Sunday, April 28, 2013

Franconia Ridge Traverse 4/27/13

Working title: Impromptu bushwhacks are the most fun bushwhacks

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

Trails: Skookumchuck Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Flume Slide (not the trail), bushwhack, Flume Slide Trail, Liberty Spring Trail, Whitehouse Trail, bike path

Mileage/time: ~14.6 miles, ~5300 feet of gain, book time of 9:55, actual time of 12:06

Where do I even begin? The day brought us everything: clear skies, bright sunshine, snow-free trails to start, a stable monorail once the snow appeared, and basically snow-free conditions above treeline. What more could we ask for? Let me backtrack, and all will be revealed.

It's been some weeks since I've woken up this early for a hike, 4am is never the right hour. With everything and the kitchen sink in my pack (still prepared for full winter conditions), I loaded up, and headed north. While on 113 in Baldwin, I saw an amazing sunrise scene, and quickly pulled over.

I arrived early, as usual, and set about getting ready. Allison and Mike soon arrived, and Brenda pulled in soon after that. Our group had assembled! We then piled into Brenda's car, and headed to the Skookumchuck Trailhead. After final preparations, we started up the trail at 7:50. The Skookumchuck Trail was pretty awesome, only one crossing, moderate grades, and beautiful woods throughout. The sun was shining, the temperature was comfortable, and that, of course, turned me into a sweaty mess. At one point, we stopped to admire a pile of feathers strewn about just next to the trail. Something primal, possibly ugly, and downright natural had happened here, I couldn't help but to gaze in wonderment for a moment.

We hiked on, sometimes talking, sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other. Snow soon appeared, but the classic spring monorail was supportive in the cooler morning temperatures, and there was no need for traction. There was a lot of moose sign along the trail, including a spot right on the trail where said moose looked to have bedded down. A sign on the trail signaled our entry into the Alpine Zone, and the beginning of our views for the day. Shortly afterwards, we reached the end of the Skookumchuck Trail, and were greeted with a snow-free trail, and vast, if somewhat hazy, views.

Garfield Ridge Trail heading north, not today

Garfield, the Twins, and the Presidentials in back

The lumbering mass of Owl's Head
I needed to stop and patch my feet, as my new-ish boots were giving me issues. Will I ever find hiking footwear (other than trail runners), that don't cause me significant pain? Soon, we continued southward, while I tried to eat and hike... not as easy as it might sound. I finally finished my wrap, about 0.2 miles from Lafayette. Multitasking, I have it. We soon came up to the summit of Lafayette, where we saw our first of many people on the ridge.

Lincoln from Lafayette

The Bonds from Lafayette
We didn't linger long, and set out for Lincoln. This was a far cry from my last time on this ridge, all the way back in January. For one, we had views, and for two, it was warm. What a difference a couple of months makes. Lincoln provided us with continued excellent views, though we decided to have lunch on Little Haystack. Pushing onward!

At one point, the trail moves to the east side of the ridge, going around a large rock outcrop. So what do I do? I climb to the top. At the end of the outcrop was a vertical wall, something I might have down-climbed if I didn't have poles and a heavy pack, but erring on the side of caution, I returned to the trail. Little Haystack appeared quickly, and the associated crowds ensued. We sat to the south of the summit, watching group after group coming up Falling Waters Trail. One group even brought a ukulele. Our last two targets were in front of us, and after our break (and chocolate covered strawberries that Brenda carried up!), we headed south.

The relatively snow-free, above treeline ridge portion of our hike was over, and it was back to gnarly spring conditions of suck. The Franconia Ridge Trail between Little Haystack and Liberty Spring Trail doesn't get much play in winter, and was therefore less consolidated. This lead to some postholing, and generally slow going between the peaks. Sooner than later, we reached the summit of Liberty, and were greeted by a couple members of one of our Facebook groups, Alison, Rebecca, and her husband Mark.


Bonds from Liberty


A couple more groups arrived, two of which had come up the Flume Slide Trail, which we had been thinking about descending. They said it was an icy mess, with water running underneath... and they didn't have traction! The trail between Liberty and Flume gets a lot more play, and was hard packed, and easier to hike on.

Fairly quickly, we reached the summit of Flume, and took a break. It was now that we discussed our options. I climbed down to a rocky little promontory, looking down the slide itself, it was impressive.

The fissured summit "cone" of Flume

We had decided to at least check out the Flume Slide Trail for descent, instead of climbing back up and over Liberty to descend. The trail skirts the very top of the slide, and that gave Mike an idea. The plan was this, descend the slide (which as far as the eye could see, was bare), and then bushwhack to the Flume Slide Trail for the rest of our descent.

Most of the upper part of the slide, was a loose, unconsolidated nightmare of various sized rocks. With each step, rocks moved under our feet, settling, and sometimes sliding downslope. We slowly picked our way down the slide, switchbacking, and calling out if a rock was dislodged. ROCK!

After about 1000 feet of descent on rock, we encountered snow, and it was deep. Not only that, it became undermined by running water. The other three members of my group weigh less than me, this lead to me postholing up to my knees in many spots. At one point, I went in over my waist, water flowing beneath me. Some ninja moves later, and I was able to extract myself, but by that point, I was done with the slide. A miserable few hundred feet of bushwhacking later, and Mike found the trail.

Exhausted, we made our way down the Flume Slide Trail, running into Dan McGinness (of DMOutdoors), on his way to do a moonlight traverse. Hope you had an awesome night! Once we made the bike path, Mike didn't like the look of the Whitehouse Trail, so we took the bike path back to a point where we made a short bushwhack back to the parking lot.

Mike and Allison took off, and I drove Brenda to her car, where we parted ways. I made the drive home, but was so sore and exhausted, that I tripped on the first step up to my porch, and ate it on the stairs. Once I got upstairs, I was informed that there was no hot water... again! What a kick in the pants after such a long day.

Since I won't be hiking again until at least the 2nd, I'm going to be playing MSAP... and staying away from trails with snow on them (and therefore, the 4k's). I'm done with winter, I'm done with heavy packs, and I'm done with hiking poles. It's light packs and trail runners from here on out!


  1. Ouch! Sorry about the stairs. If it makes you feel any better, I have a sunburn on both my arms along with various scratches from branches.

    1. I must have really been done, because I couldn't even summon up the energy to be mad about the hot water! My lower legs took a beating from all the postholing and general flailing about. I bushwhacked in short sleeves once, on a cloudy day, and my arms felt like they were sunburned for two weeks!

  2. First, loved "conditions of suck" -- a classic. Ate it on the stairs made me go "ouch" and chuckle, almost at the same time. Hopefully you didn't damage anything. Sucks about the hot water.

    @Allison: Lol, I have a good scratch on my right arm.

    1. Yeah, I was laughing about it this morning. Nothing hurt but my pride, and I'm sure my neighbors got a chuckle out of it, if they were looking.

  3. Nice write up and photos, Bill. You're fall on the steps reminds me of what my legs feel like sometimes upon arrival at home, especially after 20+ mile hikes. Sometimes I can barely lift them!