Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mt. Lincoln to Lafayette Loop Hike

Saturday, July 21, 2012. Judy and I arrived the day before at the Lafayette Place Campground in Lincoln, NH to spend a long weekend camping and hiking. This was the first time for us as a couple to engage in this type of activity. After agreeing on the placements of the tent, picnic table, screen room, and car relative to the road and fire pit, we assembled the camp, together. It was nice to stand back and feel relieved to find that we’d done it without any arguing, fighting or carrying on. It was a good omen and the rest of the weekend went by like a perfect summer’s breeze, as well.

 In the morning we set out to walk the Mt. Lincoln to Mt. Lafayette loop, 8.9 miles of the Franconia Range, with a total elevation of 3,900 feet. By the end of the day we’d actually climbed over and walked the ridges between three mountains – Mt. Haystack, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette and stopped in the Greenleaf Hut on the way down for a bit of rest and refreshment.  I even bought a t-shirt.

 It was just after 9 a.m. when we walked out of the campground, through the tunnel under the highway and up to the trailhead. We headed up the path and, at the intersection of the Bridle Path trail and the Falling Waters trail, came to a decision whether to go up the former, making a clockwise loop or taking the latter and making a counter-clockwise loop. People I work with and some others I’d spoken to felt it was better to descend Falling Waters trail; now that I’ve done the hike, I think people like going up the Bridle Path trail and stopping at the Greenleaf Hut on the way to the top of Lafayette because then the action is up front. There’s a sooner sense of reward from the initial effort and an emotional boost to continue.

 My reference book, The 4,000 Footers of the White Mountains, recommended ascending the Falling Waters trail. I believe the more important part of making the decision on which trail to go up, really, was which trail at the end of the day, when you’re really tired, is considered to be more difficult to go down. In hindsight, I am not sure which trail was harder, but we decided to go with the book.

 Falling Waters trail was pretty steep from the get go and we ascended through a hardwood forest along side of a number of really pretty waterfalls. Some were smaller, others larger but they were all really cool to see. At one point the route went up a stone staircase; we just went up and up. When we finally got above the tree line and got to the top of Mt. Haystack, the views were magnificent. Visibility was over 50 miles and it seemed like we could see forever.

 As we looked north, we could see the ridge trail that would take us to Mt. Lincoln and ultimately to Mt. Lafayette. Walking along the ridge was an incredible experience. The path was about four feet wide and most of it was lined with stones. As we were in an alpine zone with really fragile vegetation, the intent was to keep hikers on the trail. On either side of us the mountain fell away and in front of us the trail extended onward. A slight breeze cooled us as we walked, a cerulean sky above us dotted with cumulus clouds gave us the feeling we were walking on top of the world.

 Looking to the right we saw the Pemigewasset Wilderness and the peaks of the Bonds; to the left we saw Lonesome Lake and the sheer edge of Cannon Mountain and it’s ski slopes. We reached Mt. Lincoln and stopped to eat lunch. Looking around, I took in the others walking the ridge. I saw we were in an international mix of people. I saw separate groups of Japanese and Chinese hikers; a group of French-speaking women passed us as did another group of men speaking exclusively German. Everyone was friendly and we were all inspired and awed by the views.

 As we walked along, we could see the gray boulders of the top of the ridge give way on either side to sloping forests, the flanks of which looked like undulating deep green waves. We then hiked over to Mt. Lafayette; again walking along a ridge that I could have walked along forever it was so beautiful.

 At the top of Mt. Lafayette we were among a whole bunch of people. In fact, it felt crowded at the top. However, people were friendly and everyone was smiling and looking out over the range. We met a girl waiting for her father to make it to the top; barefoot hikers who denied problems hiking that way; and, people who were probably marginally fit for the hike but had made it to the top, anyway. We also ran across hikers who were heading up to Mt. Garfield.

 Looking at the next segment of our hike, we could see way off in the distance, about half way down the mountain, AMC’s Greenleaf Hut. We could see the people going up and down the trail, little dots of bright colors against a gray green background. The Hut was our next stop.

 We took the Greenleaf trail, as it was the only one to take, and joined the throngs of folks heading up to the top or down to the bottom. The trail was like a busy sidewalk, in that people were streaming past, going in one direction or the other. My understanding is that the person heading down has right of way over the person coming up, but it didn’t always play out that way. Sometimes it was a matter of who got to which spot first and, rather than contest it, I just stepped to the side when a person ascending kept on coming.

 My experience has led me to know that it is more difficult to descend than it is to ascend. I also believe it is more dangerous going down; you have to pay more attention to where you are in space, whether your body is over your feet and that your center of gravity is neither too far forward nor too far back. Descending is certainly more taxing on the knees and ankles. I was glad to have trekking poles, which help a lot.

 Greenleaf Hut is very cool. I had never been to an AMC Hut before so it was a new experience for me. We were able to walk around inside, checking out the bunk beds, which were four tiers high, the bathroom and the main area. The place was run by 20-somethings so it was pretty loose and relaxed. We had home-made lemonade and maple bars, Judy re-filled her water bladder and I bought a t-shirt and an AMC patch, as I am a card carrying member. The prices were reasonable, the staff friendly and the atmosphere very casual.

We learned that up to 48 people could stay in the bunk area and that everything that is made and sold up there is carried up to the hut on peoples’ backs. As we descended along the Bridle Path trail, we came across two different women, Hut workers, with boxes of stuff strapped to a heavy wooden pack frame that they were carrying on their back. Each was carrying a load that was close to 60 pounds.

 As we passed them, I saw that one of the boxes was full of lemons. I thought about the lemonade we’d drunk and the maple bars we’d eaten at the Hut and how that was the fruit of some pretty intense labor.

 We got back to our camp site at about 6:20 p.m. Our hike had taken us just a tad over 9 hours. Not a bad day’s walk, for sure. Taking rest stops and an extended break at the Hut, we averaged a mile an hour. I think that’s a pretty good pace when you’re climbing up, over and down multiple 4,000 footers up in the White Mountains. The next day, Sunday, Judy elected to not go with me while I climbed Mt. Cannon.

 She took the tram up to the top and we met for lunch. It was a great camping weekend and a picture perfect hike. I have been told that the Lincoln to Lafayette loop hike is the best way to see the beauty and grandeur of the White Mountains. I couldn’t agree more. If you can only take one hike while you’re up in the Whites, and you have the physical capacity, this is the one to take.