This week Trail Tuesday is taking you to:
The Franconia Ridge Loop
Franconia Notch State Park
White Mountain National Forest
Pemigewasset Wilderness Area
Nearest Metro area(s):
On your personal toughness scale of 1-10? Feel free to explain…
8. The total elevation gained on this hike is 3,800’. About 3,000’ of that happens in the first 2.9 miles on the Falling Waters Trail while summiting Little Haystack (4,760’). At over 1,000’ per mile the first stretch is very difficult. I would argue the rocky descent coming down the Bridal Path is just as difficult.
See any wildlife?
A really creepy spider at the top of Mount Lafayette. I shrieked before realizing other people could hear me. Then I pretended to be making fun of my friend to save face… Sadly, this isn’t the lowest point of my hiking career.
Would you recommend? (1-10) 1 being heck no and 10 being this is your new secret spot..
10. I have done a lot of hiking all over the country and abroad and this is my personal favorite. Generally
speaking, I don’t like hiking a trail more than once. I enjoy the surprise of not knowing what’s around every corner. That said the Franconia Ridge Loop has never lost its appeal. From the cascading waterfalls along the Falling Waters Trail to the 360 degree views along the ridge Line, this loop has a ton to offer. If you only have one day in New Hampshire and the weather is cooperating, I would highly recommend this hike.
The one drawback is its popularity. My advice is to go early in the morning and get ahead of the crowds. Otherwise your spiritual wilderness experience may feel more like visiting Time Square.
Trip Overview: Two friends and I are planning to hike the Presidential Traverse on the weekend of September 15th. Our attempt will be a combination of the Traverse and a 30 mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail over the course of three days. With that trip approaching quickly, we decided to do a “training hike” to see if we are anywhere near the physical condition needed to conquer the Presidentials.
Myfriends, Jordan “The Axe” Hall and Ben “The Hawk” Perkins had never hiked inthe White Mountains. The White
Mountains present a lot of challenges and I thought it was important to get them out there so they could get a sense for what they were in for. The White Mountains are hard both figuratively and literally. Aside from gaining over 1,000 of elevation per mile, the physical make up of the trails are hard and rocky. Getting to the summits will test the limits of your conditioning and strength while descending from the summits can be murder on your joints.
Side note: Jordan and Ben do not actually have cool nick names like “The Axe” and “The Hawk”…. I just always wanted to have friends with those types of nick names. Since I have taken ownership of this post and subsequent posts, I feel I can take certain creative liberties.
Getting There: The plan was to meet at the trail head at 7:30AM and try to get ahead of the crowds. Ben would be coming from Connecticut, which meant he would leave at 4AM. Jordan and I would leave from Massachusetts at 5AM.
Around 10PM the night before the hike, Ben texted me to tell me he couldn’t go. He had started a new work out regiment to prepare for the Presidential Traverse. He started having trouble with his knee a few days ago and decided to have a Doctor take a look at it before we attempted a strenuous hike. It turns out he has an inflamed bursa sack (AKA knee bursitis). He is hoping to be ok for the Traverse, but in the mean this hike would be just “The Axe” and I.
Jordan and I had taken very different approaches in preparing for The White Mountains.The night before the hike I diligently drank one pint of water per hour attempting to hydrate for the day ahead. I ate a chicken salad around 5PM, and then ate a second dinner of chicken and rice around 9:15PM. For breakfast I had cheerios, fruit, yogurt and half a cliff bar about 20 minutes before the hike started.
Jordan prepared by eating nachos and beer with a milk shake chaser the night beforethe hike. His breakfast consisted of a stop at Dunkin Donuts followed by a stopat McDonalds.
Regardless of his diet, Jordan was at my house by 5:10AM and we made to the trail head parking lot by 7:45.
Section 1: The Falling Waters Trail:
The first half of the “Falling Waters Trail” is stunning. You hike up the side of a river that cascades down the rocky mountain side. There are 3 or 4 beautiful waterfalls and dozens of photo worthy views. We had fun posing for
photos and playing near the waterfall.
After about a mile and half, the trail turns away from the river and starts to really climb. In my opinion the next mile and half is the most strenuous of the day. To this point Jordan and I had been taking it easy and having fun with the falling water. Now the hike was getting serious and I feared Jordan’s pre-hike diet would catch up to him.
We started the ascent moving fast. There was an unspoken competitiveness as we both went silent and focused on speedily hiking up the mountain. I was really happy with the way I felt. In each of my other hikes up the Falling Waters
Trail I took several breaks before reaching the summit of Little Haystack. This time I was in cruise control. To my surprise, Jordan was also in cruise control. It took Jordan about a half mile to catch his breath and get his legs under him. I really thought I was going to leave him in the dust and then have to encourage him with promises beautiful views at the top. That never occurred. If anything I was the one struggling to keep up with him. At 22, Jordan is 8 years younger than me and his youth was on full display.
3/10ths of a mile from the summit the trail forks. You can continue on the Falling Waters Trail to the summit of Haystack or you can take a 1/10th of a mile detour to Shimmering Rock. Shimmering Rock is a large open rock face w/streams of water running over it. I’m ashamed to say I had never taken the 1/10th of a mile detour. I think mentally, my goal was always to get above tree line as quickly as possible and taking the time to hike the side trail would only derail that goal. Jordan and I were way ahead of schedule and both feeling fresh so we took the side trip.
Section 2: The Franconia Ridge Line:
thousands of Acers of undisturbed wilderness. There are of course risks to being above tree line. The White Mountains are notorious for sudden and violent weather changes. My wife and I experienced this first hand on a failed attempt at summiting Mount Jefferson a few years ago. The weather in the valley was brilliant. It was in the 80’s and beautiful. We got above Tree Line and were suddenly fogged in. Next thing we knew it started to hail so much we could make
snow balls out of it. The wind picked up to over 50MPH and we could see lightning not far. After being pinned down with a small group of sidelined hikers, we saw a brief break and hastily retreated back to the trees.
Jordan and I had no concerns on this day. The weather was perfect and we had views in every direction. Because of our
early start and the quick work we made of the Falling Waters Trail, we had the summit of Little Haystack virtually to ourselves. Despite the fact that it was just after 10AM, we decided to have a quick lunch, and then push across the ridge line.
The summit of Mount Lafayette contains the scattered remains of a stone shelter known as the “Summit House” which was built in 1840’s. Due to poor weather and inaccessibility the shelter became impossible to maintain. I’m not sure if a decision was made to tear down the shelter or if they just let extreme wind batter it into submission, but all that remains is a rocky foundation which makes for a great place to sit and take in the views.
We reached the Summit of Lafayette before 12, but the crowds were beginning to pick up. We didn’t linger long and quickly made our descent to the Greenleaf Hut.
Section 3: The Old Bridal Path
Named after Colonel Charles Henry Greenleaf, the Greenleaf hut has existed since 1930. Horses used the Bridal Path to carry supplies for building the hut. The hut is self is entirely self sufficient, with a 200’ well and solar panels for
electricity. We ate and refilled our water as we looked over maps and already started to turn our focus to the Presidential Traverse.
We then made our descent down the Bridal Path. The Bridal Path is a steep and rocky trail with glorious views of ridge line. I always feel like I don’t appreciate the Bridal Path enough because I’m so focused on getting back to my car by the
time I reach that point. On this trip, I made it a point to step off the trail and take in the views.
We made it back to the car by 3:15PM. Even with our fairly long breaks and taking pictures we made very good
time. I was very happy with the way my body felt after the rigorous hike and I feel like this was a good test before the Presidential. In the next three weeks, Jordan “the Axe”, Ben “the Hawk” and I hope to get in one more practice hike, but this time with full packs.
And now for a little bit about our contributor, Kevin Orcutt:
I grew up in Connecticut and moved with my then fiancé (now wife) to the North Shore of Boston about 5 years ago. I have always loved the outdoors and have had a tremendous desire for adventure. Since the age of 18, I have taken 7 different road trips cross country and have backpacked all over the United States including the Rockies, Canyonlands and The Grand Canyon. In College, I spent 2 months backpacking Europe and took several long hikes in the Swiss
We recently welcomed our first son in into the world. His name is Nathan and he's a happy, healthy, energetic 10 month
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