November 23, 2012.
The day after Thanksgiving, last year there was 6-8 inches on the ground in the White Mountains, and today the trails are clear of snow. Late November and no snow in the mountains means kind of a freebie in regards to hiking at this time of the year. The snowshoes still have cobwebs on them down in the basement and the trails are more fall like than winter. The weather is supposed to be good for today with sunny skies. With all that it is time to head up to a ridge and take in some views while knocking off some more trails. The choice will be Franconia Ridge to Little Haystack and Liberty via Falling Waters Trail and then back down Liberty Spring Trail then along the Pemi Trail to get back to the car.
I had just watched Windows to the Wild episode about Falling Waters Trail and figured now was a good time to it even though the temps were low which meant the chance of an icy trail, especially with all the crossings of Dry Brook. Out of the house around 6:30 am and at the trailhead at Lafayette Campground on the North side of I-93 by 8-ish. A quick stop to use the facilities and off I go heading up the Old Bridle Path to the junction with Falling Waters Trail at Walker Brook. Across the brook via the foot bridge and the water level doesn't look too bad so hopefully that is a good sign for the day.
Up the trail after crossing the brook and not too long before the trail takes a sharp right and follows the remnants of an old logging road. Turning left the trail crosses Dry (odd name) Brook and parallels and crosses it several times on the way up. Along the way there are several, yes, waterfalls.
So far the ice has been very negligent and the crossings none too difficult. Parts of the trail are quite steep and bouldery but do not last for any great distance.
About 50 minutes from starting and I get the last look at the brook and over an hour later reach the spur to Shining Rock. It's funny I have not heard of this before nor really noticed it from the other side of the valley. But now that I look back at some old pictures sure enough there it is sitting there plain as day. It might be because both times that I have been across the valley that both days were cloudy so the sun was not shining on it therefore it didn't really stand out. On down the spur and I reach the face of Shining Rock, it is huge and expansive 200 feet tall and 800 feet long of exposed granite ledge. The portion I got to see close up is a small fraction of what is actually exposed.
Twenty minutes from leaving the trail and I am back on it heading straight up now and it isn't long before I hit the first signs of real ice. The trail is a solid sheet (more of a mass) of ice. Hoping it doesn't last for very long I slowly pick my way up it using rocks and branches to pull myself up and to keep from slipping and sliding. Finally I have had enough and it is time to stop to put on the microspikes. That makes a huge difference and wouldn't you know it around the next corner the ice is gone and there is no more need for the spikes. Off they come and a short ways the trail breaks out of the trees and the top of Little Haystack is just within reach. Two hours and forty-five minutes from starting and I have reached the ridgeline.
It is quite windy up top and taking pictures is quick but the views are outstanding as one can see 360° uninhibited. Mount Washington is pretty much snowless, both Greenleaf and Lonesome Lake Huts are visible and I can also make out Mount Kearsarge way off in the distance.
After getting all my shots it is time to get out of the wind and into the cover of the scrubs as I head off towards Mount Liberty. The walk isn't so bad once getting down the steep section of Haystack. It is a nice leisurely hike for me and a little under an hour and half from leaving Haystack I arrive at Liberty. The views are just as impressive and taking some time just below the peak for pictures to stay out of the wind. The Bonds (all three) are in full view from this angle and Flume with its impressive slide right next door.
It is now time to start heading down as there is still quite a bit of hiking left to get back to the car. Left turn onto Liberty Spring Trail and passing the Liberty Springs Campsite which is right next to the trail, quite odd seeing how no one is allowed to camp within 200 feet of a trail. Continuing down is a laborious effort as the trail is littered with rocks and takes longer than I would like.
Eventually the terrain starts to get better and less than two hours later I am at the bike path, the same one from last year when I did the whole ridge, and this time I am well prepared and more educated with the trails that I am taking the Pemi Trail back to the car and not the bike path. Across the bridge, down the embankment and under the highway and I make it to the same spot where I turned around last time. I make it to the fork where the Cascade Brook Trail and Pemi Trail splits and head right on the Pemi heading towards The Basin. A very cool place, one of natures true wonders that I had never been to until a few years ago. It is unfathomable as to the power of water and the force that it took to carve out these rocks.
With the sun starting to set over the ridge to my left I make it close to the end and get a glimpse of the Shining Rock and now understand where it got its name.
Reaching the parking lot on the south side of the highway and I get the last shot of the hike of the moon making its appearance.
A quick walk back under the highway and up the hill and the end is here. Another great day up on Franconia Ridge!
Final Numbers: 11.8 miles, 8 hours and 10 minutes.
Redline Miles: 8.8, Total to Date: 231.8