Monday, November 10, 2014

A Beautiful Fall Day on Franconia Ridge - October 25, 2014

Route: Bike Path, Falling Waters Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail
Peaks: Little Haystack Mountain (4760', TW72), Mount Lincoln (5089', NH4K), Mount Truman (5020', TW72), Mount Lafayette (5260', NH4K)
Mileage: 11.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4200ft
Book Time: 7hr 50min (7hr 30min actual)

Fall is usually a rather busy time for me and I'm lucky to get out more than once a month. This year has been a little different and this made for my 3rd hiking trip of October, which is one of my favorite hiking months of the whole year. Snow hasn't generally fallen or at least amounted to much, the temperatures are cool but generally not bitter, and clear days yield crisp blue skies with far-reaching views similar to those of winter. And so, while I only had one day free on this weekend, I had to be in Southern NH the next morning so a trip to the Whites was in order given the terrific forecast.

For this day, my sole target was Lincoln, the only peak on Franconia Ridge I hadn't visited in 2014, but of course one has to visit Lafayette while they are up there. For a little variety I decided to park at the Greenleaf Trailhead (aka the Cannon Mountain Tramway lot) and walk 2.5 miles on the bike path to the Falling Waters Trailhead at Lafayette Place. After ascending to and crossing the ridge, I would descend on the Greenleaf Trail back to my car (I prefer to do any necessary roadwalks in the morning rather than the end of the day, and let's be honest, the bike path in Franconia Notch is effectively a road).

With it being just me on this hike, I had no set time to be on-trail, and so I slept in a little bit more than normal and was at the parking lot around 8:40. While getting ready, I recognized another hiker getting ready that I knew from various online hiking groups; he was getting set to meet his group for a hike of Cannon Mountain. It was great to finally meet and talk to you Dingo!

Where the Old Man of the Mountain used to reside, from the bike path

R.I.P. Old Man of the Mountain

The "big wall" of New Hampshire

The bike path walk was nothing special, but it did offer a few nice views of Cannon's massive cliffs, and there was an interesting newspaper article mounted to a plaque along the way that talked about a huge boulder that let loose from the cliffs a decade or so back that came to rest a mere couple of feet from the bike path (it was indeed huge!). It's a sign of a great mood and a good day when even the walk on the bike path is enjoyable! Still, I was glad to reach the Falling Waters Trailhead roughly 40 minutes later, and I was very surprised to see that despite it being nearly 10AM on a nice day, the parking lot was still a long way from overflowing!

I hadn't been up this trail since I got back into hiking in late 2011. On that day, climbing this trail took a ton out of me and was a huge grind. I was curious to see how I would feel about it now that I am hiking regularly, and I was pleased to find it was far less of a grind. The trail was wet from rains earlier in the week, but the water crossings weren't bad and the various waterfalls and cascades that adorn the lower portion of this trail were flowing nicely. On such a nice day where I was gung-ho to get above treeline, I spent a surprising amount of time looking at all of these water features.

Stairs Falls

Swiftwater Falls

Cloudland Falls

Cloudland Falls

Above Cloudland Falls, the last major waterfall, the trail still spent some time alongside the brook for a short while until it finally diverged and broke into the switchbacks that had previously nearly broken me. I saw a lot of people in this stretch, some prepared, many not - basically, the usual situation for this loop. I powered right through the switchbacks, noting that one or two of them were clearly old logging grades, and in good order I was at the spur to Shining Rock. Naturally I checked out this feature, which was amazingly devoid of any other humans, and so I took a nice break here at the edge of the giant rock.

Looking South from Shining Rock
Moosilauke (L) and the Kinsmans (R)
It isn't terribly far from the Shining Rock spur to treeline, where the views open up quickly and the wind just as quickly ramped up. I had known it was supposed to be windy, but boy was it ever! In fact, I'd say it was roughly as windy as it was the day we flew a flag on Mount Lafayette a month before for Flags on the 48, only this time the wind was gusting hard, instead of just a steady roaring wind. Consequently the walking was tricky, and with the chilly temperatures it was actually pretty cold up there and I had to put a long sleeve layer on for the ridge walk.

First views from treeline - Mount Lincoln

South and North Kinsman, Cannon Mountain

Ridgewalk to Lincoln

Flume (L) and Liberty (R)

Love this trail

Carrigain on the far side of the Pemi Wilderness

Twins and Bonds behind Owl's Head

The infamous Owl's Head slide used to access the summit

Heading towards Mt. Lincoln

The Bonds

Mt. Guyot in center, with the slide-scarred Redrock Ravine

As usual, the ridge was busy, and the wind made the walking tricky at times, but I found a nice spot out of the wind just below Lincoln to sit down and enjoy the day for a while. The views across the Pemi from the ridge is simply amazing (to be fair the views are great in all directions). Continuing across Lincoln, then the small bump often referred to as Mt. Truman (between Lincoln and Lafayette), I made the final ascent up to Mount Lafayette. Taking in the views for a little while, I then headed off down the Greenleaf Trail to the hut. There was a little black ice glazing the rocks here and there above treeline on the descent, but it was too sparse to warrant putting on the microspikes, and before long it was gone anyway.

Mount Washington behind the Twins

Looking South along Franconia Ridge


Pano across the Pemi

Lincoln Slide - this long slide reaches all the way down to near Lincoln Brook

Mt. Garfield

Greenleaf Hut perched on the side of Mt. Lafayette

Lonesome Lake and the Lonesome Lake Hut

Busy Mt. Lafayette summit

The old foundation atop Mt. Lafayette

North Lafayette

The final descent down from the hut was uneventful though a bit rockier and more tedious than I recalled from the ascent a month before. I ran into a solo gentleman just above Eagle Pass and we chatted all the way down to our cars. It's hard to beat a bluebird day on Franconia Ridge, and I've had several, but this might have been my favorite trip to the ridge to date. Just an all-around terrific day.

My car is down there...

A reminder that winter is coming

Climbing to the clouds

Franconia Ridge from Greenleaf Hut

Shining Rock

There is a viewpoint spur just below Greenleaf Hut. It seems to have grown in pretty heavily from my memory from 2001.