Tyson picked his way following old trail maintenance marks and clearer areas in the forest.

“A blaze!” I shouted.

“Mom,” Isaac whined “we aren’t playing that game.”

“We aren’t playing tag the blazes,” I said, “this is the real thing. We are playing Don’t Get Lost.”

Mt Langdon Summit

Tyson never lost the trail, though he had to stop and search a few times. Mount Langdon has no views. The top is hardly noticeable. Then the trail drops back down the other side. The weather this day was warmer than yesterday. In the trees there was no breeze to blow away the humidity or mosquitoes. Isaac and Grandma struck up a game of “I spy with my little eye.”

The Crippies

Trudy, Tyson and Isaac picking blueberries on the western Crippie

After many PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs per AT thru hiker slang), we climbed up the westernmost of the Crippies. Out into the hot sun, and out into Isaac’s favorite plants — blueberry bushes.

We foraged for half an hour. This Crippie appeared to be the farthest day hikers make it from the east end. If we ever write up a list of suggested blueberry hikes, the Crippies will qualify with their modest views and good blueberries.

We followed the ridge up and down. In and out of the sun. To our left we contemplated Iron Mountain as another hiking destination. To our right we looked down on the valley beside Attitash. We ran low on water and everyone was hot and tired.

Back at the car, we finished with a refreshing dip in the Saco River.

Photos from Day 3

GPS Track


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Comments (4)

  • IWe aren’t playing tag the blazes,” I said, “this is the real thing. We are playing Don’t Get Lost.”

    I enjoy your writing, Emily. This particular passage made me smile. It brought back memories of a hike with two of my Aunts (your Dad’s cousins) where as the hours passed by, it became clear that they were hopelessly lost. How lost wasn’t entirely clear to us as children, but the gravity of the situation finally broke through when we stumbled upon a fire trail and eventually a road. Their relief was palpable enough to make me forget my thirst and sore feet. This was long before GPS and cell phones — they ended up hitching us a ride back to camp. My mom never sent us off on a hike alone with that pair of her sisters ever again!

    • Glad to hear you are enjoying the posts. We haven’t had any really good adventures (the type where you get totally lost) since before Isaac. We’ve toned it down for his energy level and enthusiasm. I’m sure eventually I’ll have a trip report of Isaac’s first time getting lost. 🙂

  • I’m planning a very similar two-day backpacking trip (going down the Mt. Langdon Trail to Bartlett instead of over the Crippies), and I’m wondering what the water situation was like at the former site of the Resolution Shelter. Did the water look steady and reliable? Or do you think the water there might be all gone by now (or a week from now)?

    Any observations or advice that you could give would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    • The stream bed was clear of vegetation and moss, indicating there’s probably water flow much of the year. If you have a pump-type filter, I’d suggest bringing a basin to collect water. There weren’t many pools.