March 9, 2013.
Time to do a hike I have been wanting to do but not wanting to do. I tried doing this trail back in November of 2011 but inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended back on Lonesome Lake Trail. Back then I didn't read the trail descriptions like I do now. The guide book describes parts of the trail as being tricky and having drop-offs, better yet here is what the book has to say.
Soon Hi-Cannon Trail becomes significantly steeper and rougher. Shortly after the trail crosses a gravelly washout, there is a fine outlook to the area around Lafayette Campground and across Franconia Notch. The trail turns left here, and 100 yards farther, passes Cliff House (right)-a natural rock shelter-and ascends a ladder with a tricky, narrow ledge traverse at the top (dangerous if icy). It then passes through woods along a cliff edge with three fine outlooks over Lonesome Lake (use caution on the ledges, as cliffs drop off sharply from them). Then the trail ascends moderately with much rough footing to the top of the ridge, turns right, and ends at its junction with Kinsman Ridge Trail. For the summit of Cannon Mountain, follow Kinsman Ridge Trail straight uphill.
The trail map and my GPS track.
Returning to the Cannon tram parking lot and off I go in search of the north end of the Pemi Trail. It is a perfectly sunny day out and the temps are in the 20's with very little wind. Across the snow covered road that leads through the summer parking area of the no longer Old Man of the Mountain and I quickly arrive at the beginning of Pemi Trail. One problem, no one has been on the trail at all, no tracks or nothing evident of someone having been through here.
The trail itself is easy enough to follow as it skirts Profile Lake for most of the way. The snow is sometimes packed and other times I sink in even with the snowshoes on. It is murder on the ankles because the trail is on a slope leading down to the lake and there is no forgiveness with the footing, your leg stays straight but your ankle twists to the contour of the terrain. Finally at the south end of the lake, at the next parking spot, the trail has been used recently and the terrain is a much needed relief. The trail briefly follows the snowmobile trail and then ducks back into the woods, repeating this a few times along the way. At one point it crosses the Pemigewasset River and then comes out into a clearing and across the highway is the first look at Lincoln and Little Haystack.
A little further up and I reach Lafayette campground and then Lonesome Lake Trail. A quick fifteen minutes up the trail and I am back at the junction of Hi-Cannon trail.
This time I am determined to stay on the trail and not end back up on Lonesome Lake Trail above the hairpin turn. The trail has been broken out and there are two hikers ahead of me. It is a much different trail today than the first time I was up here. I don't know where I made my mistake that time but no issues today as it is, seems like, a long climb up this switchbacky steep trail. Quite a few stops later to catch my breath and forty minutes later I make it to Dodge Cutoff Trail. Not sure what the story is with the sign, maybe a result of the budget cuts, but I don't believe I have come across a hand written sign before.
Ten minutes to get to the other end of Dodge Cutoff Trail where it meets up with Lonesome Lake Trail and then turn around to return to Hi-Cannon Trail. A stop for a snack at the intersection and time to continue the climb up. Just before the turn below the Cliff House and there is an opening with views across the notch and south following I-93.
Minutes later and I am at the ladder where everything is supposed to get complicated, according to the guide. Well the ladder is partially buried in snow and the step over at the top wasn't as bad as the book makes it out to be.
There are drop offs along this section of trail but only an issue if you are stupid enough to get close to them or go out towards the edge for that better view. I chose not to and stayed very close to the trail not knowing the condition of the snow on the ledges. There are great views up here looking south with Lonesome Lake and the Hut right below. Someone or someones made a design on the lake in the snow that was clearly visible from the trail.
Off in the distance and Mt Kearsarge is just making its appearance and across the valley are South and North Kinsman.
Turns out this section of trail that I had been fretting over was not that big of a deal after all. I'm sure during the icy seasons it is a different story. I definitely rate this trail as one of my favorites and can see myself coming back during a different time of year. The trail turns right heading up the south knob of Cannon and the trees go from bare to snow laden at this elevation. Reaching the first knob and Lafayette and Lincoln are just poking out behind the trees.
A few minutes later with the trees becoming more and more snow laden I arrive at the almost snow buried junction sign with Kinsman Ridge Trail. Not sure how deep the snow is here because last time I was at this spot I did not take a picture of the sign. But safe to say that is buried under 3-5 feet of snow!
So I've hiked five and a quarter miles in four hours and twenty minutes from starting this hike so far. Next stop is the junction with the Rim Trail and fifteen minutes later I make it there. A saunter around on the Rim Trail which circles just below the summit and you get grandiose views of Franconia Ridge across the notch.
I take my time along this trail and twenty minutes later reach the summit and the viewing tower to absorb the 360 degree views. The wind is biting on my exposed hands as I snap picture after picture but not so bad I can't linger for ten minutes. Way better than the first time I was up here and the wind was really blowing and nothing was visible beyond 5 miles. Today I can see all the way into Maine with Old Speck clearly visible. Adams and Jefferson stand out with their snow capped peaks against the blue sky. Love the winter shots for this very reason.
A couple panoramas looking at Vermont to the west.
Time to head back down to the Rim Trail to the intersection with Kinsman Ridge Trail that heads back to the tram parking lot. I've read that this section of trail between the junction and the knob can be difficult to follow as the winds bury the trail quite frequently. I can attest that is a very true description.
At one point I was following an old set of tracks and in trying to keep on the trail and take the path I thought was the trail I hit a spruce trap and my left leg sunk in up to my hip. Not such a big deal until you try and pull your leg back out and the snowshoe gets caught on the branches buried in the snow. After struggling a bit and actually laughing, I know me laugh but I really did, at the situation I finally worked my leg free. Surveying the area and I realized I wasn't even close to the trail, following my path back and then the stray path someone else left I find the trail. I should have gone right coming down instead of following the tracks that led left. The rest of the way down to the tree line on the knob was easier and eventless. Making my way across the knob and I come up to the spur trail for an outlook out on the ledges on Cannon Cliff. These are the cliffs you see when heading north on I-93. It is one of my favorite spots along the parkway as it completely fills the view from your car as you start driving down the incline. A pano from the ledges.
Great spot to just hang out. Across the way I can see some hikers heading up Lafayette on this glorious day.
Looking further down on Franconia Ridge and the rocky outcropping of Mt Liberty is impressive.
Returning to the trail and soon reaching the junction with one of the ski trails, unblemished from the groomers as this is the glades, this was definitely one of my least favorite sections of the trail. Parts of the trail coincide with the ski trail and then ducks in and out of the woods crossing the trail four times. There are steep sections and the skiers ski anywhere they wish even on the hiking portion of the trail. The problem is they scrape all the snow off and leave behind steep icy sections exposed. I did take a few butt hits coming down and eventually made it through that section and back into the woods away from the ski trail. A break through the trees and I can see Echo Lake which is next to where the car is. Across the lake is Artists Bluff where I was just two months ago.
A few minutes before 4 and I am back at my car. The unknown that I feared turned out to be nothing at all and in the end was a great trail with outstanding views at many different spots complete with excellent weather conditions and perfect blue skies. Love winter hiking.
Final numbers: 8.3 miles, 6 hours and 20 minutes.
Redline Miles: 7.1, Total to Date: 340.3