We have this theory that we are cloud-magnets. But for some unknown reason, we selectively attract the grumpy and the overemotional ones (read: thunder and rain clouds). We also believe our cloud magnetism powers only work in the midst of mountain ranges during the most inconvenient times. Two weekends ago, our theory proved correct once again during our attempt at a twelve-mile hike to bag Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans. While we’re not ones to shy away from a little rain or mist in ordinary circumstances, it’s certainly wasn’t ideal for us to be hauling up boulders and slippery slopes while the sky was having an emotional breakdown.
The one thing that makes us feel better about hiking in the rain is having a nice, sit-down breakfast beforehand. We walked into Flapjacks right when the doors opened, and lingered at our table for a long time in hopes that the clouds would clear. No such luck. After downing some fabulous omelets, we mustered up all the optimism we could manage and headed over to Lafayette Campground, which hosts the trailhead for hiking the Kinsmans and Cannon. Parking was free, so that made us feel marginally better. With our gear packed and water stores filled to the brim, we embarked on the Lonesome Lake trailhead to conquer the Kinsmans first, or so we thought.
Our yellow-blazed trail lead us up through the Lafayette campsites and into the woods. The first half of the trail was an easy grade with great footing. We met a good number of families with small children heading down from the lake and its hut. One precious little boy shyly asked if we were hiking mountains (his jaw dropped when we told him we were climbing three!). We passed the fork to Hi-Cannon Trail on our right and eventually emerged at a crossroads right at the shore of Lonesome Lake.
The lake was shrouded in an eerie mist that clouded the water’s characteristic glassiness (we’ve seen many a photograph of gorgeous Lonesome Lake during autumn’s peak). Substitute the towering pines for robust redwood trees, and we would have believed we were teleported to the Northwest. We both stood silently in awe for a long time. There was so much beauty to take in–had our pupils widened any further, we both would have gone blind. As much as we didn’t want to leave, we determined it would be best to keep going, seeing as the forecast for rain was approaching quickly.
At the junction we headed right to continue down the Lonesome Lake Trail, following it around the north shore and diverging right after a short period. The fun, easy grade ended here, as we quickly began to head upwards towards the Kinsman Ridge Trail. At this point, we realized that we had, in fact, started ascending the trail for Cannon Mountain instead of the Kinsmans. We were a little bummed that we screwed up, but ultimately, our mistake turned out to be for our benefit (more on that later). So, off to Cannon we went!
In about a mile we gained around 700 feet in elevation and were pretty tired once we reached the end of the trail. Nevertheless, we continued down to our right to follow the Kinsman Ridge Trail to the Coppermine Col, at the base of Cannon Mountain. The path was gradual at first but soon became extremely strenuous thanks to the huge, slippery boulders blocking our path. It made for a fairly arduous journey up to Cannon, but it was also cool hiking in the mist, which we presumed was a wispy cloud resting by the mountainside. Upon reaching the top at around 11:00AM we were engulfed by a glorious panoramic view of, well, absolutely nothing! The summit and viewing platform were both completely veiled by mist and cloud, and the fog was so opaque and dense that we couldn’t see five feet in front of our faces. The viewfinders at the observation tower were pretty much rendered useless. Despite the white in all directions, we were happy to add 4,000 Footer Number 7 to our list! After marveling briefly at the powerful gusts (Katie was convinced and terrified she would be blown off the summit) and the fact that we were literally hanging out in a cloud, we headed back down and retraced our steps to the connection with the Lonesome Lake trail.
From here, we left the Lonesome Lake trail on our left and began climbing the first of the three “Cannon Balls” on the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Our views were still obscured by the fog, but we still admired our surroundings as we sloped up and down several times at an easy to moderate grade over all three of the Cannon Balls, which were sizable mountains themselves. There were several, sharp upward climbs here, but they were short bursts with fairly good footing. After about two hours of traversing, we entered Kinsman Junction. The clouds were thinning enough for the sun to occasionally break through, so we decided to try our luck and continue on the Kinsman Ridge Trail and, hopefully, at least bag the first Kinsman. Bad idea.
At 4:00PM, the rain poured down on us in sheets, and thunderheads started rolling in quickly. Colin must be a little psychic, because not even 5 seconds before the rain started, he simply stated “It’s going to rain soon. I’ve got a feeling…” So we grudgingly aborted our journey and headed back towards the junction. We took a very short break at Kinsman Junction on the way back, which provided a perfect time for a much needed rest and for Colin to take some pictures of the clouds rolling over the mountains, truly a magnificent sight. But the break was brief and we continued on back to the junction where we began our journey back down to Lonesome Lake via the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail.
This was an interesting decent, and by interesting, we mean torturous and awful. The rocks were soaked and slippery and provided little to no footing. Butt-sliding became our main method of descent for the steeper parts of the first half of Fishin’ Jimmy, which didn’t matter much to us anyway since our pants were already soaked from the rain. Unfortunately, it added a lot of time to the total amount of hours we spent hiking. Eventually the rain let up (for the most part) and we crossed several misty brooks before eventually reaching the Lonesome Lake Hut, a beautiful little hide-away that we would love to stay at someday (if we ever become rich or really feel like splurging for a night or two). From here, the trail was an easy, yet muddy, stroll on a trail of bog bridges around the southwest corner of the lake, which ultimately led us to the Lonesome Lake Junction we visited earlier that day.
Now, it was simply time to backtrack down the Lonesome Lake Trail to the car, where we finally collapsed at 8:00PM. Our legs were eager to abandon their abusive bodies (sorry, legs—we love you!). And so we began the ride home, trying to look back at the bright sides of the hike. If this had been a nice day, it would have been a hard but definitely doable loop. The weather may not have been in our favor but we still had an amazing time together and, as always, pushed ourselves to our limits. We have no regrets about the hike. Heck, admiring Lonesome Lake in the mist was satisfying enough, and experiencing the raw power of nature on top of Cannon was pretty awesome, too. Another great thing about hiking on cruddy days is the lack of people on the trail. We enjoy the solitude together, which totally sounds paradoxical but it makes sense, we swear! Even though we ended up hiking eleven miles total just to summit one mountain, the journey was just as adventurous, beautiful, and rewarding. If mountains could laugh, North and South Kinsman would be howling as they ridicule the crap out of us for turning back 0.2 miles away from NK’s summit. Even though we didn’t accomplish our original plan, we’ll have the last laugh when we’re standing atop their summits after a safe ascent. Oh, and Mt. Tom? Don’t you even think for a second we forgot about you.