August 21, 2016-
I spent the week leading up to today anxiously trying to choose a “something good” to hike. It’s always an indecisive internal struggle! My initial thought was to go with a WCM (Wildcat, Carter, Moriah) traverse. However, timing and the 3+ hour drive one-way would have meant leaving my house at midnight and starting the hike at 3AM… That’s a death march! Instead, I went with the old faithful fallback plan… Franconia Ridge. It’s trail heads are the shortest ride from my house in Massachusetts. Just a straight shot up I-93 North I can get there in an hour and 40 minutes. A friend of mine, Ed decided to join in on today’s adventures. Ed had just recently thru hiked 1200 or so miles on the Appalachian Trail!
I’ve been on Franconia Ridge several times in several different seasons in trip lengths. Today we planned for a middle of the road 13.5 Mile traverse. By ascending Mt. Flume first via the Flume Slide Trail and descending Mt. Lafayette’s northern side via the less popular Skookumchuck trail. I was excited to see the Skookumchuck trail as it’s one of the few in the area I’ve never been down before. Franconia Ridge is a super popular area in the White Mountains… for this reason we decided to start our hike early. Feet on the trail by 5:45AM!
I met Ed at the Skookumchuck Trailhead where we’d be finishing our hike. We left a car behind and drove back to the Basin Parking area where we’d be starting our day. The weather was less than ideal this morning with Fog, intermittent rain, and gusty winds. Temperatures in the high 50’s / low 60’s made for a brisk start!
The sun was just starting to rise when we arrived at the Basin parking lot off of 93N. The lot was empty and quiet. We started down the paved bike path towards Liberty Springs trail head. About 6/10 of a mile later we arrived at Liberty Springs trail. We’d only be staying on the easy flat parts of Liberty Springs trail for 4/10 of a mile before spurring off towards Mt. Flume on the Flume Slide Trail.
Flume Slide Trail
We started up the Flume Slide trail with a strong pace. The lower sections of Flume Slide are relatively gradual with good footing. The scenery is beautiful in the woods.
Soon our pace would slow to a crawl as we made our way up the steep slab sections of Flume Slide. The mist and rain made navigating this part particularly interesting. Wet slabs can get incredibly slippery, we were careful on our foot placement.
About 3 Miles later we popped out at the top of the flume slide trail. The weather was even worse now. The rain started to trickle down and the mist was thick enough to wet all of our clothes out. We could hear the winds howling over Mt. Flumes ledges that were just around the corner.
The approach to the summit of Mt. Flume was eerie. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see Ed just a few feet in front of me. The wind was gusty and howling. Everything was wet.
We got to the summit in a little under 2 hours and didn’t spend much time “taking in views” because… well… there weren’t any to be had.
At this point I grew concerned that today was going to turn into a “Suck Fest”. If the weather was bad here… it could only get worse up on the exposed sections of Franconia Ridge ahead.
We trucked on, back into the shelter of the trees towards Mount Liberty. I really enjoy this part of Franconia Ridge… even if it is in the trees.
About 30 minutes later (2:30 elapsed) we climbed the final short scramble to the summit of Mount Liberty.
Again… no views. Weather still wasn’t great… without much hesitation we continued on.
While not a true “4000 footer” Little Haystack is still an amazing above-treeline peak that offers incredible views in all directions… On a good day. Ed and I talked about how bad it might suck above treeline when we finally get there. Given the current weather conditions, we weren’t optimistic of getting any views.
The climb up to Little Haystack is moderate. The trees started to become less dense, and the wind started to cut through. This meant we were starting to get above treeline on the long exposed part of Franconia Ridge.
We approached the summit of Little Haystack while still cloaked in fog. It didn’t matter though, the wind was mild enough and the ambient temperature started to rise with the morning sun. We stopped at the summit for a couple of minutes and moved on.
This is where the Falling Waters trail intersects the Franconia Ridge trail. Falling Waters is one of the most popular trails in the white mountains. Ed and I were nervous this would mean large crowds of people would join us for the “best part” of the ridge. Luckily, the nasty morning weather had deterred everyone and we had the ridge nearly to ourselves.
That’s When Everything Changed!
As we continued to hike towards Mt Lincoln a single beam of sunlight cut through the clouds. Ed pointed up and said “Look! It’s Blue Sky!”. Moments later, the clouds started to pull apart like fluffy cotton candy right before our eyes. The valley below was churning out fog like a party fog machine. Everything was changing so fast.
Watching this unravel was incredible. This is why the White Mountains are so amazing. Epic dramatic weather shifts like this is what hikers like us live for.
Amazing Lenticular clouds had formed over several of the higher peaks in the area… it was quite a sight.
Ed and I stopped in our tracks to watch in awe as the weather unfolded. The sun was shining bright now, we popped on our sunglasses, took about 1000 pictures and continued on towards Mt. Lincoln.
The trail drops some elevation after Little Haystack and scrambles over some short rocky scramble sections on Franconia ridge. For the most part the trail is pretty easy, gradual, and well marked here. This section of Franconia Ridge is incredible. It was hard for me to keep hiking without taking 1000 pictures, It never gets old!
Soon we were standing on top of Mt Lincoln.
We didn’t spend much time on Lincoln, we continued on towards the tallest mountain in the range. Mount Lafayette.
After Mount Lincoln the trail drops elevation again and even enters a scrubby short section of trees for a bit.
The climb up the southern side of Mount Lafayette is fun and strenuous at the same time. Lafayette is notorious for letting you think you’re near the top… when you’re actually not.
At 4 Hours 30 Minutes elapsed we topped out at the summit of Mt. Lafayette. This marked my 4th time on top of Lafayette. The wind had picked up and was gusting pretty hard now.
Up here, there were a lot more people than we saw on the ridge. This is also where another very popular trail, the Old Bridle Path terminates.
We took in the views for a few minutes, had a snack and continued on.
The Skookumchuck Trail
Probably one of the more ridiculous trail names in the White Mountains… the Skookumchuck trail descends from the northern side of Lafayette. This trail is a far less popular route up to the summit of Mt. Lafayette.
We took in our last views while descending the northern face of Mt. Lafayette. Still beautiful out! however the wind was howling, enough to push us over at some points.
We spurred off onto the Skookumchuck trail and continued down into the trees.
The Skookumchuck trail is beautiful in its own way, it flows through open forest and mossy areas. The trail floor is spongey and soft… this made picking up our pace a breeze!
We were trucking now, moving at a 3MPH pace.
In what seemed like a relatively short amount of time, we popped out at the Skookumchuck trail head parking area where we had left Ed’s car earlier in the day.
Summary And GPS Track
In total we hiked 13.5 Miles and 5,750 Feet in elevation gain over four of New Hampshires 4000 footers. A Solid day in my book! This hike took us 6 Hours and 17 Minutes including breaks.
Franconia Ridge is one of those hikes you can do several times and never get bored of. It’s an amazing place on the exposed portion of the ridge. Hard to remember that you’re less than 2 hours from Massachusetts! I’ll be back again and again!