Trail: Ethan Pond Trail > Willey Range Trail
Hours: 4:00 hiking, 4:30 total
August 17, 2019
Mt. Willey (4,285’) is a smaller 4,000 footer usually hiked with Mt. Field and Mt. Tom. Although the summit of Mt. Willey is wooded, there is an overlook area that offers beautiful views of the Presidential Range.
NOTE: The Willey Range Trail is a very unique trail because it contains a few sets of ladders in one section. The ladders are fun and very safe, but if you have trouble with heights, this may not be a trail for you. This trail gains 2,800 feet of elevation with most of it gained in the second half of the trail after the ladders.
I decided to hike Mt. Willey on an overcast and humid day which was perfect since the summit is wooded. I began the hike on Ethan Pond Trail at 9:00 AM and immediately crossed paths with 5 people on the Appalachian Trail. I always LOVE meeting thru-hikers because they are super friendly and have awesome stories. After chatting for a few minutes with them, we continued our ascent.
The first half of this hike on Ethan Pond Trail alternated from steep to flat sections. It worked great to wake up the legs! It was, however, very wet. It rained the night before, so we had to be more cautious of our footing. We flew up the first half of this trail and soon came to the first intersection. We continue straight towards Willey Range Trail and before we knew it we were at the second intersection!
The real ascent began as soon as we turned onto Willey Range Trail. The trail immediately began to become steep with a lot of roots and rocks in the path. Nothing too crazy though! Our legs were warmed up and ready to go, so we felt great. This portion of the trail was wet but didn’t cause any trouble for us. I never felt unsafe as long as I was paying attention to my footing.
This trail was pretty uneventful until we reached the ladders, so it felt like it took forever to get there. Soon enough we turned a corner and saw the ladders! I understand why they are called “ladders”, but they seemed more like staircases. They were never too steep, and we had no problem going up or down them. I also am not afraid of heights, so that may have played a role in it, but they were not bad. People talk them up too much lol!
After we completed the ladders, we were rewarded with more steep inclines! The rest of the trail to the summit was very steep. This section became tricky because the rock slabs were wet, but we were safe and took our time. Most of the elevation is gained from the ladders to the summit, so our legs were burning! I loved it though because it was fun!
Sooo here’s the funny party. We passed the overlook area because I wanted to get a picture with the summit before stopping to relax, but we completely MISSED the summit lol. Usually, you can tell where the summit is, but the rock cairn was next to a tree, so we walked right by it. We passed a group of hikers who told us we had already passed the summit! Luckily, we only hiked an extra 10 minutes. The other group of hikers almost missed the summit, too, so I didn’t feel as bad about it. For those of you who are hiking this trail, the rock cairn is a few feet past the overlook sign to the right!
After grabbing a picture with the summit at 11:30 AM, we headed to the overlook and were rewarded with NOTHING lol! It was overcast, so we were not expecting to have a view. I have heard that the views although small are spectacular, so I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to stop at the overlook.
If we were going to hike to Mt. Field and Mt. Tom, we would have continued past the summit, but since I already hiked to those two mountains, we continued back the way we came at noon after enjoying a snack break. Our descent was a bit slower than our ascent because the trail was becoming wetter from the mist. We soon approached the ladders which seemed steeper looking down lol. But we walked down them sideways always having one hand on the side and had no issues. I heard a lot of people had struggled with this section during their descent, but I didn’t think it was that bad!
After we completed the ladders, we began to pick up our pace. Surprisingly, our descent didn’t seem to be as long as our ascent! Once we turned onto Ethan Pond Trail, we felt like we were back at our car in no time! We arrived at our car at 2:00 PM just as it started to drizzle. I don’t think I would have felt safe if the trail was wetter than it was, but luckily, we made it back before the rain moved in.
If I were to do this hike again, I think I would have added it onto the hike with Mt. Field, Mt. Tom and Mt. Avalon. But this hike was very fun and the ladders were a bonus!