Winter Overnight to Ethan Pond


To the Lean-to and tent sites: 3.0 miles

Elevation Gain from Route 302: 1800 ft

Overall Elevation: 2900 ft 

Click here for the rest of the pictures of this trip!

We left the trailhead on Route 302 (Crawford Notch) at 9am on Saturday morning.  From there, we walked up the unplowed drive to the “summer” parking lot, and then headed off into the woods.  There was about six inches of snow on the ground as we started the trip.

Tim’s backpack was about 50 lbs.  Valerie’s was 25.  We started out on a hard-packed trail, so no snowshoes were required.  We wore our YakTrax to help keep us from slipping.  The trail doesn’t really give you a “warm-up” period.  It becomes really steep really quickly.  By 10 or 10:30am, it was getting warm and the snow around us was getting a bit slushy.  The trail had obviously seen a lot of foot traffic.

That being said, we only met one other person on the way in.

When we turned left at the intersection with the Mt. Willey trail (at the 2 mile mark), the snow became much deeper.  About 3 feet, actually.  Tim donned his snowshoes because his body weight + pack were just too much for the snow.  Valerie tried hers for awhile, but her legs were so tired that it was just easier without them, and she wasn’t breaking through the snow too much.  We saw a lot of places where people had “postholed” – imagine breaking through the snow and going in hip deep with one foot.  Oh, and to make it even more interesting, there’s a creek running under the “trail” so we could look down into these 3 foot deep “footprints” and see the running water under there.

The trail to this point was all the "Ethan Pond Trail" and the "Appalachian Trail" at the same time.  Now, it was time to turn off the AT and onto the spur for Ethan Pond Shelter.  Notice how we have to look *down* to take a picture of the sign.  It should be at eye level or above, if it weren't for all the snow.

We arrived at Ethan Pond at about noon.  There were 4 sleeping bags in the lean-to, but no signs of any people.  We ate a quick, cold lunch then started looking for a tent site.  It was obvious that no one had been tent camping in there in weeks, judging by the feet of snow drifted over the places where the tent platforms were supposed to be.

We chose a site, dug about the top 12 inches of snow off the top, then tramped the rest down to get it packed in well.  We pitched the tent right over the top of the tramped snow.  The wind was howling.

While we were working, a lone hiker arrived.  He was surprised that there were people in the lean-to.  He was expecting to stay there (and still could have if he’s wanted to, it’s an 8-man lean-to), but chose instead to go down the trail to the farthest campsite and pitch his emergency shelter.  Literally, he had a RAIN PONCHO, not a TENT.  He built a little snow shelter (just big enough for his sleeping bag) and tacked down the poncho all around it.  As cold as it looked to us, it was probably just as warm as the lean-to would have been.

Valerie started to “make home” inside the tent, getting our sleeping bags and ground covers set up.  Tim was outside making snow walls around the tent to keep the wind and snow out.  Luckily, it was very sticky and formed great walls. We never felt any wind all night. This was the first time that we used our new backpacking 2-person ultra-light tent.  Although they call it a 2-person tent, you need to be really familiar with the other person in order to share this tent.  That’s how you get the “ultra-light” part of it.

Once the tent was up and everything was taken care of, we looked at each other with a “now what do we do?” look on our faces.  Tim suggested a walk farther down the trail towards Zealand Hut.  It was about 1:45PM when we set out for a little “day trip” – both of us in our snowshoes this time.  We walked about an hour down the trail (which is all part of the Appalachian Trail). We were looking for Shoal Pond, but we didn’t find it.  Probably just didn’t walk far enough.  We turned around and headed back to Ethan Pond. 

We stopped at the outlet from Ethan Pond and sat on the shoreline of a little creek for awhile.  We were sitting on spread out garbage bags so that we wouldn’t get wet in the snow, but the sun was shining SO BRIGHTLY that it honestly felt warm on your face.  It was a nice rest.  Probably 40 degrees out.  We watched the moon rise over Mt. Willey in broad daylight, and it was really beautiful.

We made our way back to camp and Tim started dinner shortly after.  Kung Pao Chicken!   It was great to eat something hot and spicy, although Tim left all the chilies out of it.  For a dehydrated meal, it was really good. 

After we “cleaned up” from dinner, which requires very little when all you’re doing is boiling water, we were sitting around in front of our tent and talking.  We watched the sunset over the pond right from our tent site, and walked down to the pond for a closer look and some pictures.  Once the sun set, Valerie was like “I’m outta here” and she was in the tent (and in her sleeping bag).  It was about 6pm.

She lay there for quite awhile (trying to get warm enough to sleep) as Tim was outside just reading.  Then, down the trail walks a red fox.  He was followed by two hikers.  He looked like their pet because he would just walk a few feet, then sit down and wait for them.  When they got close enough, he would run ahead again and sit down.  He actually sat down about 5 feet from Tim.  Tim got a great picture of him. The hikers were just getting in and so they took the tent site between ours and the single hiker’s snow shelter.  They set up in the dark and settled in.  The fox wandered off into the woods.

Tim came inside and read for awhile.  Valerie was still trying to generate enough heat to fall asleep. Tim suggested some dry chemical hand-warmers and a “mega warmer” for the bottom of the sleeping bag.  He also gave up his down vest, which Valerie promptly put on over several layers of clothes and then climbed back into the bag.

Eventually, after one more “bathroom break” around 8:30pm, we did go to sleep.  The moon was so bright that it looked like we still had a light on inside the tent.  It was amazing.  And we could hear the wind down on the lake – it sounded like it was blowing about 50 mph.  

Valerie slept for hours with no problems at all.  In fact, she woke up in the middle of the night so hot that she started tearing off the down vest, her hat, etc…  Tim, on the other hand, didn’t sleep well.  He finally did sleep better later in the AM, and it was already sunny in the tent when we both woke up at 6am.  It was 25 degrees F in the tent when we awoke.

We hemmed and hawed about making a real breakfast – we had granola and blueberries with us – but chose instead to get dressed, get packed and start walking as soon as possible.  Moving is really the only way to stay warm.  So, we ate “trail mix” bars and some cheese, then packed everything up and headed out. 

Downhill is definitely easier than uphill, but not by as much as you might think.  The trail was sloppy and therefore slippery.  We wore our snowshoes the entire way.  It took about 2 hours and 10 minutes to get out, and the thermometer in the car read 48 degrees F by 10am.  We met three people going up the trail as we came down.  One was a lone day hiker headed for Mt Willey.  The other two people had been on North Kinsman the day before and were headed in to Ethan Pond on Sunday.

It was a great first experience in the woods in winter.