Franconia Ridge Trail Plus

One of the best things about hiking upon a spectacularly beautiful trail is that it is spectacularly beautiful. One of the not best things is … you never really get to see the entire panaroma of the hike and amazing trail! So, after trying to get a perfect shot through the thick morning fog and failing, and after failing to get a nice view from Lafayette, and even after failing to get it from down in the park, and after failing upon a wonderful (brisk little one too) hike up Mount Pemigewasset, I did what any reasonable person would do …

Franconia Ridge

I went in for some old time mountain kitsch, headed into Lincoln and stopped at a neat old mountain resort that is right out of the 1950s vacation guidebooks by the name of Indian Head “resort” … and by all means it was a pleasant place, immediately accented with a gift shop stuffed in every cubic inch with, obviously, memorabilia and trinkets from the great native american tribes from … out west. Be that as it may, there was still plenty of White Mountain schtuff in there too. But the coolest part of the place was that it built an old lookout tower with those pay per view binoculars on top, and there was like a $1.00 charge to walk through the turnstile out into the tower. You had to, of course, go into the gift shop to secure the token that operated the turnstile, but it was one of the best dollars I have ever spent. In any case, once up there, if you hold your hands up high enough over the railings and viewers, you can get a pretty decent view looking north up the Franconia Ridge, which includes the entire range trail plus a couple others. From closest on the crop on the picture on the right we have Flume, moving north and to the left of the frame we have Liberty and then continuing up the range we have Little Haystack, then Lincoln and then peering itself up over the back, about 20% from the left of the picture is the tallest in the range, Mount Lafayette. The Notch actually separates Lafayette in this picture from the wall of mountains you see to the left, which includes Cannon, and the old site of the Old Man.

so, onto the actual hike. I had a hockey clinic to attend in Concord, NH over the weekend of the 23-24, so when it looked like the weather would be nice I booked a campsite at the Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch SP and tried to get as much hiking in for the two days prior to the event as I could. I highly recommend the SP campground, it sits along the Pemi River and Pemi Trail and the park has a great many attractions running the 8 mile chute from the Flume up to Cannon. There is an awesome paved bike trail (it is steep and hilly, but awesome) that connects the entire park, and a cool footpath running alongside it. So if you are in the mood not to have a car, you could set up shop here and do a ton of exploring on foot and bike including reasonable hikes to two AMC huts, several lakes, a pile of 4,000 foot peaks on each side of the Notch, and some really cool geologic features such as the Basin.

The night before the hike of the Ridge, was able to get over to Crawford Notch visitors center (again with no lack of places to explore and views to indulge) and had a really pretty hike up to Mount Willard, which affords you a south facing view of the valley running south from the Presidentials and some neat in your face mountain views. It was a pretty warmup for the day before. If you only have a couple of hours, this a nice little hike to do, and it leaves right from the visitors center / train station in Crawford just passed the Mount Washington Hotel.

For the Ridge hike, I wanted to get up fairly early so we could spend as much time up above treeline as possible and really enjoy the long sunlight. It happened to be the first day of summer, which in addition to being solstice, also happened to be this day. Fortunately I did not get any empirical evidence that this designation was fitting. The plan was to hike the old bridle patah trail from the campground, hit the Greenleaf trail and then on to Lafayette. From Lafayette, you walk the range above treeline (it’s better than advertised) southward to Lincoln then Little Haystack. Now, at that point folks usually make a loop right back to Lafayette campground via the Falling Waters trail. But the ridge runs much farther (it’s on the larger Pemi Loop), and so since the weather was so perfect, it made absolute perfect sense to walk over to Liberty and then Flume, and you are handsomely rewarded for doing so.  After making the way over to Flume (the walk is quicker than the mileage, despite the ups and downs), you can decide to stay on the Pemi Loop and walk the slow and long descent back to Lincoln Woods – but then you need a ride back somewhere, or you can go down the Flume slide (I chose not to do that since I had not read enough on it and I suspected it was wet, even though it was a very dry day out), or you can walk back to Liberty and head down the Liberty Springs trail (part of the AT) back into the Notch and then walk the 2.5 miles along the Pemi River back up to the campground – that is the route I chose in part because I was curious to see the AT encampment just west of the Liberty summit, and also because going back to Liberty was a fun walk and the views from Liberty were exemplary. All in all, if you were hustling, this is a very, very doable hike in very doable time. I wanted to hike all day.

Got my start at 6:05 from the old bridle path trailhead, and was standing on a totally socked in, fogged and freezing and very windy summit of Lafayette just 2 hours later even though it was 4 miles and about 3,500 of climbing. It was good footing (not really like the ADKs thankfully), and despite the quick ascent above the thick forest, you just want to keep walking and walking around the great horseshoe to Lafayette. With a stop for water at the Greenleaf Hut (folks inside were having a very emphatic role-playing game on impact and how to handle litter and litterers, so I sat on porch enjoying the setting), was on the top by 8:00. I huddled very cold up top for 40 minutes or so hoping for the thick fog to blow over so I could see over into the Pemi wilderness or into the Notch, but that was not happening, even though you felt at any moment that the fog was ready to burn off (it would). I wore a short and long sleeve shirt for the hike, and by time was on top added the fleece, some fleece gloves and a thick wool hat and was ready to add the wind layer, it was cold. I spent as much time enjoying the wildflowers and the cool way the fog and sun intermittently framed the views east and west. With plenty of time to savor the day, and lingering on the cool blocky ledges of Flume, and having a few fun conversations with other hikers, was back at my tent after 17 miles (I am estimating) and something greater than 5,000 feet of climbing by around 3pm.

Rather than give the blow-by-blow of the hike, I’ll just add a couple of impressions and a few pictures and leave it at that. My first impression is that the hike is as high in the reward to effort ratio as you will ever get on a good-sized hike. Within an hour of starting it you are emerging onto the big ledges and boulders, with Lafayette staring you in the face on the other side of a really cool looking horseshoe ridge, and you stay excited and rewarded for just about the rest of the day. I will say that while we all know about the huts, they nevertheless remain eminently jarring to encounter, especially as the weather is turning and the terrain real rugged. The Greenleaf Hut in peak season charges folks in the mid-$100s, which is fine, I understand they are expensive to run – but, well, I’ll be losing my capitalist credentials if I say too much more. In any case, the hut is a gorgeous cedar shingled oasis, and it is built well into the surrounding scenery – it just doesn’t seem to “fit.”

The hike from the hut quickly gets you above treeline and is less than an hour to the top of Lafayette, and is well marked by cairns along the way. The summit is marked by a trail intersection, and it is here that you first hit the AT as you begin your journey south. While there are ups and downs the rest of the way, most of the heavy climbing is by now out of the way, which is why I think so many folks seem to prefer hiking the trail in this direction rather than finishing on Lafayette, though I think I might like it better coming the other way. From Lafayette, you are on the trail you see in the pictures, a neat gravely narrow path narrowing off into the distant focal points. At no place is it really a knife’s edge, so if you are worried about exposures this is not the hike to be nervous about – go and enjoy it. I think the ridge between Lincoln and Little Haystack is marvelous, and the walk beyond Little Haystack and over to Liberty and Flume seems to me to be massively underappreciated – the walking is great, but both of those peaks are fantastic as well. In any other arrangement, each would be a much sought after destination on their own for the neat ledges and 360 degree views they offer, but seem to get lost in a sea of excellence up on the ridge.

I’ll keep the rest of my thoughts to myself – coming up here was glorious and well worth it, and surely makes one want to figure out a way to make it a much more regular part of one’s life. My kids would love the idea of it, and being plopped onto the top surely would have felt the magic, I just don’t think they have the passion to do it. I am to blame of course, but that’s for another post. In the meantime, some pics below.

Advertisements

Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant via East Trail

15 of us from the University of Rochester (mostly Eco 238 students) set out for the East Trail over RPR and Giant on September 16, 2017. The day turned out to be gorgeous, if not a bit on the hot side.

Details to come soon!

Marie Louise Pond looking east via Aaron Raymond

Looking East from below RPR over Marie Louise Pond and East Trail

The Whole Gang

The Whole Gang

Big Slide via the Brothers Loop

Cool, then Snowy! Made mad dash to get microspikes. Rented like ALL of T-Max and Topos, good story there, …

snow was fluffy and an easy steady walk the entire way … we had some adventure …

Allen (no steps through Jenny!)

The hard part of hiking, or should I say the hardest parts of hiking are (1) being as well prepared as you can for your own safety and enjoyment and (2) heeding the appropriate information from others and not-heeding others. With regard to the latter, just as with beer styles and flavors, or types of cuisine, or authors and so on, people have vastly different impressions, tolerances, abilities, and so one when it comes to hikes. There is perhaps no better hike that encapsulates this than Allen. To the uninitiated, when you see the data on Allen, you definitely get a whack in the face from pondering a 19 mile day “just” to hit one peak. Then you sample the forums and hiking guides and the term “steep”, “red slime” and “good view but miserable” sort of pops up much more often than when you examine the other hikes you might be doing. On top of the mileage and the slime, there are several (potentially) harrowing water crossings – with two right at the very start of the hike and one about halfway into the walk in. The initial crossing of the Hudson River used to be “easy” but a Hurricane blew off the bridge, and now one must ford it just seconds into the start of the hike. The ford is a piece of cake, unless of course floods are coming in. On this day the water was running well, but low and cool and it was a snap to get over.

Immediately upon crossing the Hudson (yes, THAT Hudson) you wander over to Jenny Lake. For years, there had been a long crossing of perilous planks that took you right through the middle of the Lake. Each step would plunge you a little into the water, and the images and discussions about it can lead you anywhere from thinking this would be fun, or the end of one’s existence when an alligator jumps out and eats you. But just as with the earlier crossing, these planks are no longer usable, and the trail has been rerouted to the North around the lake – which was sort of disappointing. This was also one of the many places in the Adirondacks where you stop to really appreciate the trail workers who do some much work to make our time in the woods so much more enjoyable. In this case, there were dozens and dozens and dozens of 2x6s (I think) strewn along the length of the new Jenny Lake detour, which makes the walking a lot quicker than slogging through the center of the Pitfall Harry mudpits.

Once past Jenny Lake, the trail is flat in the valley and really pleasant for many, many miles – you get a glimpse of the looming Allen in a few spots, and you get to temptingly walk past Mt. Adams and the former fire-ranger’s digs. It would be really nice to add that hike on to the end of the next Allen adventure which would add another 5 miles and nearly 2,000 feet.

As for this hike, as usual I was way overprepared. Brought 4 liters of water, my hiking boots and running sneakers, my water filter, my backpacking pack loaded up with gear, just to be prepared for contigencies. Wouldn’t need them on this day of course. That’s a better problem than the alternate one.

In addition to lots of water crossing, it was really, really muddy as the hike got into the beginnings of elevation gain. With the early water crossings, I put on my “water shoes” (which were my beat up used running shoes) right at Hudson River crossing at start, and never took them off. I kept them on around Jenny Lake, and the trail was so nice and soft and pretty that I just cruised along. The Opalescent was running healthily on this day, so fording it was a little adventurous – shuffle sideways diagonally facing upstream, and maybe use a stick for balance – and as soon as I crossed the trail really mudified. For some reason it felt quicker and no crazy challenge to plunge right through the dead center of every mud bog, not even finding the need to rock hop. By the time you are on the mountain itself, it certainly is slick, but I submit that the infamous “Red Slime” is more of an urban legend than something that is going to ruin your hike. It is tricky in spots for sure, but if I had not read tons on it I do not think I would have remembered it as being particularly bad on this hike. Once on the ascent, you get a pretty steep, steady climb in and around slides and brooks, it was quite fun picking your way through it.

There was a spot near the beginning of the ascent where the trail merges with an old access road that you have to be careful with, it took my 20 minutes or so of stopping and taking compass readings and examining before I found my way. I am sure I am in the minority here.

The views from the peak are wonderful, and again on this day I had the summit to myself. I recall seeing 2-3 people in total the entire way. The views from the summit are at least 270 degrees, with spectacular views to the lower peaks due South, and looking east and north toward the Dix Range, Giant Wilderness and the Great Range. Again, still being a newbie, at the time I did not figure out every single peak I was looking at, but I was also very distracted as I had spent a lot of time thinking about Andrew on the walk up. Also, getting up there on my own in the way that the hike went was the first glimpse I had about being able to finish the 46, despite the many challenges ahead.

I’ve been told now that the state has made the Essex purchase that there would be much closer and “easier” access to Allen. I don’t bemoan progress I suppose, but that long hike sure is a memorable piece of any experience in the Adirondacks. Was on the trial on this day by 6:15am, summited by 10:45am and was changed and back in the car by 4.

Marshall via Upper Works

My first time to the end of the Upper Works Trailhead. Little did I know last year when venturing to the Santanoni’s that just a little way’s down the road would be the really neat McIntyre Furnace (and area where the Hudson was messed around with quite a bit) and then the southern approach to the High Peaks. Coming in this way requires a little bit different drive from Rochester, and enjoyed the drive through Newcomb (I would camp these nights at the Lake Harris campground just a few miles down the road from Tahawus). The plan on this day, since I was still not very optimistic about my ability to crank out big days, and also because tomorrow would be a bigger day, was to enjoy a pleasant hike to Marshall, and take my time to soak in the sites.

The Calamity Brook trail is really pretty, with glimpses of peaks off to your left as you set off down the trail, and some neat intersections with the Opalescent and of course Calamity Brook. The early part of the trail is really pleasant. Began the walk at apx 7:40am on a very dewey morning, which was an absolutely fantastic morning to reveal the thousands of grass spider webs that would normally be invisible to our inattentive eyes on dry days.

A little less than 90 minutes into the hike, you come upon the memorial to David Henderson. Even though the guidebooks tell you it is coming, it is still striking to see it there, and of course, that he was killed by an accidental shot from his gun as it was stowed in his backpack makes it all the more jarring. Here is the story along with a neat quick history of the Iron mine and furnace operation at Upper Works. At this point the trail turns up and slightly steepens until you come upon the Flowed Lands about 10 minutes later. You get a superb look at Colden here, and want to spend hours gazing up, but to get to the Marshall trailhead you must head left and through the tangly “witches fingers” of the trail about 20 minutes to the Lean To looking back over flowed lands. You will find a cairn marking the trail up Marshall just over the footbridge near the lean-to – it is not hard to find.

It was such a nice spot that I decided to have breakfast and relax for about a half-hour, and then began the walk up Marshall’s herd path by 10:15. The herd path on this day was dry (aside for the mud bogs near the top) and traveled along and in the brook most of the way up. It never really gets too steep and you keep a really nice, steady pace the whole way. Be sure to stop a few times short of the summit to get some views, as the views from the actual summit do not much exist, though wandering around up there still does give you some glimpses. It would have been neat to be able to see over to the entire McIntyre Range from here, but that was not to be without making an attempt over the Cold Brook Pass herd path, and I wasn’t much up for that. I was sort of looking forward to setting up camp and making a nice big meal to prepare for tomorrow’s long day.

Made the summit by about 11:30, where I stayed away from the actual peak boulder since a couple of guys were soaking in a moment there. They seemed to really be soaking it in more than most folks you encounter. It turns out that one of the gentlemen was just finishing his 45th (I think) peak, but the cool part was that he had been recovering from a major heart issue just a few years prior. He clearly worked hard to make it up the mountain on this day, and it was really cool to see how much he enjoyed being up there on a mountain that many folks put down because it does not yield gaping chasms below you or 360 degree views of all of the peaks. I still found this to be one of the most pleasant hikes of all 46 and am very much looking forward to doing it again.

After staying up there for 45 minutes or so, headed down to Flowed Lands again and tried to take some better photos of the range(s) in the background. After an uneventful walk out, with a few stops to enjoy the plants (red ones are Bunchberry which have ubiquitous dogwood like white flowers in spring and produces those berries late summer, maybe Blue Flag was the other one?) and birds and pebbled creeks, was back at the car just after 3:30pm. On the way back to the campground I decided to spend 45 minutes or so visiting the original Iron Furnace, I wholly recommend it. Enjoyed a great meal at camp and a lovely sunset over Lake Harris. Tucked into the tent a little after 8 to get ready for tomorrow’s trek up Allen.

 

Seward Range from Corey’s

From the Corey’s parking lot, decided it would be fun to hustle up to the ridge first, hit Donaldson, over to Emmons, back over Donaldson, then to Seward, drop down to the truck trail and then over to Seymour. The approach to Donaldson had wonderful footing and really did not steepen up until just below the ridge-line.

As is to be expected in the ADKs, once up top, do not be surprised to find yourself in a lot of mud. It wasn’t too bad on Donaldson, but the (quick) stroll over to Emmons was pretty sticky on this particular day. Despite there being few notable huge views up there, there is nothing quite like being on the ridge and walking, so I enjoyed it.

As you make your way back over Donaldson and onto Seward, which definitely has some views off to the East, there is a spot just south of the summit where you take a pretty deep plunge down toward the valley and East of the peak. You think you are off the trail – but you are not. From here, the climbing is very rocky and steep but actually the most fun part of the entire trip.

My mental model was that given the distance from the summit of Seward to the lean-tos and truck trail down below, I could hustle down to that point in something like an hour. Boy was I wrong. For my money, the trail heading north off the peak of Seward and down into the valley below is probably the gnarliest, garbled, wet, sticky, slow-going muck along the “formal” high peaks trails. It took me something like 2.5 hours to get down there. I can understand why so many folks who choose to do this entire range in a single day like to do it with Seymour first and then going south up the Seward ridge.

Had a nice little lunch stop at the Blueberry lean-to, and then the trail up to Seymour (marked with a cairn) was obvious. It was sort of steady going and a fun walk up. I actually quite loved the views from up here, looking back to Ampersand and the eponymous lake, which I was not able to see from up on Ampersand. The walk down and out (about 7 miles) was uneventful. I am thankful the valley was dry, as it looked like that trail could be quite the slog/sloshfest if things were wet. The day clocked in at something like 22 miles, 5,500′ of elevation and 11 hours, but it didn’t seem like it with the glaring exception of the walk off of Seward – this would be one of those treks I’d really enjoy trying in winter.

 

Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant from New Russia

Let’s try a new way to recount this … the twitter version of a trip report.

  • Inaugural Economics 238 trip
  • Wilmington Notch rain camping with Mac and Cheese, good times, and a really late and heroic late Ruth arrival, with not so much as a humblebrag about it
  • Route 9 in New Russia over Blueberry Cobbles to RPR to Giant and down
  • Oatmeal chocolate chip muffins
  • REALLY steep in early-mid part of hike to RPR
  • Perfect fall weekend and prime colors … if we could see it
  • Alex A., always smiling, had the most incredible wardrobe by the end of the hike
  • Slight separation from part of the group which included the always introspective, inquisitive and now famous Dan W.
  • Some real challenging steep climbs between RPR and Giant
  • In awful weather, still a crowded Giant summit
  • Cars spotted at each trailhead
  • Can’t wait to see this on a bluebird day in fall

Cascade and Porter

How things have changed in just a few years – since I visited, the number of people attempting and completing the 46 has exploded, and the maximum number of summits recorded for Cascade was near 700. More on this elsewhere.

Anticipating crowds due to the short distance of this hike and the exposed and broad peak and easy access trailhead, I wanted to get as early a start as possible – so I took the car to the trailhead at night and crashed uncomfortably in the back seat for a few hours. At the faintest glimmer of light, I began up the very wet and slick trail. My headlamp was not really a hiking headlamp, that would come, and the footing was really tough to get a handle on to start. Once beyond an early stream that one sort of has to walk up and through, the trail is easy to follow and in good condition.

Noted the turnoff for Porter about a quarter mile from the summit. Until this point the walk was in the trees, so the walk was pretty dark much of the way. Scampered up the quarter mile to Cascade first, wanting to see some remnant of a sunset, and hope to have some solitude on a place where one usually wouldn’t expect to find it.

The rock was great to walk on, and as I popped up top, much to my delight was alone up there, and managed a solid 30 minutes up there to take in the expansive views – and breaking my own mini-rule, took a moment to send a photo to my mom and dad, since I know they’d love the view but never really be in a place like this.

This was also the first time that I really noticed that the summit signs indicating to stay on trail and protect the alpine vegetation was also in French. I am glad the signs are there, along with the well curated rock paths that help keep you on them, though I’m sure that despite the many efforts of the summit stewards and volunteers, the rules are not always well adhered to.

With clouds rolling in, made the mile walk over to Porter, and that was really cool because it affords a wonderful view looking back at Cascade (and the many, many people that were not accumulating on it). And the summit was cool because a neat storm came rollin’ in as I was up there. Donned the rain jacket and pants, tucked everything away and sat up there while it started to come in. As soon as it started to look a little gnarly, made my way down in short otder, with lots of people still making their way up.

Looking forward to this walk again with the kids, and certainly in the winter as well.

Cascade, from Porter

Just beat the crowds

Ampersand

Or as they say it should be, “Amber Sand.” Either way, one couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of one’s face on this day! Will have to come back on a bluebird day.

Santanoni Range

Just two weeks after the Dixes, picked at the scab and bloodied the heck out of it! I happened to be staying at my parents’ house in Pittsfield, MA, and in order to be on trail early enough to be able to take my time and to be flexible in case of trail contingencies, was on the road a little after 2am. As you are all well aware, the adrenaline kicks in, especially once on trail, and that 2am doesn’t really hit you until halfway on the drive home.

Quick summary this time: first couple of miles was quick going, with exception of a very wet beaver ponded area on the way. Took the express trail up, with a little signage help, and got tangled just below summit of Santa, but made it up without much incident in 90 minutes. Don’t remember the climb being all that brutal, certainly not like the previous hikes. From just beyond Panther you get a great view of the day’s hikes, including Couchsachraga (down below!) The story of how it ended up as one of the 46 highest peaks when it was not even above 4,000 was chronicled in the Spring 2017 AdirondackPEEKS magazine, and in some older books on the high peaks.

Long story short, you read a lot about how awful the out and back to Couch is, and how muddy the bog is – but on this day there were plenty of downed trees to pick one’s way through the bog, with perhaps a few spots where you happily splash a boot down in the mud. The walk there and back is on the order of 2.5 hours. Started the hike at around 7:15am, was on the peak of Couch around 11:10am – the small peak being shared by a group of 6 or 7 of us. The views North as you hike along the ridge from Times Square to Couchie is quite pretty, and the footing was mostly good.

Made it back to the intersection and was on the summit of Panther by 12:45. The summit here has  a few steep ledges, but of course has the most sweeping views of the area – being only my second time in the ADKs I was not familiar yet with what I was looking at, especially since I was in a hurry to get out of there, but you are looking around Corey’s / Duck Hole, the Sawteeth, and more.

The trail down was the traditional non-herd path, and it runs right through a creek the entire time – but not as bad as I made it sound. Had the pleasure of meeting an older woman, in her 70s, in fantastic condition, happily hiking along on her own, with tales of wonderful hikes in both summer and winter, and a curious and engaging mind. I much enjoyed the company, surprisingly, as I usually try to keep to myself.

Was back at the car by 3:30. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have spend more time enjoying this hike, though I did, and taking the time to realize that the Santa trailhead was just seconds away from the Iron Works (very cool!), and two other important ADK High Peaks trailheads – I did not realize that at all until I came back later the next year to do those hikes. Again, just what one gets for planning this one in a hurry and rushing through it. But safely made the drive there, got up and down the place in less than 9 hours, and made my way over to Keene Valley. I really loved the Marcy Field area, so I decided to stop there to make my dinner, read my books, and then slowly make my way over to the next hike of Cascade and Porter, which I wanted to get an early start on.