Saturday was the last hike of the Winter Hiking Series, and the objective was Lincoln and Lafayette. The plan was to hike the Falling Waters/Old Bridle Path loop, which I’ve hiked before but in the fall under obviously different weather conditions.
Once we were divided into groups, we headed quickly headed up the trail to get warmed up. Soon we came to the brook and waterfalls, which were still flowing freely and not yet snowbridged or iced over. Cloudland Falls is always impressive and just beautiful at this time of year with snow covered rocks and gigantic icicles on the rocks to the left when ascending around the waterfall.
After the falls, we hiked upwards in lightly falling snow, watching it collect on our dark clothing and marveling and the perfection and beauty of the snowflakes. This was sort of snow which we could see all of the tiny snowflakes in perfect detail. After a nice break and snack at the Shining Rock spur, we prepared for the last bit of hike to the ridge. Before popping out onto the ridge, we put on the final layers of winter gear: jackets, over mitts, balaclavas and goggles. Thus prepared, we stepped out onto the ridge and seemingly onto another planet. Without any trees to block the wind, it was much colder, windier and foreign than the safety and familiarity of the forest. Not only were we definitely in the clouds, but every surface was covered in crunchy, feathery rime ice masking the familiar scree walls, cairns and other terrain features. Once the goggles and face mask were in place, communication with other group members was limited, which further emphasized the feeling of isolation.
With only my own thoughts to keep me company, and with everyone keeping focused on staying together, we set out over the ridge with the main goal being Lafayette. We moved quickly over the summit of Lincoln and with really no views or reason to stop for very long, we kept moving to Lafayette.
Passing through the last bits of scrub, I knew we were getting closer to the summit, but really had no accurate sense of how close or far we still were. Only when I could see the vague shapes of people standing on top of the rocks on the final pitch near the summit did I know we were just about there. One last little scramble up the rocks and we were on top. Still in the cloud, we were treated single digit temperatures and a moderate wind. We were there long enough for pictures and to see the group behind us summit and then regrouped to head down to the hut.
We quickly descended and coming down out of the clouds, we started to be able to see not only the hut, but down into and across Franconia Notch. At the hut, we took a longer break, but soon had to keep moving due to the cold. The trip down was uneventful and a good chance to practice using crampons in some of the iciest spots. Since the clouds were lifting we were able to get a few views across the notch and back up to the ridge we had traversed, which was a nice way to end the hike. By moving quickly, we were able to make to the parking lot right before the last light faded and didn’t even need to use headlamps.
The entire Winter Hiking Series was a good experience. I learned some new things, gained some new confidence and met a group of people who love the mountains and all that the mountains have to offer.