Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Franconia Ridge Traverse - November 18, 2012

Following an amazing (but long!) day in the Northern Presidentials, I wasn't sure what I would be up for. But the day before I had gotten a message from HossInNH who had been interested in my proposal earlier in the week for a Franconia Ridge traverse, but at the time he hadn't been able to commit. I wasn't sure if I'd be up for a whole traverse after over 6000 feet of climbing the day before, but I proposed we meet at Lincoln Woods, leave a car there, and then head to the Old Bridle Path trailhead. While this wasn't the traverse I had originally had in mind, it would provide the flexibility to call it a day after Lafayette and Lincoln, allowing us to head down the Falling Waters Trail to the car if we (or at least me) were too tired or we were running short on time.

So with that it was a 7:30 meeting at Lincoln Woods, and on-trail on the Old Bridle Path shortly after 8. It was a chilly morning, but the forecast was for temperatures around freezing at 5000 feet with low winds (5-15, light and variable at times was the morning Mount Washington forecast) and abundant sunshine, like the day before. We both took quite a while to get going at a decent pace, but eventually made it to the first overlook on Walker Ridge, just after the trail makes a hard switchback. From here the climbing eases for a while and there are several nice outlooks towards our destinations, as well as the other side of Franconia Notch and points South.

"The Agonies", a series of knobs that the trail traverses on the way to Greenleaf Hut

The Kinsmans over Lonesome Lake across Franconia Notch

After the nice distractions of the views, the trail enters the trees and climbs the final segment to Greenleaf Hut (closed this time of the year). In here was where we began to see significant ice, intermixed with plenty of bare trail. We kept our microspikes in hand and had to take them on and off several times (versus leaving them on to get blunted down on the rock) to combat the ice, but it wasn't a major problem. It did have me wondering what the spring below the summit of Lafayette might be like though, as that was a major ice spot on my winter trip in February. We reached the hut in good order, and took a break before the final 1100 foot climb to Lafayette's summit.

(Closed for winter) Greenleaf Hut

The climb up Lafayette was slow, but steady, with several more on-and-offs of the microspikes, though mostly below the spot where the trail emerges from the trees for good. The spot near the spring a couple tenths of a mile from the summit was impressively icy, and being a definite no-fall-zone, we put on the spikes and treaded carefully across a roughly 20 foot stretch before taking the spikes off again for what would turn out to be the last time on the day.

Cannon behind Greenleaf Hut, from partway up Lafayette

Kinsmans with the aforementioned Walker Ridge below (rocky cliffs are the overlooks)

North Lafayette

Cannon (R) and the Kinsmans (L)

Light snow-making on Cannon's ski slopes

Before too long, we were at the top. My 5th time on this summit, and in 5 different months at that. And Hoss's 25th New Hampshire 4000-Footer (and all since the spring I might add!). Time for a break? Well, picture break, but we both opted to just keep walking for a little longer.

Garfield (L) and the Twins and Galehead, with Presidentials in background

Bonds and Guyot

Owl's Head

Lafayette summit survey marker

the ridge from Lafayette to Lincoln

Owl's Head with Carrigain and Hancocks behind

We both thoroughly enjoyed the walk across Franconia Ridge, and it's hard not to. We ran into a handful of small groups of people coming the opposite direction (who had all come up Falling Waters Trail and commented on it being very icy). We all agreed that this was a stellar day and anyone not enjoying themselves on such a day was obviously not where we were.

With the gentle grades and fairly small cols after leaving the summit of Lafayette, we made good time across the ridge to Lincoln despite taking plenty of time to enjoy the views. Once to Lincoln we took another nice break.

Cannon Cliffs and Greenleaf Hut getting further away

Lafayette from near Lincoln

Greenleaf Hut perched on a shoulder of Lafayette

Twins, Galehead, Guyot and the Bonds

Garfield and North Twin

Flume (L) and Liberty (R) ahead

From Lincoln we continued on the Franconia Ridge Trail to Little Haystack across the section referred to as the "knife edge" (and is really not that bad when you are on it), all still above treeline. Once at Little Haystack we had a decision to make. It was still fairly early, but the days this time of the year are short. I was fine with heading down now or continuing (I also knew what was ahead trail-wise aside from the Osseo Trail). Hoss pretty quickly opted to continue as well. It was our hope to reach the Lincoln Woods Trail before it got dark enough for headlamps. It would be close though we figured.

From Little Haystack we picked through a short, steep descent in the midst of which we met a guy who had come up Flume Slide Trail earlier in the day and was on his way to Lafayette, and would then be walking the bike path back to his car. Once off the steep parts, the trail descends a long way, but gently overall, and then climbs mildly to the trail junction with the Liberty Springs Trail a little ways before the summit of Liberty. We pushed an aggressive pace through this segment, covering the 1.8 miles from Little Haystack to the trail junction in under 45 minutes. Being all in the trees helps one keep a good pace going (less distractions from views).

From there is was a short scramble to the summit of Liberty and its fantastic 360-degree views.

Summit survey marker on the summit of Liberty

the Cannon Balls leading to Cannon (R)

Flume and its slide-scarred face from Liberty

The Bonds over Owl's Head

Flume, Hancocks and the Waterville Valley peaks in the background

Up the valley towards Garfield (L) and the Twins (R)

Osceolas and Scar Ridge, Sandwich Dome and Tecumseh behind, with Tripyramids and more the the distant left

A short break was taken (and needed!) on Liberty, after which we had to get rolling to Flume so we could get headed down before dark. At this point were were not looking like we would make it to the Lincoln Woods Trail before dark. The trail descends steeply then moderately to the col, then climbs steadily to Flume. In this climb both of us were sucking on fumes, but we made it up to the 4th official 4000-footer of the day, and number 28 for Hoss! My third time on this summit, and the first where I didn't see ravens dropping off the Flume cliffs. O well. We took another short break here before moving on.

A look back towards where we were today - Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette in the distance

Liberty from Flume

The top of the Flume cliffs, the trail traverse down across this before entering the woods

From Flume the trail drops slightly and traverses across the top of the cliffs (use caution here!) and then into the woods where it meets the Flume Slide Trail and the Osseo Trail. This was the final segment of the Franconia Ridge Trail for me, and the Osseo would be new to me as well (and Hoss of course). The Osseo Trail drops steadily, but not overly steeply, for a while before reaching numerous sets of wooden steps. After some of these, there is a sign for a view point which has fine views towards the Bonds.

A slide leading down right from the Franconia Ridge Trail - NOT the Flume Slide TRAIL


5.5 miles to the car

View from the Osseo Trail overlook - the Bonds in the distance

After the overlook there were some more wooden stairs (I lost count of total steps somewhere in the 200s), then the trail continued downward and eventually eased onto old railroad grades. We kept moving along at a good clip, but the Lincoln Woods Trail seemed it would never appear. But, just as we thought we might need headlamps, we hit it, right around 4:30. We pulled out the headlamps, and began walking down the final 1.4 miles to the car, turning on the headlamps within a couple minutes.

The Lincoln Woods Trail is an easy trail to hike by headlamp, though you still have to watch out for those tricky railroad ties that are good at tripping up tired feet. We kept score and ended up tied 4-4 in total stumbles over these ties before we hit the parking lot right at 5. Impressively, we covered the 5.5 mile descent off Flume in around 2 hours! Apparently we were moving better than we thought. 9 hours for the full traverse was a good, solid time too.

Thanks to HossInNH for a great day out, and congratulations on your first traverse of Franconia Ridge (and first time on any of the peaks in fact). Always a favorite hike of many a hiker, myself included, but it was nice to be able to spot a car and do the full traverse without having to do a road walk like my previous 2 traverses.

Peaks: Lafayette (5260', NH4K), Truman (5020'), Lincoln (5089', NH4K), Little Haystack (4760'), Liberty (4459', NH4K), Flume (4328', NH4K)
Trails: Old Bridle Path, Franconia Ridge Trail, Osseo Trail, Lincoln Woods Trail
Elevation Gain: 5000 feet
Mileage: 14.5 miles
Book Time: 9hr 45min