Thursday, July 25, 2013

Yet another Franconia Ridge Traverse 7/21/13

Working title: An end and a beginning

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

Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Osseo Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path

Mileage/time: 14.5 miles, 5693 feet of gain, book time of 10:06, actual time of 9:52

I'm slacking, seriously. I don't often go this long after a hike, without writing about it. Such is my busy existence as of late. I'm lucky if I have enough time to do normal people things (laundry, grocery shop, cook, etc.)!

This would be the first time that I've been on a hike with someone finishing one of their lists, and I was honored to be there. The only list I've finished thus far (the NH 4000-footers), was a solo excursion, where I had my final peak all to myself in the pouring rain. It was anticlimactic at best. But this story isn't about me.

My friend Heather had a plan to finish on Mt. Lafayette (consequently my first 4000-footer in New Hampshire), by doing a south to north Franconia Ridge Traverse. Initially, I couldn't make it, due to scheduling conflicts at work, but the week before, I worked it out and was able to take the time off. Happiness abound! We decided to carpool, and planned to meet in Buxton that morning. She woke up a bit late, and I spaced out as to where we were meeting, driving some miles in the opposite direction. All in all, we ended up arriving at just about the same time. She coordinated some car spotting while I drove, and after meeting up with some others in Fryeburg, we pulled into Lincoln Woods not long after our scheduled start time of 6:30.

We met up with part of the group for the day, which consisted of eleven of us (Dave, Mike, Jess, Scott, Kate, Bob, Stella, Roberta, and Tim), and just after 7, we set off across the bridge. Lincoln Woods was its usual self, muddy in spots, flat, and boring. Smaller groups formed, as we got to know each other a bit. I stuck to the back, wanting to take in the scenery, and because Heather had told me I was the sweeper. I think it was something to do with me telling her about my last time on the ridge, and how I had made it from Lincoln Woods to Lafayette in just over 5 hours. Oops!

I didn't end up taking any pictures on the way up, as nothing presented itself, and I seem to have an aversion to taking pictures of people, not to mention having pictures taken of me. There was a different piece of photographic equipment slung over my shoulder, my trusty Voigtlander Bessa R, loaded up with some epic film (Fuji Velvia 50), and sporting a 15mm wide angle lens. Sadly, I won't have results for some weeks, as it had to be sent out for processing. The Osseo was in good shape, and we paused at the "downlook" for our first views of the day.

The Osseo ladders came and went, and soon we were on the ridge, headed toward Flume, a nice breeze blowing through the trees. We soon popped out on the summit, where we regrouped and took a short break, enjoying the scenery and the cool breeze. A welcome change from the heat and humidity of the last few weeks.

Pushing on, we headed toward Liberty. I really like going south to north on this ridge, it just feels easier, even if it has more elevation gain than going the opposite direction. Shortly, there was sky poking through the trees, and we came out on Liberty. The clouds hung low, with Lafayette in and out of them, but we were in the clear, and the views continued to be dramatic.

After another short break, we carried on. We were to meet up with another group, coming up Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack, and from the sounds of it, we were behind schedule. Tim had two-way radios, and we tried to contact the other group, but the ridgelines appeared to be blocking the signal, as we got garbled, uninteligible responses. To me, this is the crux of the traverse, the slog up to Little Haystack. It's not the steepest, but it is unrelenting once you pass through the col. Thankfully, it goes by fast, as the footbed lends itself to quick movement. We came out above treeline just short of Little Haystack, seeing a conga-line of hikers ascending the top section of Falling Waters, and a mass of bodies on top.

After meeting up with the second group, we traipsed along the ridge towards Heather's peak #47, Mt. Lincoln. Even though this is my fourth time on the ridge this year, and likely not the last, it's still an amazing place to be. This was the most comfortable of my times here this year, not too cold, not too hot, not too humid, and not blowing snow! Cresting the summit of Lincoln, Heather had but one peak remaining, and it was in sight!

Not lingering long, we pushed on. Between the peaks, there were gliders flying around, buzzing the ridge, and riding thermals. It was pretty amazing to watch, as the wings would bend as the plane hit a thermal, and would then shoot upwards. Must, take, glider, ride!

As we neared the summit, we made Heather wait just down from it, as we made a hiking pole tunnel for her to come through as she came to the final summit of her journey. Around 1:45, she came through the tunnel and completed her New Hampshire 4000-footers among a throng of other hikers. Congratulations were in order! After pictures and a break, the group split up, with many descending to the hut, and others just chilling around the summit.

After regrouping at the hut, we spread out again along the trail, heading down to Franconia Notch. We arrived just before 5, and then set about trying to figure out how we were getting back to Lincoln Woods! In the end, we squeezed, literally, into Dave's Focus hatchback. After retrieving cars, a bunch of us headed into Woodstock for dinner. Good conversation and food was had, before we all parted ways. The sunset was amazing, and Heather and I stopped along the Kanc for a photo op.

So there we have it, a finish! Congratulations to Heather, and here's to the many more summits and trails in your future.

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