Cannon cliffs viewed from the road.
As a last minute decision on Saturday November 14th I decided to go for Cannon Mountain. This would make #46 in my quest to complete all 48 4000+ footers in New Hampshire. After doing a little research it appeared this would be a relatively short trip. So I decided to spice it up a bit and add some mileage since my car ride is 4 hours round trip… I hate to drive more than I’m hiking!
I had been talking with a new friend, Nate who decided he’d like to join in. Our plan was to head up Cannon first, then over the Cannon Balls to North and South Kinsman. Then descend back down past Lonesome Lake creating a large 13+ mile loop with a little under 5000 feet in elevation gain. We’d summit three “official” 4000+ footers and North East Cannon Ball which is part of New England’s 100 Highest list! These notoriously rugged trails would surely provide a burly long day hike!
Forecast for the day from Mountain-Forecast.com
Today’s Forecast was calling for light snow, 35MPH winds, and temperatures in the teens with a windchill below zero. This meant we needed to pack for “winter conditions” including face protection, layers, traction devices, and some emergency gear.
Starting out on Lonesome Lake Trail
We met at Lafayette Campground at 9:15AM. From the parking lot we could hear the wind whipping off of the summit. We started down Lonesome Lake trail at a pretty quick pace. This section of Lonesome Lake trail is heavily traveled due to an AMC hut that resides next to the lake. Many hikers opt to stay here to make an overnight trip out of the Kinsmans. We bare booted up the trail as there was only a dusting of snow on the ground at this point.
After about 1.2 miles we met up with the Hi-Cannon trail junction. Hi-Cannon trail is far less traveled as it is notorious for it’s steep rugged terrain. Our paced slowed a little here as the trail climbed steeply over boulders and through scrambles. About 1/4 mile into the trail we ran across cascades of ice covered rocks, this is where we put on our Micro Spikes for added traction.
A little further into the trail there’s a section of man made ladders that cover a steep rock scramble. The ladders do their job, but I can’t help but wonder if they’re necessary. Seems like it might be kind of fun to climb up the rocks underneath them!
Hi-Cannon trail offers some spectacular views from it’s ledges. Unfortunately today the clouds descended and blocked most of our views. At lower elevations we were fortunate enough to get some glimpses towards Franconia Ridge and Down towards Lonesome Lake.
After about 1.2 Miles Hi-Cannon Trail meets up with Kinsman Ridge trail.
At the Junction of Hi-Cannon and Kinsman Ridge Trail there’s a short spur trail less than 1/2 a mile that leads up to Cannon Mountains Summit. Along the way there are viewpoints from ledges… today we didn’t have much to see. Just lots of gray fog!
By 11:05AM we hit the top of Cannon Mountain. It’s summit is marked by a large observation tower. The observation tower protrudes above the trees and is exposed to the elements. As we climbed to the top the wind began to intensify. The platform at the top was encased in rime ice and snow. The wind was howling enough to give us a little adrenaline boost!
That’s #46 in the books! Only 2 more to go.
The Cannon Balls
We descended back down the observation deck after a few minutes and warmed ourselves back up from the windchill. Now it was time to truck on down Kinsman Ridge trail towards the Cannon Balls.
The Cannon Balls are a series of small mountains that mike up a ridge just south of Cannon Mountain. One of these peaks, North East Cannon Ball qualifies as one of “New Englands 100 Highest” peaks. The section of Kinsman Ridge trail that climbs up North East Cannon Ball would prove to be the hardest part of the day.
As we ascended the trail got incrementally more rugged. Large boulders, scrambles, icy cascades, and long ice covered steep slabs make up this portion of the trail. Nate took point here and was maintaining a fast pace given the terrain!
Soon enough we reached the summit of NE Cannon Ball. The summit is marked by a small rock pile that’s easy to miss. Gotta keep your eyes peeled.
Kinsman Pond Shelter
After NE Cannon Ball we continued on Kinsman Ridge trail which weaves around the other two Cannon Ball Peaks. The trail becomes less intense during this section but becomes relatively steep when descending down towards Kinsman Pond Shelter. I forgot to take a picture of the shelter… doh!
Kinsman Pond Shelter is located just off of Kinsman Ridge trail via a short spur trail. Kinsman Pond Shelter is made up of a basic log cabin shelter with an open front along with a handful of tent platforms. Today there was a boy scout troop setting up camp in the shelter with about 12 people…. it was tight! We stopped here and had a quick lunch while making conversation with the scouts. After about 10 minutes we moved on to the next 4000+ footer.
Kinsman Mountain North Peak
Now back on Kinsman Ridge trail we continued towards Kinsman North Peak. Within 4/10th’s of a mile we made it to the top. The summit on North Kinsman isn’t marked and it’s easy to miss. It’s marked by a large erratic boulder (if you scramble up the boulder you can get somewhat of a view).
Kinsman Mountain South Peak
Now onto the final peak of the day, Kinsman South peak. The trail drops elevation once again into a valley between the two Kinsman’s. Then gradually climbs back up South Kinsman. The trail is fairly mild but after a long day my legs were feeling the burn. A few icy slab rocks to climb over. Within a mile we made it to the summit of South Kinsman. This was my second time here… neither time did I get a view! Socked in and gray.
The wind’s on South Kinsman picked up a bit but were still bearable. The snow was deeper here and the temperature was much colder than the other peaks.
The summit of South Kinsman is marked by a large Cairn in the center of the exposed rock area.
After we snapped our pictures and enjoyed the lack of the view we trucked on. This was the only “non-loop” part of the loop… we needed to backtrack over the North Peak to get back to the Fishin’ Jimmy trail junction.
Fishin’ Jimmy trail
We decided to take the Fishin’ Jimmy trail back down the mountain. This trail begins gradual but does have quite a bit of water present due to being near Kinsman Pond’s Run off stream. Since it was cold this formed lots of icy sections. The trail seemed to roll up and down quite a bit before leveling out. We bumped into a couple of hikers here who did not have MicroSpikes and seemed pretty disheartened by their lack of traction… I hope they made it to the top!
After 2 miles Lonesome Lake came into view through the trees. It was a welcome sight.
Lonesome Lake Hut
Lonesome Lake is a remote water source located at 2700 feet adjacent to the Kinsman’s. This beautiful area is also home to AMC run Lonesome Lake Hut. This hut is very popular since it’s fairly close to the road and only requires a 1.5 mile hike to get to. Today the hut was PACKED! I’ve never seen so many people jammed into a hut like this.
Needless to say Nate and I decided to refill our water and move on relatively quickly.
Lonesome Lake Trail on the way out
The final stretch of Lonesome lake trail is a mild 1.5 miles. We decided to wrap around the western side of the lake which features a series of bog bridges that run over the marsh area. This area is beautiful and it was nice to look back up at the Kinsman’s and Cannonballs as we headed back into the trees.
Once past the lake, the trail is wide, gradual, and highly packed down. We ended up putting our MicroSpikes back on here as things became slick even though it wasn’t terribly steep.
At about 4:30PM we popped back out of the woods into the Lafayette campground parking lot. This completed our trek in about 7 hours and 30 minutes.
Today was great, Nate and I had a fantastic time! It was a fun day in the woods despite not getting epic views on the higher summits. I got to bag Cannon for #46 and add another epic day hike to my list of unforgettable experiences. These wintry days have me excited to see what’s in store for the next few months of winter!