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trip in Franconia

Hi all,

I've been listening in on this list for a little while and have really
enjoyed everyone's postings, especially the hike reports. I do not think my
life will be complete without a thru-hike, but I don't know when I'm going
to have the time to do it...

By way of introduction, I'll tell you about the short trip I just took this
weekend, over some of the most spectacular miles there are on the AT in the
White Mountains of NH. (I grew up hiking in the Whites so maybe I'm a
little biased).

I was taking my girlfriend hiking for the first time, so I was
understandably a little bit nervous about where to go. After much
deliberation I decided on the Franconia region. A shorter drive than the
more famous Presidentials and hopefully fewer people.

The weather was on our side -- the forecast was clear skies and sunny for
the next two days. Saturday 9/30, we started out on the Liberty Spring
trail at about 1:00, after having taken the obligatory look at NH's famous
icon, the Old Man in the Mountain, which protrudes from a cliff on Cannon
Mountain. The AT picks up the Liberty Spring trail up after crossing I-93
near Lincoln. A thru-hiker, starting this trail, has completed his or her
first big dose of steep New Hampshire granite, Mt. Moosilauke and the
Kinsman range, which lie south and west.

After 3 1/2 miles and 2000 vertical feet we were both quite happy to reach
Liberty Spring Campsite. Unfortunately there were no tent platforms left.
No problem -- the caretaker led us through fifty yards of scraggly pine to
our own very nice rock. We pitched the tent, somehow found our way back
through the scrub, filled up from the spring, and arrived at the open ledge
that has a nice view of the Kinsmans. We, along with the other twenty-odd
people that had decided to camp at Liberty on this Saturday night, watched
a beautiful sunset over Mt. Moosilauke.

We slept very well. Good thing I brought the Thermorests. Small disaster
early Sunday morning with my aged PEAK-1 stove. I pumped a little too
exuberantly and saw the dreaded "flames beneath the burner". Fortunately,
there is a provision for this situation -- it's written right on the stove.
Turn the red handle until the gas is off, which I did, to no avail. Getting
worried, I dribbled a little water which served only to fan the flames.
More worried and perhaps not thinking quite so clearly, I doused the whole
thing with ice-cold water. Well that did it. Of course I had to spend the
next two hours trying to relight the damn thing. Oh well, my girlfriend
appreciated the extra sleep.

We left most of our equipment at the site -- one nice thing about our
quasi-campsite was that we could be sure no one would take any of our stuff
-- and set out for the Franconia Ridge Trail, following the AT. After a
short quarter mile of uphill, we had reached the ridge and enjoyed a
pleasant and flat walk along it to the base of Little Haystack. We ascended
the steep, ledgy trail and emerged out of the scrub, to the rocky summit of
Little Haystack.

The Franconia Ridge, between Little Haystack and its high point at Mt.
Lafayette, is a narrow spine, all well above tree line, commanding amazing
views west to Franconia Notch and east across the vast forests of the
Pemigewasset Wilderness. It was 70 degrees or so with a perfectly clear
sky. We took our time along the ridge over Mt. Lincoln, to Lafayette.
Somewhere at the back of my mind a warning bell rang, saying we would not
make it back before sundown at our slow pace, but it was much too nice out
to hurry.

We reached the summit of Lafayette in the early afternoon. Here we stood at
the highest point for miles and miles, 5260 feet (just 7 feet shy of the
holy mountain). We could trace out the Green Mountains 80 miles to the
west, Killington all the way up to Jay Peak and beyond into Canada. The
broad mass of Mt. Washington and the Presidentials, towering 1000 ft above
us, peaked up and over the Bond range, to the north and east. The summit
buildings were easily visible and a long plume of smoke drifted up from the
Cog Railway, a hint of the pandemonium caused by the hundreds of people
that were surely there, having driven or rode or perhaps even walked up Mt.

We could see about half of the Appalachian Trail's passage through New
Hampshire, starting from behind Moosilauke, over the Kinsmans, around the
vast U we stood on top of, formed by the Franconia Ridge, Garfield Ridge,
and the Bond Range, eventually rising into the high Presidentials to the
northeast, and disappearing over the other side.

A pressing matter intruded on our contemplation of the view -- we were
getting low on water. No problem -- I would just run down the mile to the
AMC's Greenleaf Hut and fill up. My girlfriend could stay up top and take
pictures. I made it down in 15 minutes, quite pleased with my speed. Going
up back up should take just a bit longer, I thought. Of course I was
forgetting that 1200 vertical feet is much worse going up than down. After
the longest forty minutes I can remember for quite some time, I reached the
summit ready to pass out. I also discovered I was completely ravenous
though I had just had a snack an hour ago. Four brownies, an apple, two
large turkey sandwiches, and one amused (and slightly concerned) girlfriend
later, I was well recovered and ready for the trek down.

Though the warning bell in my head was beginning to sound somewhat louder,
I still could not bring myself to rush the 3.8 miles back to the Liberty
Spring camp. For one thing, it was late enough so that we pretty much had
the whole ridge to ourselves, though that morning it had been a freeway.
The sun was lower in the sky and the mountains all around us revealed their
contours in detail as shadows began to form. Back at Haystack, we
reluctantly bid goodbye to the panorama and descended into the forest.

After packing up with amazing speed, we were ready to go at 6:00 PM. No
problem. Plenty of light. Before we knew it, the sun had set and we hiked
the last half mile in darkness, with many stubbed toes. I gave thanks that
we were on the Appalachian Trail. There is nothing more reassuring to shine
your flashlight on than a big white blaze.

There was the additional problem of getting back to the car, which was a
mile away via a side trail. Headlights and asphault looked comforting,
though, so we just walked on the highway. We completed our hike in the
traditional way -- by consuming large quantities of grease at McDonald's.

-- Harry

Harry Stern
Fishberg Research Center for Neurobiology
Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York, NY