With this winter’s perfect weather windows being far and few between, Thursday looked to be a good day, by all the weather forecasters. A few emails later, and I even had a partner for the day. This was to be a carpool special, so keeping track of the time would be really important.
I arrived at Lafayette Place, happy that all the summits with the exception of Lafayette, which was still draped in a small cloud, were in the clear. You know there is potential for a good day if the summits of the Franconia Ridge are in the clear! After a quick discussion regarding traction (this is always a challenge – to make sure you have the right gear, but not carry too much gear that won’t get used), we decided to wear snowshoes and carry other traction. Then it was time for the hike up. I wasn’t really looking forward to this part – I do like hiking and yes, half of it is uphill, but since I’d come down Old Bridal Path several times, I knew that hiking up it would be the toughest part of the day, and possibly the longest. The first sections weren’t too bad, and then the steeper stuff came, along with enough snow that I would have probably expended much more energy hiking it in than just wearing the snowshoes. I have to thank my partner for the wisdom of wearing the snowshoes. Up and up we went, past the viewpoints and then up the first Agony. There is a reason the ridge is called Agony Ridge – it isn’t easy! Soon though, we saw the quarter mile sign to the hut, and I was happy for that. It took us two hours to reach the hut, and I was really pleased with that time – slow, but not too slow. I was hoping for 3 to 3 1/2 hours to the summit, so we were pretty much right on track (remember, I’ve got kids to pick up in Concord). After a nice break and refueling, it was time for the last section to the summit. Meanwhile, the small cloud over the summit of Lafayette had lifted and the summit was in the clear.
Leaving the hut and starting the last ascent, was where it really got tough for me, for some reason my quads decided to cramp. Not sure what the problem was – I’d never had that happen before! So, we stopped right before breaking out of treeline so that I could eat another snack, hopefully one that would help me out (which, thankfully, it did!). I felt like progress was really slow, but I also knew that every step brought us closer to the summit. Breaking out of the scrub, we were treated to fantastic views all around and very little to no wind! That was the biggest blessing, as we were expecting some wind. At least on all the breather breaks we were able to enjoy the scenery without having to try to stand upright. Finally, on the last small bit to the summit, I saw the sign and knew we’d made it. Three hours! I was elated. Right on track, and from here, I knew the rest would be easier and I might even be able to stop at home and get cleaned up before picking up the kids.
We took a nice break at the summit, changed out from snowshoes to some light traction and then continued along the ridge. There really wasn’t enough snow on the ridge to merit all the clattering and awkward footing that the snowshoes would inevitably provide, so light traction was ideal. We could have hiked it faster, but it would have been a shame to waste such a beautiful day above treeline by scurrying across the ridge like small prey being hunted by a large cat.
One by one, we made it over the summits of Lincoln, then Little Haystack, and then came to the exit from the ridge, down Falling Waters. There was more snow down Falling Waters, but it was enjoyable and a nice cushion as we picked up the pace a bit. The landmarks of Falling Waters came quickly and soon we were making the first stream crossing on an ice/snow bridge. Continuing downward, we came to one crossing after another and the waterfalls. At this point, there are gigantic curtains of icicles and frozen ice falls where Cloudland Falls is. In Cloudland Falls, we could hear the water flowing behind the sheets of ice and in a few places, there was some thin clear ice, much like a window, where we could see the water flowing underneath. While we had to watch our footing near the falls and the crossing, it was still a treat to see all the ice.
Down, down, down, we went on such a beautiful day. The woods were quiet and blanketed with snow sparkling in the sunlight. Soon the footbridge came into sight and the hike was almost over. Back at the cars earlier than we thought, it was agreed that overall, we’d had a great day. Gaining the ridge was definitely the hardest part of the day for me, but once there, it was like all of the trouble to get there melted away, enhanced the blessing of being surrounded by some dramatic winter scenery.
Special thanks to Greg YEAH! for another great hike. I owe you a block of cheese.