I thought 5:30 would come later in the morning from Louden than 3:50 does in Colchester, CT. It did not feel that way though. I had spent the night at my friend Mark’s house after spending two days on a business trip to the company Mark works for, Mt. Washington Assurance.
After finding out that Ridgerunner was unable to get the desired accommodations for the Winter Gathering 2.5, I decided I’d see if there was any interest on the AMC Hiker Journal BBS to day hike with some of the board contributors. This was a follow up to the President’s Day Trip when six of us (Jenny, Tory, Tim S., Garry, Paul & myself) went up East Osceola via the Greeley Ponds & Mt. Osceola Trails. This (3/4) hike is expected to be my last for the foreseeable future while my wife & I finish the renovations to our house for our first child due in early May. I get to paint, sand, spackle, nail, & build, all things I’m not qualified to do. If you have something that needs tearing down let me know, building them is different. Actually, I have the easy job when compared to my wife but I digress.
Mark & I left his house at 5:45 & head north on I-93 after stopping at Honey Dew Donuts in Louden. As we approach the Tilton exit, I remember that I did not see my Koflach’s during the morning packing. We pulled over & I checked the back of the truck, they were there. I had put them in the day before & Mark never took them out. This stop also allowed me to get most of the powdered sugar off of my fleece shirt. We planned on meeting the other participants at the McDonalds on Route 112 in Lincoln. Mark & I arrived at 7:15 & I recognized Paul’s car from the East Osceola trip. Next to Paul was Gary while Carole & Garry were coming across the lot. After the introductions, we decided to move inside & use the restrooms. On the way in, we met Jim & Dave was inside studying his map. A minute or two later, Ridgerunner came inside, fresh from his drive that morning from Sherbrooke.
We had nine people show up and two different types of trips planned. (A couple of others had mentioned hopefully joining us but were unable to attend.) The trips were a hike over the Hancocks and a trip onto Franconia Ridge. The Franconia group had to debate if we wanted to try Lafayette & Lincoln or the safer Liberty & Flume trip. I had thought we were heading to Liberty & Flume when it was my turn to visit the men’s room. After all, on our drive up, South Tripyramid was just under the clouds while the Middle & North summits were socked in. Ridgerunner had driven through Franconia Notch & informed the rest of the group that he thought it would clear up & that it appeared that the wind was not too severe. When I emerged from the restroom, I was informed that we were heading to do the Lafayette & Lincoln loop. The groups divided up. Ridgerunner, Carole, Jim O. and Garry headed to the Hancock Notch Trailhead. They would meet John on the trail. (See Carole’s 3/4/2000 trail condition report for details for that loop) Hopefully we would get down & over to G&H in Lincoln to see the other group.
The Franconia Ridge group was Dave F. from RI. He was planning on carrying a fully loaded backpack to get an idea of what to expect on a multi-day winter trip in the Whites. Paul N. from MA who was part of the East Osceola trip. Gary T. from ME, he usually hikes solo at his own pace. My Friend Mark S. from NH who was our designated rabbit as Tim S. was attending Ray’s last game as a Bruin. Finally, yours truly, a 50% soloist and accustomed to hiking at my pace.
Driving to the trailhead I noticed that while Liberty’s summit was in the clouds, Flume was clear. It appeared that slowly the ceiling was rising. Also scheduled for this trip was a group from the NH Chapter of AMC. Upon arriving at the trailhead we started throwing on boots, strapping snowshoes to packs & double checking gear. One hiker was waiting for the AMC group but they were not there yet. Mark’s pack did not have good attachment points but he & I rigged something up that was adequate.
We hit the trail at 8:15 & it became apparent early we would split into two sub-groups. Mark set the pace & Paul did an admirable job of keeping up with Mark. Dave tried to keep the rabbit in site but with the monster pack he was hauling up the Old Bridal Path, he quickly settled in with Gary & I. Mark & Paul stayed pretty close to us until we began the climb up to the first viewpoint below the three miseries. We had not been passed by anyone until the first switchback on the climb. Two young bucks went quickly by, the second taking a few running steps on his snowshoes that had the three of us feeling older than our real ages.
Upon reaching the first view, Dave was thrilled. His previous winter experience had been on smaller mountains like Monadnock. With the road obscured by the fog & clouds, Walker Ravine seemed more remote & wild. The summits of Lafayette & Lincoln still laid hidden from us though. As we entered the fir & spruce forest, Dave realized that his non-collapsing poles were too high & were beginning to get caught routinely in the canopy. We tried to change the way he had them on his pack but managed only a few inch improvement. A few more groups had passed us & Paul & Mark were ahead. About half a mile from the hut, Dave told me he was not going to make the summit as he was getting tired hauling the monster load on his back. I was a little concerned if he would be okay heading back on his own but he was confident he would be fine as he was more fatigued carrying the load & there are not many alternative routes below the hut. Less than ten minutes after leaving Dave, we came across the small open area just below the RUA sign that marked our arrival at the hut. Five minutes later Gary & I had reached the hut & were reunited with Mark & Paul who had said they were there just five minutes but had finished snacking. We could see the other side of Eagle Lake & 30 or 40 yards beyond it but the summits were still hidden. Dave arrived a few minutes later & told us he was going to sit on the lee side of the hut. We were already there but in order to get out of the 20-25 MPH sustained winds, you had to sit on the porch. After ten more minutes & a few pictures and a discussion about continuing, the group, minus Dave was ready to summit Lafayette. Going any further would be decided at the top.
We stayed fairly close together through the trees above the hut & around the first few switchbacks. Gary was the first to notice that while Lafayette was still covered in clouds on the very top, the rest of the ridge & the notch had cleared. We noticed a couple of hikers coming across & we were encouraged that if they could do it, so could we. I had hoped to go up Falling Water & across like them but the Channel Nine Weatherman had promised the wind was going to be out of the North so we went up Old Bridal figuring a wind on our back was preferable while on Franconia Ridge. Gary & I soon loss Paul & Mark as the traffic increased on the trail. Now even Lafayette’s 5,260 foot summit was surrounded by blue, we had a feeling our views were going to be great. A short time earlier we were thinking even a view like South Hancock’s would have been nice, now we were grateful for being where we were. Soon two hikers on their way down were next to Gary & I. Both were wearing facemasks & goggles, the only two we saw all day in masks. They must have been the ridge crossers we saw from below. They were & we asked about the ridge. They told us it was windy but the summits did a good job of shielding them. As Gary & I approached the foundation I began to think about what view Guy Waterman had decided on as his last. The one overlooking Owl’s Head towards Bondcliff, & Guyot, named after historical figures covered in the book "Forest & Crag" which he co-authored with his wife? Perhaps to the west and Vermont towards the state they called home. Maybe overlooking the cliffs of Cannon where his son Jon had climbed before going to Alaska.
A moment later, the clouds returned & the wind began to gust. Gary & I joined Mark & Paul on the summit in cloud cover, which was very similar to what we had left at the hut. We had 6–10 other people on the summit also staring out into the great white nothing. I had some more water, & quietly wondered how the other guys would answer the question, across or down. If they asked me what was I going to say? Three of us had ample gear but Mark was in a ski type jacket & a fleece headband. I knew the same pack that was light allowing him to travel at great speeds did not carry the same amount of gear the rest of us had. His boots were not what many would call winter boots. I also knew if he was cold or uncomfortable going over, he’d tell me. Finally we asked each other what we wanted to do. Quickly we decided, we were going over to Lincoln. Mark did not have a hat but a hooded sweatshirt so with a little coaxing, he took my hat. (I told him carrying the hat would lighten my load & we would be quicker.) I had a wind-bloc balaclava & jacket so I was good gear wise. Unlike the wide Presidentials, it would be tough to lose the trail on Franconia Ridge, straying more than twenty feet would be very noticeable. Gary asked me how confident I was finding Falling Waters in the fog. I thought (& still think) I could find it with ten feet of visibility. I was searching for a piece of krummholz to knock on praying I would not have to prove it though. On the way across, Mark was not going to wait for us but instead head down to the car. The two waits were cold no doubt in the 20-25 degree temps & the wind was quite unpredictable going from a sustained 20-MPH or so to higher gust guessimated at 40-50 MPH.
As we descended, Lafayette, the wind stopped for a moment, had the other two hikers been right. Even more improbable, was the weatherman right. Had I planned heading South across the ridge correctly. Too many ifs, another moment later, the wind was back & now it came from a more westerly direction, not perpendicular to the ridge but much closer to perpendicular than parallel where the summits would block it. Gary & I began to fall back behind Paul & Mark poking fun at the other two hikers and me for the idea or being out of the wind. Upon climbing the small knob on Franconia Ridge some call Mt. Truman, we saw Paul & Mark approaching the summit of Lincoln. If we could see them it must be clearing! Yes, Owl’s Head was visible. The wind kept on gusting, stopping Gary & I at times while we braced our ourselves, it seemed to be getting stronger. Would we be blown over with the next gust? As we got to Lincoln, the wind blew in a fresh batch of clouds, we were cloud free above us but we couldn’t see anything. The views returned as did the wind. As we descended Lincoln we saw a lone figure on Little Haystack. Gary & I stopped behind the lone outcropping on Lincoln that shielded us from the wind. We had another energy bar & took a few pictures of Bondcliff & the Pemi. A few minutes later we were headed towards Little Haystack. When we got there, we realized it was Paul. He had got tired trying to keep up to Mark & given the choice of waiting for us above treeline or in his car, (Okay, he could have left, Mark couldn’t, he was my ride.), he choose to enjoy the great views. We stayed about five or ten more minutes on top taking more pictures with our new friends. Paul was able to stay out of teh wind on Little Haystack. Once you had the wind beaten, the temperture was not too bad for winter.
The trip down Falling Waters was pretty uneventful except for my falling through one spot to the thigh (the icy crust felt great against the knee) and the waterfalls were quite pretty. We ran into two groups of two guys looking to camp Saturday night. One guy in jeans & while we questioned the thought, the weekend looked like it was going to be dry, not punishing him for his choice of cotton clothing. Ten minutes from the car, we came across a large group of UNH students who were part of a leadership workshop with the school’s outing club. Mark was happy to see us & we discussed heading to G & H. Mark & I were late though and we feared that at 5:40 it was too late to see your new friends that had hiked the Hancocks that day. Paul was going to check it out but as I learned later, they had arrived a couple of hours earlier.
While we were unable to spend the weekend with our fellow comrades like the summer Gatherings, the two hikes today & the President’s Day hike were both successful. During those upcoming weekends painting & sanding, I’ll be able to look back on this day as being a great hike & a day I made some new friends. If I can find a place to meet next year on Route 25, a similar trip on Moosilauke using Glencliff & if needed (due to group size) the Moosilauke Carriage Road should work out as a fine follow-up.
Thank you everybody. Mike P.