Friday, February 10, 2012

Well THAT Didn't go According to Plan...Franconia Ridge 2-10-12

I'll get to the title in a minute. I took the day off for a 3-day weekend. The original plan was to do Passaconaway and Whiteface on the way north, since the Ferncroft Trailhead is a bit away from everything else. But mid-week the weather forecast for Friday turned into what looked to be a perfect day to be above treeline: winds in the low 20s to low 30s and temps in the mid-20s with clear skies. My first though was to go for Madison and Adams, but that is a day with over 5000 feet of elevation gain, and just getting back into hiking, I wasn't sure about that yet. So I decided on doing Lafayette and Lincoln via the Old Bridle Path up, and the Falling Waters Trail down, a classic loop.

This day started off oddly enough. Getting up at 4:45 and on the road heading North at 5:30AM to avoid Boston traffic. Stopped briefly in Laconia, NH for some food, and pulled into the Old Bridle Path Parking lot at 8:00 on the nose. Never had so little traffic in Eastern MA before...

The weather was nice and clear as predicted, and temperatures were mild, near freezing at the trailhead. Winds were there, but low on the summits according to MWOBS. I was excited for this loop today.

I nearly left the snowshoes in the car knowing I didn't need them based on recent TR's. I brought them anyway. I still don't own crampons and knew that microspikes were possible, though there were reportedly some tricky spots near the summit of Lafayette. I figured I'd just take it easy and do some off-trail ascending if need be to avoid the no-fall zones.

I was on trail and moving around 8:20. My goal had been 8:30 when I planned this trip, so I was happy. Started off immediately with microspikes, which were perfect for the trail. VERY hard packed but with minimal ice. I immediately found a good pace (which I have struggled with lately) and really didn't stop too much until I hit the outlooks along the Old Bridle Path. Seeing as how I have been constantly stop-starting on ascents, I was pleased to be consistently moving, no matter what the speed. I had plenty of time on this nice day.

Soon I was approaching the Agonies:
Agony Ridge: the trail goes right over (more or less) those bumps, you can just see Greenleaf Hut near the right

I was taking my time, enjoying the views and snapping a lot of pictures. Apparently I was moving at an insane (for me) rate. I hit the Greenleaf Hut at 10:15, or 1hr 55min from leaving the trailhead. That's 2.9 miles and 2450 feet in under 2 hours. I don't know if I ever climbed that fast before. I took a 15 minute food/drink break at the hut.

Now for the part of the day I was a bit concerned about: summitting Lafayette. I knew there were some ledges near the top that are no-fall zones. I definitely did not want to slip here. Sure enough, as I neared the spring that is below the summit, I was confronted with some major ice sheets. I took it slow here, making sure to kick the spikes into the ice well, and in general tried to find the spots that weren't smooth ice. I wandered off-trail but as visibility was not an issue, I didn't worry about it at all. I was able to make it up without incident thankfully. On top I was greeted with some fantastic 360 degree views. There was some haze, but this was still probably the clearest I've ever had on the ridge, and this was my 4th time on Lafayette. Incredibly, I was on top at 11:20, 3 hours to the minute since leaving, despite the 15 minute break at the hut. 4 miles 3550 feet. I found a spot out of the wind (which wasn't bad overall, but enough to be annoying. Probably teens mph) just below the summit and took a long break. This was my view:

The Twins with the snow-capped Presidentials behind them

At 11:45 I headed off. Just below the summit as I was picking my way across some icy spots, I ran into the first people of the day. They had left the parking lot right behind me, so I figured when they didn't pass me that they went up Falling Waters, which they did. They were wearing crampons and were wondering if I really was jsut using the spikes. After saying yes, and that there were just a few tricky spots at the spring that I picked my way around otherwise being fine, we all headed on our respective ways. Off the summit I was hit with heavier winds, which were not enough to chill me, but I almost pulled out my goggles as it was blowing some snow in my face. After a short while that calmed down. I ran into the next pair of people near Truman's summit. Both microspiking, and I warned them about the ice below Lafayette. I hit Lincoln and kept moving as the wind was just a little biting. Saw one more pair of people just below Lincoln, one in crampons, one in snowshoes. I summitted Little Haystack at 12:30!

Now I had an internal dillemma. The weather was good, I was feeling great, and it was still early. If I headed down as planned I would be back at the car by 1:30-2PM. WAAAAY too early! I was tempted to head to Liberty and perhaps Flume, but that meant I had a roughly 3 mile roadwalk back to the Bridle Path. That would mean a mileage nearing 16 miles for the day (by my guess from the map), and about 5100 feet of gain! I did some math and figured that if I hit Liberty at 2 PM, Flume at 3, and Liberty again at 4, then I should be nearly to the road before headlamp time. The bike path would not be a concern in the dark. Dinner at the Highland Lodge where I was staying was from 6-9 on Fridays so I had plenty of time there.

Decision time: head down, or continue with the knowledge of a 3-mile road walk ahead.

I decided to go for it after a short break. The trail looked to be broken though loosely packed. Good thing I brought the snow shoes! If I lost the trail, I would just head back up. If I moved too slow, I would head down Liberty Springs (or just turn back if I didn't get far from Little Haystack). Well, the trail to the Liberty Springs Trail was easy enough to follow with snowshoes. About 1:45 I hit the Liberty Springs Trail and put the microspikes back on. Hardpack was back RIGHT at the junction. I scrambled up Liberty and took in the awesome views.

Down into the Pemi Wilderness: Owl's Head on the left near the middle.

It was 2PM. I was still feeling okay. And I was only 1 mile from Flume, why wouldn't I go all the way now? So I did. Part-way up the climb to Flume I started to feel it. But I pushed on and hit the summit at 2:50. Just as I hit the summit a raven (I think, it was a large black bird) dropped off the cliffs past the summit. There were some nice winds, and nice updrafts along the cliffs. The last time I was on Flume, a similar event occurred, only with 2 ravens. Sorry, no picture, but it was down here:

Now I had that steep climb up to Liberty and then a long descent and road walk...I was back at the Liberty Springs Trail (I took the broken-out shortcut past the upper ledges of the summit) at 3:50 and headed down. At the bottom of the Liberty Springs Trail where it turns sharply towards the Flume Parking there was a broken trail heading towards the Basin. I had seen a passing reference to this somewhere recently, but completely forgot about it until I saw it. It was going the way I needed to, I could hear the road and knew where to head if the trail ended, and so I took it. It was well broken all the way to the bike path shortly before the Basin. From there I took the underpass to the West side of I-93 and slogged North towards Lafayette Place. About half-way there at 5:30 I pulled out the headlamp. I arrived at the car at 6PM on the nose. I was really tired, around the time I put the headlamp on I hit a wall.

My GPS says it was 13.9 miles, but I know that isn't right. From the guidebook and some map plotting of the bike path route, it looks like the totals were around 15.5 miles and 5500 feet of elevation! Certainly the most elevation I've EVER done in a day (any season) and nearly the most mileage as well. And I did it under book time! I had a great time until that road walk. I was really hoping I'd run into someone doing Flume/Liberty that I could hitch a ride from, but I hit didn't see anyone but the 6 people along the ridge. What a great day out!

So as the title says, I didn't plan to do all 4 peaks, but I did in the end. And in winter no less! These conditions right now are incredible, they're faster than summer I would say!

Trails Conditions summary:

Light traction (Hillsounds/microspikes) is more than sufficient up to the hut and about half-way up to Lafayette from there. Above that you can do it in light traction (not really advised though), but there is one big no-fall-zone a couple hundred feet below the summit that is a sheet of smooth ice (right around where the spring is). I stayed towards the right here and picked my way up less steep sections where there was softer ice to bite into. If I'd had crampons, I definitely would have put them on for this (and brought them as I knew about this spot going in). Going down in microspikes would be very tricky, and it sounds like Falling Waters is in decent shape, so the CW direction would be better.

Other than that spot and a few spots coming off Lafayette to the South, light traction was more than sufficient. The trail between Little Haystack and Liberty was broken but not consolidated, snow shoes are the weapon of choice here. Past Liberty Springs and on that trail itself, light traction again is best. Liberty Springs is packed harder than a concrete sidewalk right now. If I'd had a sled I probably could have slid down to the Flume Slide Trail in about 10 minutes! No problems in microspikes though.

Peaks: Lafayette (4K), Truman, Lincoln (4K), Little Haystack, Liberty (4K), Flume (4K)\
Mileage: ~15.5 miles
Elevation Gained: ~5500 feet

All pictures:

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