Monday, June 20, 2011

Franconia Ridge Trail–Tracing the Landscape of a Challenging Hike

Friday June 10th - How do we go about choosing a hike? Some of our best hikes have been on the recommendation of a Ranger at the Visitors Center. This was no different. When we arrived at Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire, on Thursday evening, we stopped by the information center and asked about hikes. We were looking for a nice hike with a moderate difficulty rating. We usually like good views, a nice overlook….something to make the hike interesting or worthwhile. A hike that would feel representative of this area, the White Mountains. The Ranger pulled out a nice Topographical map (a good sign) and highlighted a couple of 4-6 mile hikes…….then, she noted another hike, which she said was the #1 hike in all of New England. Our interest was piqued. It was a 9 mile loop hike which included water falls, a section of the Appalachian Trail, and a ridge trail which promised astounding views. We were both sold on it….though we did not want to admit it just yet…..

This hike would be ‘moderately difficult’…..more challenging that most hikes we normally do. It would be be 3 miles going up the Falling Waters Trail, with a 3,000 ft elevation gain, then about 1 mile of ridge trail up to Mt. Lincoln, then Mt. Lafayette, with about 400 more ft elevation gain, then about 5 miles downhill, 3,400 ft. In other words, it would be a challenge.


You can trace our route on this map. We began on the trail (the red line) on the left bottom of this picture, just over the words ‘Franconia Notch State Park’. We walked east on this trail (following the lower red line through the ‘squiggles’), then north on the relatively straight line on the right side of this map, then left at the intersection and back around to where we started. The grey shaded, wavy lines which run north/south on this map are elevation changes.

Now, we are somewhat ‘experienced’ hikers. We have done quite a few hikes- some quite challenging. We have hiked remote hikes as well as ‘popular’ hikes. We have backpacked several days at a time. We usually day hike in the range of 4-8 miles, but have done 11 miles before. The distance did not scare us. We have hiked in the Grand Canyon and understood what 3,400 ft elevation up and down meant. We knew that this would be tough, but do-able, for us.

Also, what do you do when you are faced with this kind of dilemma? The “best hike”…..We were not ready to turn it down just because it might be more ‘difficult’. We were not ready to set a limit on ourselves of only 4-6 miles, moderate (no difficulty, please) hikes. And so……we packed our day packs with extra snacks and plenty of water, and the usual safety and first aid gear, and decided to get an early start in the morning, allowing plenty of time to hike at our own pace.


The first mile of this hike was relatively easy going…..pretty woods, nice path.


Steadily uphill, but nothing too steep. The trail ran along side of a lovely stream…..


And there were beautiful waterfalls to reward our efforts.


We had to crisscross this creek several times…at the TOP of each waterfall! I DO NOT like creek crossings! Rushing water over slippery footings scare me! But the water was only about an inch or so deep and well back from the ledge, with pretty good rocks to step on. I can be pretty brave when I have too, and I did not have time to whine….and thank goodness for Fred, who is so steady and gives me a hand on the tough parts!     : )


Hiking along side of the stream, the path got rockier….and steeper. Soon we were just climbing boulder to boulder – like stair steps, only not nearly as nice. I thought (hoped) than when the trail turned away from the stream that maybe…..maybe… the path would get better. I knew that we had a lot of elevation climb to do, but I hoped that it would be on a smoother path.


But, THIS is the trail that stretched before us! On…and on…and on…..stepping rock to rock…steadily upwards.  Hiking this way is VERY tedious. I have watched some of the young people hike and they just scamper over the rocks……but we have to watch and very carefully find a footing so we do not fall, as we do not bounce so well at our age! On an easy trail, we can hike about 2 or so miles an hour. On this trail we made less that 1 mile an hour.

There have been times where I have let my fear overcome me on such a trail. I would think about the ‘what ifs’……What if it gets worse? What if I get too tired? What if my knees or back start hurting? What if I fall and sprain or, heaven forbid, break something…..Or worse, what if FRED should get hurt and I have to take charge? What if we should have to turn around and go BACK DOWN THE WAY WE CAME!

This kind of fear can be paralyzing, making it difficult to even choose your steps. I have been working on a new approach.  Asking myself, instead,  “How am I doing right NOW”. So when the fears began to creep in, I would just do a short assessment…..”Right now, I am OK….. my knees don’t hurt, my back is OK. This is just EFFORT….not even discomfort.” Or maybe the answer might be, “I am a bit tired, and need a few minutes rest and catch my breath, but I am OK”. And, when faced with an obstacle, I would try not to conjure up the worst, even more difficult scenario, but would just look at what needed to be done and “get ‘er done”.

And, there WERE obstacles…..times where we had to climb using hands and feet….even throwing a leg up on a boulder to haul ourselves up. And then there were the black flies…..the “worst this year than ever” or so we were told. They are pesky…..swarming around you whenever you stop, despite having sprayed with “Off”. And they bite!

But there was also beautiful scenery, and camaraderie and good conversation. We were hiking slowly, so as people joined us on the trail, we stepped aside to let them pass. We would usually exchange “hello’s” and maybe a few words. We were passed by several nice groups and the occasional family. We stopped to talk with one fellow who was hiking with his dog – a beautiful, large, male German Shepherd who was very well behaved.  

We noticed several groups of young men - about late high school age, maybe college- go by. They were all clean cut, very polite, and all dressed in khaki pants and white shirts. They were hiking in groups of 3 or 4. They told us that they were Catholic seminarians from Connecticut and were on a trip together on their break. They were the most polite and friendly group of young people…..and it up-lifted my spirits just to see them. If they were to all make it to be priests…..the future of our church would be brighter.

Hiking up-hill is mostly a matter of just hiking on…… pausing to catch your breath once in a while…..then hiking on……


I think it was about 11:30 am (4 hours after we had started) when we finally reached the first peak and took a real ‘sit down and have a snack’ break. We had covered 3.2 miles.


And the view was magnificent! The day had been a bit cloudy, but the clouds were lifting and we had a wonderful view of the mountains and the valleys all around us. Yes, well worth the climb……..but a bit disappointing to be so pestered by the black flies (and a bit worried about the time, since we had been making such slow progress) that we did not feel comfortable sitting and soaking up the view for very long.


This is Mt. Lincoln, our next goal…….


And this is the ridge trail that lay before us……


So, with hiking stick in hand…….we set out.


The Franconia Ridge Trail is unlike any trail that we had ever hiked. It is not as narrow as it appears here, but it does drop off on both sides…..which made me VERY glad that the wind was not blowing very hard.   : )


We did take time to appreciate the view, and walked with a feeling of “awe” ……


And enjoyed knowing that we were hiking a portion of the famed Appalachian trail (marked here with a white blaze on the rock) and marveled at the people who backpacked this section of trail as part of a ‘through-hike’. This trail is difficult……and we remembered that the stories always noted that the White Mountains in New Hampshire was one of the more difficult and steep sections of the Appalachian Trail.


Finally…..we made it to Mt. Lafayette – our highest point! As we crested this bare mountain top….all we could think about was……We hope to God that the trail down is better than the trail up had been!

1 comment:

  1. I'm loving this portion of your New England trip, because I live a few hours away. Not a hiker though. Sure hope you made it down safely, guess I'll have to wait for the next post.