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 Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette loop... 
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Peak Bagger
Peak Bagger
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Joined: Fri May 11, 2007 10:11 am
Posts: 198
Location: Grafton, New Hampshire
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 Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette loop...
Route Hiked: Up Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack, along Franconia Ridge Trail to Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette, down Greenleaf Trail to the Greenleaf Hut, and down the Old Bridle Path to the trailhead.

Date Hiked: Thursday, April 10

We hadn't hiked this classic loop for a several years but decided it was time to do it again given that we needed to record both Mts. Lincoln and Lafayette for our NH 48. The weather forecast for Thursday looked promising: partly sunny, highs in the mid-50s, and breezy. We put work on hold for the day and hit the road for Franconia Notch around 8:30. On the way north I could see that the warm temperatures of the past couple of days had melted about a third to half of the snow on the ridge that I had seen the week before -- it was going pretty fast. When we pulled into the trailhead parking lot about 40 minutes later there were only two other cars in the lot. The weather was already about 40 degrees and sunny, with a bit of a breeze. A lone hiker approached us from the paved path from the west side of the highway and we chatted with him for a bit before he started up the trail about ten minutes ahead of us. He was from a bit further north but was surprised at how much snow was still left in the Notch.

We were on the trail at 9:30.

We took the Falling Waters Trail up because we like to see the water cascades while going up the trail (rather than at the end), and we also like getting the climb done and then, all of a sudden, popping out of the trees near the ridge at Little Haystack. When we crossed Walker Brook near the intersection with the Old Bridle Path, we could see it was pretty full and moving fast -- lots of snowmelt. The bridge across the brook had a two-foot tall narrow "i-beam" of snow on it, about the width of a snowshoe.

Further along, the trail was crusty and reasonably well-packed down below, enough to support my wife and her Stabilicers without postholing. I used the base of my Denali Ascents and had no problems with grip nor flotation. Further on, though, we could see that the lone hiker (who had been wearing Stabilicers) was postholing occasionally, and sometimes pretty deep.

When we hit Dry Brook, we were in for quite a treat. The melt from the previous several days made for spectacular waterfalls all along the way. We probably added another half hour or more to the ascent because I wanted to stop every 100 feet to get another waterfall photograph. High up near where the trail splits away from the brook and the trail narrows there was quite a bit of thick ice, dripping from a large "ice cave." A look back over the Notch near here presented a view of Mt. Moosilauke set against a brilliant blue sky.

Further up the trail, before the spur for Shining Rock, we caught up with the lone hiker while he was photographing the first views of Mt. Lincoln. We stopped and chatted a bit more before he moved on. We took a quick photograph break here, as well, before heading on ourselves.

As we got closer and closer to the ridge, we could hear the wind picking up a bit -- long, loud gusts. We weren't sure what we'd be in for after we broke above treeline, but were feeling in pretty good spirits, given the warm weather, sun, and blue skies. That feeling, though, was short-lived -- about ten seconds after we hit the exposed part of the trail below Little Haystack. Here, where the trail is steeper, it was covered with a fine thick crust of ice. In addition, the wind was gusting at about 50 to 60 miles per hour. Although dressed appropriately for the trailhead, I hadn't pulled out the winter gear necessary for the ridge. (Perhaps I was hoping to will away the wind but waiting as long as possible to throw on the windbreaker, facemask, gloves and extra fleece.) I sprinted for the top and the shelter of the pile of boulders that is the summit of Little Haystack.

When I reached the top and moved out of the wind behind the boulders past the summit sign, Sandra was chatting with solo hiker. Both were now in winter garb and were talking loudly in order to be heard above the howling wind. I didn't say anything for a few moments -- my mouth was too cold to form intelligible words -- while putting on the extra layers. After warming up, I took stock of the incredible views around us: craggy ridgeline with Mt. Lincoln on the left; Owlshead and the Bonds directly in front with Crawford Notch and the Presidentials further behind them; and Mt. Liberty to the right. Wow. It's views like this -- lichen-crusted granite, set amongst outlines of snow, against the blue blue sky with nary a cloud -- that I have in my mind's eye when thinking about going hiking at this time of year. It's one of the things that keeps me coming back.

I was jarred from these thoughts when my wife mentioned that we were right near the spot where just two months before the frozen body of a hiker had been retrieved. I looked around and tried to imagine four more feet of snow hiding cairns and disorienting whiteout conditions. The Whites can really make the unprepared or imprudent pay the ultimate price.

It was noon. After a quick bite to eat and some water, we surveyed the trail along the ridge to determine what traction gear to wear. We both opted for Stabilicers because the trail was dry in most spots with a bit of slush, some occasional ice, and a foot or so of snow in other spots. Snowshoes back on the pack, gloves, facemasks, hoods and windbreakers on, we set out along the ridge. Before we did, though, we tried to convince the solo hiker to go on, too, and accompany us; he was a bit unsure given that he'd not done much winter hiking and it looked like the high winds had him spooked.

He told us to move on without him. About half of the way to Mt. Lincoln, we looked back at Little Haystack and could see that Solo Guy had taken the plunge and was headed our way. Apparently, seeing us get blown down off the trail a couple of times didn't bother him too much. Perhaps also seeing me motionless, stopped in my tracks on one of the rocks on the ascent of Lincoln didn't faze the guy, either -- he probably didn't know that I was literally pinned against a rock by the wind. No matter; all three of us ended up rendezvousing on the summit of Lincoln before he would head on to Lafayette while I was taking pictures of Lonesome Lake (still covered with snow/ice), Cannon Mountain, and the Greenleaf Hut.

Shortly before summiting Lincoln, we met up with two women who had gone to the ridge via the Old Bridle Path. They said that the rest of the trail to Mt. Lafayette was pretty uneventful (albeit windy) but that just below the Lafayette summit, the Greenleaf Trail was pretty much a sheet of ice. They said another solo hiker had been on the trail that morning but had turned back after reaching Lafayette. So, there were all of five of us still on the ridge that day enjoying the scenery and the wind.

Just shy of Lafayette, I finally came to grips with just how un-aerodynamic a form I presented that day and figured out how to walk while the wind was gusting: plant a step just to the left of where I really wanted to step so that when the wind would blow me to the right I'd step just how I wanted. Sure, it make walking slower but it kept me upright.

On Lafayette, we quickly headed to the east side of the summit where there's a bit of shelter from the wind. Beyond a thin ledge of ice, there's also a precipitous drop down the mountain there to Lincoln Brook -- so caution was in order. Time now to chow on some food and have some water, while taking a few more photographs and then heading into the wind down Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut. It was now 2:30.

We hopped down the trail, dodging slush and mud and bits of snowpack before hitting the ice sheet that we'd been warned about. It took about five minutes to pick across that, kicking steps into the sun-softened crust and using poles for balance. After another hundred yards of bare trail and rocks, we hit a couple of feet of snowpack and put our snowshoes on. There was ample evidence of barebooters having postholed, so we tried to consolidate the trail a bit as we headed toward the hut.

At the hut, we were treated to a well-deserved reprieve from the wind. In fact, it was luxurious taking a break here in the sun after removing the winter gear. Blue sky and gentle breezes and another bite to eat. We relaxed for about half an hour or so, looking up at Lafayette and comparing its relative lack of snow with the decent amount of white still on Lincoln.

Heading down the Old Bridle Path from the hut, we met up with another couple who were barebooting their way to the Lafayette summit. It was just past 4:00 pm and my wife and I hoped that these folks hadn't started out too late. We chatted with them a bit and warned them about the ice below the Lafayette summit. They took this to heart and we parted ways.

Down the trail a bit the soft snowpack was pretty chopped up from postholes. We tried to consolidate things a bit with our snowshoes but also by glissading down the steeper sections -- the snow was perfect for this (soft on top of firm icepack). Even so, there were some portions so chewed up and postholed that it took us a while to pick through them; it probably added another half hour to the descent.

At just about 5:30, we reached the trailhead. Given the hour or so we spent while I stopped to take photographs, and a bit of time here and there for chatting with other hikers, the entire hike took us about six and a half leisurely hours. As a bonus, we had also knocked off NH 48 Nos. 26 and 27 for this year.

What a great day on Franconia Ridge. Two dozen photographs can be found at the link, below.

Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:49 pm
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