We finally redeemed ourselves! Last weekend, we dragged our friend Dan back to the White Mountains in an earnest attempt to convince him that our camping and hiking trips don’t always suck. Things could not have gone any smoother (except for the part where Dan got sick after eating too much ice cream, but he brought that upon himself). The weather was clear and warm for the duration of our stay, not a single chicken sausage fell into the ashes of our campfire while we cooked them, and we got to take Dan along on one of the most beautiful hikes in New England: a gorgeous loop through Franconia Notch, which gave us the opportunity to bag Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln.
After a quick breakfast, we set out on Old Bridle Path at 6:30 AM and began hiking our way to Lafayette. The grade was surprisingly moderate, with only a few steep stretches scattered in between. The trail was well maintained and conditioned to accommodate even the most novice hiker. The abundance of rock stairs were a nice treat, but we also worried their presence indicated that we would encounter crowded summits and congested trails due to the popularity and accessibility of this hike. To add to our concerns, it was a gorgeous summer day—clear skies, comfortable temperatures, and a mild breeze. It was difficult, but we had to remember that the mountains are for everyone, not just us!
As we ascended the ridge and weaved through the timberline, we encountered breathtaking views of the sun rising over Lincoln and a light cloud-layer covering the valley below us. We looked over the edge of the ridge in awe, not just to admire the verdant valley below, but also to see how far one misstep could send us tumbling. With some perspective, we continued carefully marching up the trail at a gradual pace, stopping at many of its abundant viewpoints, until we reached the Greenleaf Hut.
Greenleaf Hut was bustling with enthusiastic hikers when we reached it mid-morning. We poked around just for a little bit. Our original plan was to travel through the entire notch, all the way from Lafayette to Flume, so we were cautious about our time (we ultimately decided to turn around at Little Haystack and save Liberty and Flume for another day). On our way out of the hut, a hiker commented on how the two of us were polar opposites when it came to our hiking attire. Katie was bundled in a heavy sweatshirt, paired with shorts and ankle-length leggings. Colin was shirtless and in shorts. We took advantage of the water refill station, inhaled some delicious home-made coffeecake, and set out towards our first summit.
The rest of the way to Lafayette seemed within reach. We hiked on the ridge for a short while before we reached the open, completely exposed trail on the side of the mountain that led to the summit. The way up from there was nothing short of agony. We took probably a thousand breaks, and we kept thinking we were at the top when, in reality, we still had a ways to go.
Eventually, we reached our first goal. It. Was. Glorious. The views were incredible and crystal clear—no clouds, no mist, no summer haze. We could see Greenleaf Hut, which looked about as large as one of those green and red house pieces from Monopoly. We saw Lonesome Lake, which did in fact, look lonesome, as it sat stagnant and alone about 2,000 feet out-of-place in the air. We saw the observation tower atop Cannon Mountain, and about a million other things. After a short rest, we began our traverse to Lincoln.
Mt. Lincoln was deceptively farther away than we thought, but we had an amazing ridge hike in store that led to its summit. The one downfall of such a scenic trail is that we eventually began to lose interest in the unique beauty of our surroundings. The rest of the way to Lincoln, and eventually Little Haystack, was punctuated by brief moments of wonder, but ultimately was overpowered by the drive to get to the top as soon as possible so we could make good time. About an hour after we left Lafayette, we reached Lincoln’s summit, which boasted a decent crowd of hikers. We took some pictures, glanced back at Lafayette, and collectively realized that we should be proud of our progress. And we totally were.
We continued on the easy grade to Little Haystack, where the Falling Waters Trail (the trail we would be taking down) sloped down to the left. Here was where we began debating weather we should continue on, all the way to Flume. Initially, we decided that we would continue along Franconia’s Ridge for a short time and see just much more difficult it would be to continue. After about a half hour we reached a viewpoint that showed us what we were in store for and we grudgingly determined that Liberty and Flume just weren’t in the cards for us if we wanted to make it back before sundown. So, we headed back towards Little Haystack and started down the Falling Waters Trail.
After a short but steep decent down the side of Little Haystack, we were engulfed again by the treeline and continued our long, grueling descent down to a junction that split between a continuation of Falling Waters, and a 0.1 mile path to see Shining Rock. We decided that it would be fun to use some of our extra time and see this so-called shining rock, so we left our backpacks behind and took the Shining Rock Spur down to a nice rest-spot at the base of a water soaked rock (spoiler: the rock wasn’t really shiny, just wet). We took some time to catch our breath before we headed back and continued our decent.
Falling Waters Trail probably isn’t ideal for descents. The waterfalls we encountered were stunning, and it was nice hiking to the sound of rushing water, but the trail proved to be slippery, steep, and in our opinion, a little dangerous. Maybe we were just tired out, or maybe we’re babies, but we had to catch ourselves from slipping on the rocks more times than we can count. With the steepness of the trail, and all those brook crossings, and we were exhausted by the time we reached our car at around 4:30 PM, and no longer regretted our decision to head back down when we did. Despite all our whining, it was an amazing hike, probably one of the best yet view-wise (minus the hoards of other hikers), and we’re so glad that Dan doesn’t hate us anymore!