Monday, August 25, 2014

Franconia Notch Onward

Even though Franconia Notch is a tourist center, I enjoyed my stay in North Woodstock and it's sister town Lincoln. Found a good coffee shop and a decent Thai restuarant so all was good. The Pemi River adds to the beauty of the notch with it's crystal clear water and flumes.

After taking a day off to rest my aching knees, I ascended the Liberty Springs Trail (AT) on Monday morning (8/18). Although it's a steep climb the trail is pretty well-graded so it's not too bad (plus there's a drink of delicious White Mt water waiting at the spring).

From there I finished the climb onto Franconia Ridge, one of the most popular and dramatic areas of the Whites. It's crowned by Mt Lafayette, at over 5000' the tallest peak in this area of the park. Almost as dramatic as the peak is the entire ridge walk which goes above treeline and follows a narrow spine of rock at the summits.
Looking south to Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume

Looking west across the notch to Cannon cliffs
View of Mt Lincoln from the south

The AT following the rock spine of the ridge
The day had started off promising, with sunshine and mild temps so I had an awesome view on the way up. But one characteristic of the Whites is how rapidly and unpredictably the weather can change. By the time I summited Lafayette, clouds and fog rolled in, the temps dropped about 20ยบ and the wind picked up to 40mph. I was much disappointed by white out on the peak.
 Hiking conditions grew increasingly tougher and I struggled to make the Mt Garfield tentsite, logging only 10 trail miles that day.

Just as quickly as the weather deteriorated on Monday, things reversed into a gorgeous morning Tuesday. I hiked past another hut (Galehead) and steeply up South Twin mountain for my first grand view of the Presidential Range to the northeast.
Mt Washington from the SW, shrouded in clouds

Franconia Ridge from South Twin
Fortunately, with decent weather and somewhat smooth trail I was able to hike pretty quickly (for me) past Mt Guyot and to Mt Zealand. I had planned to go further but still struggled to get my trail legs (Garfield and S. Twin took it out of me). So rather than push it, I decided to stop early and investigate work-for-stay at the Zealand Falls hut (more on the huts later). Fortunately, I was first in and got a spot. The hut is tucked away in a crease next to a impressive cascade.

Zealand Falls
 I sure am glad I didn't miss that experience. I got to hang out with several other thru-hikers (2 Sobos, 2 Nobos), have fun with the crew and dine on leftovers. Probably even better, I took time to appreciate the really special beauty of the Zealand Falls area and the Whites in general. I could see the Milky Way at night and saw Venus and Jupiter rising with a crescent moon before dawn.
Mt Zealand (notice small white speck to right--the hut)
Fortunately, the hike out the next day on the Ethan Pond Trail was easy all the way down to Crawford Notch. I needed a little confidence booster. Down at the notch was some trail magic and an eager bunch of hiker recipients. One of the cool things about this hike is that I'm somewhere in the bubble of northbound thru-hikers so I've met a lot of excellent people.

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