Friday, January 18, 2013

Franconia Ridge Traverse 1/17/13

Working title: I'm not dying today

Peaks: Mt. Lafayette, North Lincoln (Truman), Mt. Lincoln, Little Haystack, Mt. Liberty, Mt. Flume

Trails: Greenleaf Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Osseo Trail, Lincoln Woods Trail

Mileage/time: 14.3 miles, 5000 feet of gain, book time of 9:37, actual time of 10:55

This was going to be one of three "epic" hikes Mike and I have planned for this winter, the others being a Presidential Traverse (by moonlight if we can make it happen), and the Bonds. Weather forecasts being what they are, made this day especially interesting. The forecast, when I looked Wednesday night, was mixed. One site called for clear skies, 40 mph winds, and dropping temps, the other called for clouds, and similar winds and temps. Let's go for it!

The skies were mostly clear on my drive up, but of course, coming across the Kanc, I ran into cloud cover. I pulled into Lincoln Woods, where Mike was already waiting... and I wasn't even late! He hopped in, and we made our way to the Cannon Tramway lot, where we'd be starting off. I got out of the car to relieve myself, and fell, my foot got caught in a storm drain... that's one. I laced up my "Troublemakers", which has become the nickname for my boots due to the problems I've been experiencing with them, and we set off down the road, walking under I-93 and up the on-ramp until we found the trailhead. On with the snowshoes it was, and it was here that I took my second fall, trying to get across the drainage to the actual trail... alright, I'm allowed one more.

Finally on the trail, we started up. It was warm too, the temperature at the car showed 27, and I thought about de-layering. There was a good 3 inches of fresh snow, over a packed down, but very thin base. Rocks snagged our snowshoes, and we were accompanied by the sound of metal on rock, and traffic on the highway, the joys of hiking in Franconia Notch. The sky lightened as we climbed, mostly by switchbacks, and we soon reached Eagle Pass, a stunning little cleft between Eagle Cliff to the north, and Lafayette's Agony Ridge to the south.

Early morning light to the south of the notch
We then made our way up to the closed up Greenleaf Hut, and from here, the wind became more of a factor. Good thing we hadn't de-layered, because here is where we would have put them back on, and maybe then some. We made our way down past Eagle Lake, and started the 1000 foot climb up to Lafayette. Oh, it also started snowing, so much for forecasts! There was some drifting to deal with in the trees, but once we finally broke out of the trees for good, it was mostly bare rock, with some ice, and some wind packed snow... but we left our snowshoes on until we could assess conditions on the ridge itself. The summit of Lafayette was as I remember it from my first ascent (it was my first NH 4000 footer), in the clouds, and windy.

While taking the picture of the summit signs, I noticed a strange icon in my camera viewfinder. Some of you may have noticed the purple hues of my photos from last week, well I figured out what the problem was, just below the summit of Lafayette. Somehow my ham hands must have hit some buttons and messed with the white balance setting, so that's all fixed, and the remaining pictures came out as they should have. Here's where we took off our snowshoes, and put on spikes.

The trek across to Little Haystack was a blur. It was a fight for footing, as there was a lot of bare rock, some ice, and some calf deep drifts in spots. It was a fight against the wind, and blowing snow. Mike joked about having a rhythm section in his right earphone, but it was just the snow, blowing sideways, pelting our jackets. I somehow managed to keep my glasses from fogging up completely, and kept my head at such an angle, that they weren't snow covered either. Over North Lincoln (Truman), and Lincoln we went, the clouds overhead getting brighter one moment, and then darkening an instant later.

It was a relief to see the sign at the junction of Falling Waters Trail, as that meant we'd be getting into the trees, and out of the wind. We didn't hesitate, and started down, soon reaching cover. Debating snowshoes, we continued on in spikes, generally able to keep on the packed area of the trail. There's a steep drop to the col between Haystack and Liberty, but we made it happen, and soon had easy walking. There's one area about halfway to Liberty Spring Trail where the corridor was definitely brushy, though it could have just been drifted snow pushing us up into the lower branches of the trees. Just after this, we put snowshoes back on, as we started to posthole a bit. I'll get to more on postholes later.

The AT between Haystack and Liberty, this is the trail
On the climb out of the col, the sun briefly came out, and we started to see patches of blue sky. Also, of note, the temperature had started to drop. We reached the junction with Liberty Spring Trail, and were greeted with a disappointing sight, even with a few inches of fresh snow, there were postholes galore from the warmth last week. Looking up Franconia Ridge and down Liberty Spring was like looking at a pockmarked battlefield, this would be trying most of the rest of the day. We tried to smooth things out as best we could with our snowshoes, but another good foot of snow is needed to get a fresh start on the treadway. Not to mention that postholes and snowshoes don't really get along well, lots of ankle twisting and cursing was the name of the game.

We made quick work out of the climb to Liberty and were greeted with clearing skies and some views!

Liberty summit rocks
Hard to believe we started to the north of Cannon Cliff

Bonds and Owl's Head from Liberty

Battling further postholes, we descended to the Liberty/Flume col, and started up the other side. The skies continued to clear overhead, and the temperature continued to drop. After a slow climb to Flume, we came out on the summit, with gusty winds and full sunshine.

We were there this morning!




Moosilauke, what's your problem?
We didn't stick around long, as the wind was biting, and pushing us (me at least) around a bit. We worked our way along the summit ridge, which skirts the tops of the many slides on the west face of Flume, and made our way down to the Flume Slide Trail junction.

It's a long way down!
We continued down Osseo Trail, to a flat-ish spot, and took a break. I got chilled pretty quickly, as the temperature was still dropping, so we didn't take an exceptionally long break. Osseo Trail wasn't bad, though both of us commented that it wasn't really anything special. Reaching the outlook, we took in spectacular views of Owl's Head, the Twins, Bonds, Carrigain, Hancocks, and the Sandwich Range.



Owl's Head and Twins

Sandwich Range
Now, I've heard about these "ladders" on Osseo Trail, and they were kind of a pain. Just barely covered in snow, having to work around them in snowshoes, and having it be just plain steep, made for slow going. The trail switchbacks several times to get down this steep section, then it gets increasingly gradual, as it makes its way down to Lincoln Woods, following an old road in the lower portion. We saw the first tracks of the day on Lincoln Woods Trail, but they were cross country ski tracks, not hiker tracks. The skiers came out just after we did, and they were the only others we saw all day.

Back into Lincoln, where we stopped at Black Mountain Burger Co. Their burgers weren't bad, but not really anything to write home about. Mike dropped me at my car, and then I made my way home. It was a long, exhausting day, but totally worth it!


  1. Awesome report. We are heading there Sat 1/19. Appreciate the trail conditions info.

  2. iiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnssssssssssaaaaaaaannnnnnnneeeeee. love it.