Franconia Notch, 2008

Cris suggested that hiking down Mt. Liberty would be a good approximation of how it will feel to hike down the Marangu route on Kilimanjaro, so we designated this weekend as a training hike weekend, and took off for New Hampshire to hike and camp and hike. It also proved to be a good gear trail run.

Saturday August 16, 2008

A 6am alarm is a vile thing, especially after dropping into a housewarming party the night before, and not having slept well the past week. But, I got moving, stuffing a few last things in my pack and having breakfast, and we were out the door at around 7:20am. I babbled for the first hour and then slept for the second one and woke up as Cris slowed to make the turn at Lafayette Campground. We found a parking spot, it was around 10am and there were still lots of spots free on the northbound side of 93, and then went under the highway to the info hut to get a weather update. The guy confirmed that storms were expected that afternoon, so Cris decided we should go with plan B: hike the loop the other way around, staying low for most of the day, and off of Franconia ridge, which runs above the treeline in places.

We went back to the car, got our packs, and back again to follow the bike trail along the river until it intersected with the Pemi trail. The Pemi trail goes along the Pemigewasset river and was annoyingly muddy and slippery. We had to cross the river once, that washed off our boots but was kinda scary, since the water was pretty deep. We finally intersected with the Cascade Brook trail and turned under the highway and then met up with the Liberty Springs Trail. This is the one that we were supposed to hike down, but I was glad we were going up instead, it was steep! Like climbing stairs for 2 hours if the steps were made of boulders and spaced unevenly. I had to take a lot of breaks to get my wind back, and my pack was pressing a bit against my right trapezius muscle so it was painful. The hiking poles helped a lot with balance. I kept thinking "who stole the trail and put this rock slide here???". We did get hit with rain, but we'd packed rain gear and my new Tilley hat shed the water nicely. The shower didn't last long and we were under pretty heavy canopy cover so we didn't get very wet at all. The temperature was nice, and the sun came back out soon after the rain stopped. We were mostly encountering people coming down the trail, I don't think more than one party passed us going up.

We finally made it up to the Liberty Springs campground, spotting the large white tent on a platform that housed the grounds caretaker. We were told to pee in the woods, not the outhouse, and directed toward the water supply, but told to filter it due to the amount of rain lately. We were directed up the trail a bit farther (oof) and to turn left and to take any free platform but the ones designated for big groups. The path through the campground followed the contour of the mountain, but it was just as rocky and muddy as the trail we'd been following up. We took the first single platform (wooden boards nailed together, balanced on rocks), #7, and put the tent up right away, hoping to not get hit with rain. But it stayed clear and we got dapples of sunlight coming through the trees. We were on the edge of a drop off, you could look through the tops of the trees toward the mountains on the other side of the valley. We set up the mini stove, getting an assist in lighting it using a cigarette lighter when our neighbours walked by (stupid waterproof matches), and boiled water for "lunch" (freeze dried noodles and chicken). It was about 4pm then, 5pm once we were all settled in. Cris decided that since we were so close to the summit of Liberty, that he'd make a run up before the sun set. .3 miles to the ridge and then .3 miles over to the peak, and he borrowed my camera to take pictures while I stretched and basked in the sunlight. It was so quiet that I was sitting there trying to pinpoint a very soft sound and eventually realised that it was probably two trees rubbing together. Birds fluttered by for a visit, as well. When he came back, we made dinner, since I was still hungry. The Jamaican rice and beans weren't nearly as good. Gorgeous sunset, but we were both too tired to stay up and watch for the stars to come out. I, unfortunately, spent the night shivering and barely slept at all, despite a touque, and polar fleece socks, pants, top.

Sunday August 17, 2008

I was huddled down in my sleeping bag and missed dawn, but woke up when our neighbours began to stir (there was a small toddler and two dogs just down the way, but we were visually isolated from all but the one group site just up the way). Instant oatmeal tasted like cardboard, but it filled us up a little and was warm. I missed having tea, but I didn't want to pack cups. We broke down the tent, used the facilities, filtering more water for our packs and bottles, and were ready to head out at around 8:30am. It was very odd getting so much done before noon, we were on our way down Falling Waters by the time 12pm rolled around. :)

The .3 miles up to the ridge seemed hellaciously long to me, but at least I was just a bit tired, not in pain. Cris volunteered to take the stove, so I had a tiny bit less weight (also, we'd eaten three of the meal packets) to carry, and I was feeling okay, fresh air waking me up in place of tea. Getting higher, there was all sorts of different kinds of moss on the rocks and downed trees, and we got more sunlight as we neared the ridge. .3 miles is longer than it seems when it's all straight up, though. Cris decided to shed his baselayers, unfortunately just as a couple made it to the head of the trail. :) I ran interference as he got decent, and then they headed to the peak of Liberty, while we struck out along Franconia Ridge. We got some glimpses of great views, the trees were mostly regular sized (if a bit shorter than lower down) for the first part, but the trail was generally level for quite a ways, with a gradual downward trend. The weather was awesome, sunny and the perfect temperature. More traffic up here, we were passed by parties going both ways, it's part of the Appalachian Trail I think. Slowly the trees got more stunted, and we were climbing more than descending, until we were faced with a couple of vertical rock faces masquerading as the trail. One guy who'd just made it down one of these complimented me on my hat, he was wearing a Tilley as well. :) The second face, I handed my poles up to Cris and went into full rock climbing mode, and promptly banged my knee hard against an outcropping. Pause to cry for a bit, and then made it up on my second try (need to figure out how to stablilise my pack more, it almost unbalanced me). The view was awesome, we were well above other hills in the area, and we still had more climbing to do. My knee was throbbing a bit, but more distracting was an incipient blister on my big toe. I called a halt and put some moleskin on it and that helped. I should have done the other toe at the same time, I had to stop later on and do it, and at that point just switched back to my older hiking socks with more padding.

We finally made it over the tree line, and the trail became rocks and sand delineated by small upright boulders. We wound our way to the peak of Little Haystack and surveyed the White Mountains from there. We could just see the info hut and the road we'd come in on, it was *far* down. I found out there that my understanding of the trail length was off: I'd thought we were going over a couple of miles on the ridge and then down a couple of miles on the Falling Waters trail, but the sign at the top said almost 4 miles back to Lafayette. *winces* It was still before noon, being about 10:30, and Cris kept telling me that we had all the time we needed, so I girded my loins, extended my hiking poles, and began the descent, knowing that I had to get through it to get home.

Look, more boulders! Lots more people coming up this trail, but pausing to let people pass gave me a breather. There were distinct phases in the trail, getting down from the peak to the rivers was mostly boulder scrambling with some mud thrown in where it was flat. Once we hit the rivers, the trail was characterised by huge flatish slabs of wet granite. :/ We marked our progress by telling people on the way up how long we'd been descending. I felt a bit bad telling a French woman that she was still 2 hours from the peak, she was struggling. Just after getting past the worst of the bouldery descent, a guy going up questioned why we were tired, and I realised why when the trail got a lot easier. The waterfalls and the sound of the river rushing over stones were gorgeous, but I was starting to fade. Both legs were shaking, and I reached the point where if I was out rock climbing, I'd stop because it was getting dangerous. The poles were invaluable, providing stability and pseudo crutches when I needed them. We kept passing and being passed by one woman in a red tshirt, she'd pass us and then rest for a bit, we'd pass her and do the same. The river crossings were easy after the Pemi trail, which was good since we kept criss crossing the water. Lots of people were out for day hikes, with running shoes and only a water bottle. When we reached the last switchback down from the peak, a group was actually trail running and I made a bet with myself how soon they'd re-pass us going down again. I was high, it was less than half an hour. The weather stayed gorgeous, but I was focussing on the path, giving up speaking in favour of conserving energy to get down. I fell twice, my feet skidding out from under me on slippery patches of the trail. One time was a soft landing, but the other one there was a broken end of stick that poked me in the butt - luckily it just bruised. Cris also made me stop and cleaned and bandaged my knee, since the skin was broken and I'd found inexplicable greenery (dried parsley?!?!) in my exercise pants that morning. :) I'm pretty sure I didn't sleepwalk the night before, and he'd also find some inexplicable garlic in his sock, so we're not sure what was up. One older couple reassured us that we were only about 200 yards from the end, I wish I had their energy now! Finally, the paved road at the parking lot came into view and we were done, it was around 3:30pm. We were going to make up the mac and cheese packet, walking over to the picnic table by the info hut, but a family of Hasidic Jews was sitting there and I realised that they were waiting for the trio of women we'd seen climbing in long skirts. Cris tried to light the stove on the sidewalk by the parking lot, but I convinced him to give up and drive us to Lincoln for real food. :) I inhaled a tuna sub (and promptly got a stomach ache), and we hit the road south. I smiled to see that we were crossing over the Pemi river a few times, and we'd eaten next to it on a deck at the sub place as well. We stopped for tea and coffee, the warm cup was very soothing though the caffeine couldn't overcome my bone deep tiredness. Once we got home, Cris indulged his wish to cook over fire by grilling up dinner and I took a long bath. I stayed up long enough to get my laundry going and was asleep by 11pm.

Lessons learned:

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