It's October 9th and I've had to wait 5 weeks before I could get back out to the White Mountains. Work got in the way so I resorted to some local hikes during the last few weeks. Seems like a lifetime ago when I decided I was going for the AMC 48 4000 footers. Today the goal is to climb Lafayette, Lincoln, and Little Haystack. The latter does not count as an official 4000 footer due to it's lack of rise. Meaning it needs a 200 foot rise from it's lowest point on the connecting ridge. Then two for the books it shall be.
So once again it was up early and out the door by 4:00 AM. I got to the Lafayette Campground parking lot on the northbound side of I-93 by 6:00 AM and on the trail by 6:10. I have two new pieces of equipment today, a headlamp as it is still dark, and hiking poles, but I only bring one. The weather is supposed to be quite warm today for October, in the 80's and humid. I start out on the Old Bridle Path to hit Lafayette first then head south on the ridge to Lincoln and Little Haystack. A little different using a headlamp in the early morning hours, couple of times having to stop to make out where the trail leads. I make it to the first junction where Falling Waters Trail leads to the right up to Little Haystack. So left I go and a few minutes later there is enough daylight starting to emerge that I can take off the headlamp. It is also warm enough that within an hour into the hike the legs on my hiking pants come off.
About an hour into the hike I can start to see the ridge through the trees. Then I round one corner on the trail and there they are standing majestically before me. Definitely a beautiful site with Lafayette and Lincoln taking up your whole viewpoint. Can't describe the image nor the huge smile that erupts on my face. Another turn a little ways up and looking back down into the valley I can see I-93 and the Flume Gorge exit. At exactly 8:00 AM I get a shot of the sun peeking over the top of Franconia Ridge. Twenty minutes later and I make it to Greenleaf Hut, one mile and 45 minutes later and I am on top of the tallest peak I have ever hiked, Mount Lafayette, 5260 ft. I have been up Mt Washington before, once running up it in the road race back in the 70's and a few times in a vehicle up the auto road. It is an awesome feeling making it this high on such a great day. The only drawback is the wind is quite strong coming out of the north. I hunker down behind some rocks next to the old hotel foundation to have my snack and twenty minutes later am on my way across the ridge.
My next stop is on top of the north peak of Mount Lincoln and then on to Mount Lincoln itself which takes only thirty minutes to reach. I have to say that this ridge is one of the most picturesque with viewpoints in all directions. Very lucky day for just my second hike doing the White Mountain 4000 footers. Clear skies, even though it is hazy, views abound, Mount Washington in the distance. Warm air below the trees, breezy above and especially nice, no bugs! On to the next and final mountain, Little Haystack, and at 10:30 AM I am there. In less than four and a half hours I have hiked the three mountains I had planned on doing. Feeling pretty good about this and also feeling a little sad that in a few hours I will be back at the car and done for the day. So I make the decision to continue on to do Liberty and Flume and call Lisa to let her know of my change in plans.
One hour and fifteen minutes later I am on top of Liberty, three 4000 footers and one more to go. I look back at Haystack and Lincoln, not able to see Lafayette because it is hidden behind Lincoln, quite the hike so far. Then I turn to look to the last mountain, Mount Flume, and the face is a shear rock pile. I leave Liberty not sure what I am getting into and halfway there I stop to pull out the guide book to read the description for Flume. The trail going down the other side of Flume is called the Flume Slide Trail. Slide, that has a curious and ominous sound to it, I read the trail description and the guide recommends to ascend this trail and NOT to descend. Oops! Too late now to turn back now, I am almost there and do not want to quit or fail at my goal. It's a personal thing with me to keep going, part of my reason for being out here.
After an hour from leaving Liberty I arrive on top of Flume and it is something to marvel at. Sitting on top facing south and taking it all in. To my right it's a shear drop down, to my left Owl's Head and the Pemigewasset Wilderness with Mount Washington in the background. Behind me I look back at where I have come from and this time I get a picture of the whole range all the way back to Lafayette. It's magnificent and I feel very good about making it this far knocking off four more 4000 footers off the list. Five down and forty-three to go. Straight ahead I see a head popping up over the edge, he is rock climbing the face of Flume, and then another climber scrambles over the edge. The trail leads over to where they are and it is very narrow with a steep face on the right. The nerves are starting to kick in but it is time to go and face my fears and win over them.
I repack my backpack and start to head across the narrow ridge and climb down off this mountain down into a level spot where the trails meet. To my right is the way down, the Flume Slide Trail. "Better to ascend than descend", keeps repeating in my head. Well let me tell you after doing this the book is 100% correct, what a pain in the butt this section is. Did I forget to mention that this has been a wet October also? Slides and wet rocks do not make for an easy ascent let alone a descent. So off I go slowly down this steep and slabby path. Meeting people on the way up they keep asking me how far it is to the top. I tell them not much farther and they come back with you haven't seen nothing yet. WHAT? Worse than this? Come on how much worse can it get? Well I guess if length is worse than that it was. It seemed like it would never end (the book says it is .7 miles). Picking my way down the rocks , avoiding some spots by bushwhacking in the scrub, a few butt slides here and that is behind me. But not before I get sick of hearing all the ascenders saying "you ain't seen nothing yet". At some point I get tired of hearing this and start repeating it back to them with a sly chuckle in my head knowing they still have a ways to go uphill.
Finally after three hours from leaving the top of Mount Flume I make it to the bottom of the trail. It comes onto a paved path, not sure where this path leads I look at my maps and decide to cross the Pemigewasset River and take the Pemi Trail back up to Lafayette Campground. I cross the bridge over the river and on the other side the sign for the Pemi Trail points right. Down I go and under the I-93 bridges and to a sign for the Cascade Brook Trail. There is a warning sign about a bridge on the Cascade Trail is no longer there thanks to Hurricane Irene also there is no mention of the Pemi Trail. Not comfortable with this scenario I turn around and go back to the trailhead of Liberty Spring Trail where I first encountered the paved path. I get a phone call from Lisa and she wants to know if I am alright. I tell I am fine, tired but fine, and I'm going to go north on this paved path and hope that it leads back to the car. Turns out that this paved path is a bike path (haven't been up in this area in a long time let alone never been on or knew of this bike path). Three long, tiring, thirsty and out of gas miles and one hour later I cross back under the highway and make it back to the car.
Dying from thirst I start heading home knowing I need something to drink and bad. I get off on Route 3 and head towards Lincoln. Turning onto Connector Road I come to the traffic light at Route 112. Quick decision, go left or right? I look right and do not see anything so I go left. Crap! October, nice day, Route 112. KANCAMAGUS WEEKEND!!!I spot a Subway and find a spot in the bumper to bumper traffic to turn around. Fifteen minutes later I get to Subway and go in. There is only one group in front of me, shouldn't be long, waiting, waiting, more people come in behind me. Two, three, four, five other people are behind me now. One person outside having his break, one person behind the counter, three people in the back having a jolly good time shooting the breeze. Finally after ten minutes the kid behind the counter tells the other three he needs help. Any who, I get two large fountain sodas and back onto 112 and another fifteen minutes, and just past the traffic lights I turned left, later there they are, the Golden Arches, should have turned right!! Forty-five minutes of my life I will never get back, thanks peepers and Subway!. Oh well, off to home to go to our favorite chinese restaurant for dinner.
Final numbers: 15.8 miles, 10 hours and 50 minutes, 4 peaks.