Like every hike I talk about on my blog, Jill and I had been wanting to traverse the northern portion of the Franconia Ridge for quite some time. It is one of those hikes that we felt would take us a while, longer than it would take the average hiker. For that reason, it was important that we picked a day that we didn't have to worry about getting home to feed Hank and Lily (our two pugs), as well as take them out. So, we picked the first day of our vacation, which was Thursday, September 2nd (also our wedding anniversary). We obviously already had a dog sitter lined up for Hank and Lily, and heading to our reserved inn after the hike was a much shorter drive than heading home.
The days leading up to this hike were a bit worrisome for me. First, I had heard that Hurricane Earl was going to blow in that evening. This soon changed, and the time line in which the mighty Earl would hit, pushed out. Of course, we all know that Earl was a dud anyway. Now that Earl was out of the picture, the weather started to look a bit ugly. Not from a rainy or cloudy perspective, but the opposite. It was supposed to be hot, humid and hazy. I'm not a big fan of hiking when it is hot and humid...and haziness is never a plus for visibility. In my opinion, a 90 degree daytime temperature with high humidity is torture on the trail. Humidity makes me feel ill for some reason and I always feel overheated. However, Jill made a good point, that we should give it a try and at worst, we turn around. Her words of advice were exactly what I needed to change my attitude and from that point on, I was an optimist.
Our route was similar to most who climb the northern portion of the Franconia Ridge. We would ascend up the Falling Waters Trail to summit Little Haystack Mountain. From there, we would head north over the Franconia Ridge Trail to summit Mount Lincoln. From Mount Lincoln, we would continue on over Truman Peak to the summit of Mount Lafayette. We would then descend down the Greenleaf Trail to the Greenleaf Hut. We would make our final descent to the trailhead via the popular and well known, Old Bridle Path. It is approximately an 8.9 mile loop, with about 2 miles residing above treeline in an Alpine Zone environment. For those of you who know Jill and I, 8.9 miles is a long hike by our day hiking standards.
Jill and I started on our journey at 8am sharp and found the first portion of the Falling Waters Trail delightful. One after another, the waterfalls continued to present themselves, each with their own uniqueness and beauty. These falls, against the backdrop of eroded, jagged ledges, made this trail one of my favorites in New Hampshire. As the AMC White Mountain Guide promised, the trail pulled away from Dry Brook and climbed steeply through a series of switchbacks and then straight to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain. It was great being above treeline. As Jill and I sat at 4,760 feet eating our peanut butter sandwiches, we were amazed at the views. For the first time ever, we had great views of the Cannon Mountain ledges, the Greenleaf Hut in the distance, and probably most fascinating of all...Owl's Head and the Bonds to the east.
Near the summit of Mount Lincoln, looking back at Little Haystack Mountain, Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume (R to L)
After admiring a small, lonely Glabrous Sandwort (small yellow and white flower) which was growing out of the crack rock of the summit next to me, we packed up and headed north. The Franconia Ridge Trail was phenomenal. As you walk, it's easy to trip on rocks or find yourself veering off the trail by accident (I know this is bad due to the vegetation) because you're constantly looking around, checking out the scenery. In short time, Jill and I made it to the summit of Mount Lincoln and were not disappointed. At 5,089 feet, we got our first look at the mighty Mount Lafayette. Since we were on the summit with minimal traffic (because it was Thursday), we set the timer on the camera and took a summit shot before heading out.
At this point, our little day hiker legs were starting to get tired and Mount Lafayette seemed so far away. But our determination to tackle the final peak drove us forward. Heading down the Franconia Ridge Trail, we skipped over Truman Peak (5,020 ft) and started up the slopes of Lafayette. To the left, we had great views down the slopes into Walker Ravine and to the right, we saw an awesome slide which scarred the southeast slope. As Jill and I took a few final steps to the rocky summit of Mount Lafayette, some gray clouds rolled in which made the sky look very dramatic. We found the geographical marker and took our traditional summit shot. We spent a good 30 minutes on the summit enjoying the breeze and soaking in the beauty. At about that point, we took one last deep breath of White Mountain air, and headed down the Greenleaf Trail toward the AMC hut.
The trail down to the Greenleaf Hut was a bit rough and seemed to take a very long time. I believe the reason it seemed so long was due the high temperatures and the lack of a breeze below the summit, as well as the fact that we were already pretty tired. When we finally got to the hut, I was pretty excited. This is because I had never seen one of these famous huts before and I finally felt like a true hiker, being able to stop off at one of these checkpoints. Walking in the hut was great. I was immediately surprised at how nice it was and how good the food smelled. The kitchen was well stocked and hiking equipment was readily available. Jill and I decided to chill on the back porch overlooking Eagle Lakes, just below the Lafayette summit. We refueled and made sure we were comfortable with the amount of water we had left.
After resting, we certainly felt a bit more energized and picked our journey back up on the Old Bridle Path. Now, this was a trail that I had been excited to try. Everyone I know who has trekked this trail says it is great. Well, let me tell you...our legs were a bit shaky due to being tired and the first portion of this trail is rough and steep in places. There is even one portion that I had to slide down on my butt. At about the half way point, we got an unbelievable view of Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette and it was easy to make out our entire root. It seemed so enormous and we were certainly proud. I tried to capture this great view with a picture, but could not because it was too wide for my lens.
With a few more miles left, we continued on and the trail did get a bit easier. With only 0.3 miles left, Jill took on the first injury. She slipped on a root and scraped her knee. I was obviously upset that she was hurt but was secretly excited that I finally got to use me first aid kit. Jill criticizes me all the time for being "Mr. Over-prepared", but not at that moment. If not for my band-aids, she may have got a little blood on her new hiking pants!
This was one of my favorite hikes. When I think of why, I'm pretty sure it is because we did a lot of things for the first time. It was the first time we ever spent our anniversary hiking. I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend the day with my beautiful wife. It was the first time we had ever hiked in the Franconia Region. It was beautiful and I can't wait to go back and try another mountain in the Franconia Notch. It was the first time we passed through an AMC Hut. Like I said above, this made me feel like I graduated from hiking school! Finally, it's the first time we have tackled three mountains in one loop, all of which were over 4,000 feet (even though only two count on the list, but who's counting). We were certainly tired and sore when we got back to the car, but it was well worth it. Our anniversary this year, September 2nd, was our Day of Firsts!