Winter is truly upon us and the past two weeks have been quite a mixed bag weather-wise! We’ve had several large snowstorms and now the temperatures are heading into spring-like numbers. When Wild Bill mentioned in an email that Saturday looked like a good day to be above treeline for Lafayette and Lincoln, I was in. Well, after checking with the family, I was in.
The weather for this hike promised to be much nicer than the weather for the last hike I’d done, which was a trip to North and South Twin, plus Galehead which was foggy and soggy. The highlights of that hike was the excellent company I had and a few good glissades down South Twin. With that in my rearview mirror, I was anticipating a much nicer day on the Franconia Ridge, sunny but windy.
I got to the trailhead early, hoping for a spot in the main lot at the Old Bridle Path/Falling Waters trailhead. Parking seems to be at a premium these days and in the winter the lots seem to shrink a bit with the mounds of plowed snow hanging around. Wild Bill, of course, was already there, so we chatted and waited for the rest of the group to show up. Today we had the pleasure of hiking with J&J, and Jeb Bradley and Karen.
Appropriately suited up in snowshoes, we headed up the trail and took a left onto Old Bridle Path. We headed up with a very relaxed and steady pace and soon we came to outlooks from the Agonies and were surprised to be there so soon. We were just enjoying the trek and were now being rewarded with views.
Even better, in the Agonies section we hiked through forested sections of heavily snow-laden trees, and it was like hiking through a winter wonderland tunnel. Not much later, we popped out of the trees at Greenleaf Hut, ready for a break and a little extra gear before heading up out of the trees and scrub to the bare summit cone of Lafayette.
We took our time, enjoying the sunshine and the ever expanding views – even the wind wasn’t too bad at this point. Due to the amount of snow, we had a few deviations from the original trail. That’s not unusual in the winter, when with heavy snowpack, even the largest cairns can become buried or obscured with rime ice. The most notable deviation was in the area where the trail takes a right around a rock formation. We opted to follow the tracks of previous hikers and just hiked straight up. From there it was pretty simple heading straight up to the summit.
The summit of course, was windblown packed snow and rimed over – but the views were excellent in all directions. The winds weren’t too bad, either, Wild Bill reported steady 25-30mph, with gusts in the 40-50mph range. We definitely felt the one at 50mph! Thankfully, it was a warm day with temps in the upper 20’s and lower 30’s, so the wind chill was not low and the hiking was actually enjoyable. We didn’t hang out too long, and started across the ridge.
The ridge was fantastic as always, but different with a snowpack. Many of the usual features were buried, but we stayed mostly on trail and continued across Truman, Lincoln and then to Haystack. Haystack was our exit point from the ridge, down the Falling Waters trail to complete the loop.
The Falling Waters Trail can be hard to find from the top – with a high snow pack, the scrub all looks the same, and the trail is in there somewhere. Careful checking of visible clues of tracks if there is enough visibility should be enough to find the trail. In low visibility conditions (fog, whiteouts, darkness), map and compass with bearing already noted (that part can be easily done at home), or GPS can be incredibly helpful in finding the right way down through the scrub and down the trail. Today we had none of those problems, so off we went to start the descent.
The descent was warm! Out of the wind, the sun heated up the forest and not only was the trail soft, but the trees were dropping all the snow off of them and onto us. A pack cover and jacket with hood took care of that problem, but it was still a surprise to get hit on the head every once in a while with a chunk of snow! Snowshoes, also, were a big help not to sink in the really soft and deep snow – it was certainly less work and stress just to shuffle along in the snowshoes without having to worry about sinking up to the thigh or deeper with every step.
Although Falling Waters is known for waterfalls and streams, it was not that way today, everything was buried under the snow, which was a different way to enjoy those features. Soon enough, we all made it back to the parking lot and the end of another great hike above treeline.
Special thanks to Wild Bill, J&J, Jeb and Karen for letting me share the day with you!