Franconia Ridge to Garfield Ridge to N. Twin

Stud and I park at the North Twin trailhead and get swooped up by Notch Taxi who arrives early and is super nice and drops us in Franconia Notch at the Whitehouse Trailhead where we walk north to pick up the Appalachian Trail.  Its 11am and our packs are loaded with everything we need (and more) for a potential 3 night/3.5 day trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We start our ascent up the Liberty Spring Trail gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles until we reach the Liberty Spring Tentsite approximately 2 hours later.

We are relieved to get into this campsite early because there are just a few backcountry campsites that sit along the high peaks of Pemigewasset Wilderness where friendly AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) caretakers collect a small fee in exchange for a tent platform, a bear box to store food overnight, a composting outhouse, daily weather reports, and there is usually a water source to filter from.  On sunny summer weekends these campsites fill right up and caretakers will fit upwards of 40-60 hikers into these sites. This is impressive considering that these campsites sit on a very steep mountain side pitches and there are only like 5-8 tent platforms at each campsite.  These caretakers will find a spot for everyone and no hiker is ever turned away and even at capacity they don’t feel crowded.  Some of these sites are directly on the AT (Appalachian Trail) so many thru hikers rely on them because there are very limited stealth campsites spots in the alpine zones of the White Mountains.  Given the rugged terrain of these ridge lines, these campsites can be a fun place to connect with thru-hikers, weekend warriors, school groups and whoever else saw those same sweeping views and managed those same hard rock scrambles and long exposed ridge lines.  Many hikers who come thru these sites, whether it be to camp or just refill water, will arrive weary and worn down by the terrain and in need of a witness.  We witness each other, some more humbly than others.

The caretaker is this smiley tough woman and Stud and I connect with her immediately. She sets us up in what she calls “the penthouse” which is a tent platform high up and further off the trail and kind of hidden.  We set up our tents next to each other filling the small platform and later we are joined by 2 young French-speaking young women who squeeze their tent onto a tiny flat spot next to the platform.  We ask about eachothers days and Stud and I throw some water and snacks into a smaller day pack and head off to ascend Mt Liberty and Mt Flume.  Its late afternoon and it feels great to hike without our big packs.  The views are sweeping and the summits are rocky with many cliffs and many sunbathers.  We relax on top and I pull out my new tiny binoculars that I acquired last week on a job helping someone purge their apartment.  We admire the dozen or so mountains around us that we have summited over the last few years and study many dozen more that we have yet to attempt before returning back to camp and make dinner and then study our maps before crawling into our tents.We wake up early and are packed up and hiking north on Franconia Ridge in the cool morning processing about queer life, pronouns, gender, music, future goals, politics, the various organizations we associate with and all the things we like to process about in between eating candy and trail food.  We pass many hikers.  We stop to chat with some and not with others.  Some of the bro-dudes mistake us for other bro-dudes and so we just kinda grunt back to them in our lowest voice and move along.  But we welcome more conversation from the hikers who recognize us as the late-30 year old women that we are.  One of these hikers says to us “Thank Goddess for this wonderful day!” and we fall in love with her and talk about her for the rest of the trip.  We share this enthusiasm of being on such a beautiful ridge line and mostly avoid conversations about what lies ahead and whether its “good” or “bad”.  People tell us what to expect and how much water to carry even though we don’t ask for this kind of advice.  I don’t bother to mention that I’ve actually hiked this ridge before and I just respond to the various unsolicited advice with “cools thanks” and try to gracefully disengage.  I’ve hiked enough to know how much water I need but the bro-dude-splanations still get to me and I fight hard not to internalize any assumptions other hikers may make about me and I notice that I care less and less with every year older I get.  I decide I love being 39 years young.

 

Its a long gorgeous climb over Little Haystack, Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.  Its a mix of rock scrambles, long steep pitches, and short stretches of nice footpaths.  Once we are up above 5,000 feet the wind picks up and I can no longer wear my hat and sunglasses for fear that they will blow right off me.  The sun is bright and the wind is almost knocking us over.  It is so intense so we don’t linger long on any of the summits.  We take advantage of any wind breaks along the short slightly sheltered spots where we hunker down to drink water and eat snacks and relieve ourselves.  Weary, we are eventually make our way up and over Lafayette and turning northeast along the Garfield Ridge.  My eyes water and I blow record breaking 10 foot snot shots behind me into the wind.

As soon as we get back down below tree line we lay down on the trail on this boulder cliff and eat and drink and rest.  Its not a good spot for a break but we have been pushing hard and have to stop.  We push down the relentless descent and after hours and thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss we are back down in the pine forest.  We find a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.  We take off our socks and shoes lie on a bed of soft pine needles elevating our feet of a log while eating salty crunchy things and bathing in the mountain breeze laughing about how tired we are.  We see some hikers pass by who we camped with last night who we have been leap frogging with all day.  Its a young woman and her father and they are thru-hiking the NH section of the AT and I am inspired.

 

 

Rested and restored we start our final ascent of the day up Mt Garfield which takes everything we have and when we get to the top we have the summit all to ourselves.  We take our time up there soaking in the views of the long jagged ridge line we had just hiked.  I look at Lafayette thru my binocs and see dozens of tiny silhouetted people up there.  I could even see the Long Trail’s Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield.  I think I could also make out Whiteface and Madonna Peak if I was correct.  But Camel’s Hump is so distinctive and it was connecting to wave to some of my old mountain friends from over here.  Its fun to know the mountains and name them off and see them from various sides.Next stop, Garfield Ridge Campsite.  It feels late but we still get into camp early enough to get another awesome tent platform spot.  This site also has a large lean-to and it fills up with AT thru-hikers.  Our neighbors are the daughter/father hikers and we chat with them about their hike and its really fun to talk to them about the trail.  We eat and crawl into our tents and sleep better then the night before.In the morning we are packed up and back on the trail by 6:45.  We make our way down the almost comically steep cliff stretch of Garfield Ridge where I imagine the look on thru-hikers’ faces when they get to this spot…like how it this even a trail?  Welcome to the White Mountains.  We reach the intersection of Franconia Brooke Trail and make a decision about our next move.  We had been strongly considering hiking down into the Valley and setting up camp at 13 Falls and then attempting to summit Owl’s Head via the northern Lincoln Brook Trail the following day.  This is a remote stretch of trail that few people travel on and everything we’ve read about it says the trail is hard to follow and its easy to get lost.  There are lots of water crossings and its a big day.  While we have been enticed by it and read a lot about it, in the end we decided to stay on the ridge.  After all the elevation gain and loss that we’d already done, adding more felt exhausting and we were losing confidence about that northern stretch and our (lack of) compass reading skills so we listened to our intuition and decided to stay up top and head towards the Galehead Hut for a big late breakfast break and take advantage the huts views, shady benched front porch, running water and bathrooms.  After some coffee and oatmeal we stashed our packs inside the hut and took a spur trail out and back to the summit of Galehead Mountain.  Back at the hut we each chugged a liter of water and sat with an older AT thru-hiker while she ate every leftover the hut croo offered her.  One the hut croo cooks brought out a big leftover pot of soup with some bowls and we watched this hiker down like 5 bowls of soup and we felt genuinely relieved and happy for her.  Hiker hunger is impressive and kind of fascinating.  I was tempted by the soup but decided to leave it for the thru-hikers since our new plan would have us hiking out that afternoon which meant we’d get to eat whatever we wanted later.

 

We filled our waters and started up South Twin which is basically straight up and gains 1,200 feet of elevation in .8 of a mile.  Its like a rock staircase and eventually we popped out on top and the wind wasn’t too strong and we were able to really enjoy this summit.  I felt a little shaky and dug into my food bag no longer conserving for that extra day.  We had been on this summit 2 years ago but it was so windy that we basically half jogged right over it on our way to the Twinway towards Guyot.  But today, the day was young and we would be hiking out from here so we sat for a while and I pulled out the binoculars and we took in the 360° views all around.

We branched off the AT  following the North Twinway Spur over to North Twin Mountain.  This 1.3 ridge was simply a beautiful stretch of trail that went in and out of the trees passing thru fern fields and bright moss covered boulders and the blue sky and distant mountains were visible thru the scraggly mountain pines cooling us off with that mountain breeze coming in from all directions.We popped out on North Twin, our final summit of this trip, and went to a lookout to eat and drink.  It was hot.  The clouds started to gather and within minutes we watched the puffy benign poofs thicken into growing thunderheads.  It was amazing how fast it formed.  We couldn’t have been more grateful to be heading down and off the exposed ridges.  We descended down the North Twin Trail down a steep gravelly slidy rocky path careful to not lose our footing.  Our legs were tired and we slid down many big boulders on our butts until finally the trail mellowed out and we could actually hike and not just brace ourselves the entire way.  We were maybe 2 miles from the car when we started hearing thunder like I’ve never heard before.  It echoed down the mountains and we could feel it in the ground vibrating through us.  As the sky darkened over various peaks and the thunder grew louder and stronger, we thought about the hikers we met and hoped that everyone would be safe.  Then we had these huge river crossings.  The water wasn’t very high and we could totally rock hop across it but it was a long stretch of many rocks to hop with some big hops over rushing water and between the grumbling thunder and some distant flashing in my peripheral vision it took so much focus and concentration to stay balanced on these rocks and not freeze up half way across or fall in!  Finally we were done crossing the “Little River” for the last time and we cruised along very moderate (almost flat) stretch of trail until we reached the car.

We kicked off our shoes and just as we drove down Haystack road back to route 3, the skies opened and the rain started to fall.  What timing.  Things seemed to clear up as we rounded the bend into Franconia Notch so we jumped into Echo Lake at the base of Cannon and before changing into some dry cotton clothes we had stashed in the car.  We discussed our lingering Owls Head Plan B which would be driving down to the Lincoln Woods, camping nearby, and then hiking Owl’s Head as a day hike the next day.  From the Lincoln Woods, its an 18 mile round trip hike which is a LOT for us but the trail is easier to follow from that direction and its mostly flat until the final ascent and we wouldn’t be carrying full packs.  But 18 miles is a LONG day for us.  There is also a significant water crossing that can be sketchy especially with anymore rain coming overnight.  SO we decided to post-pone Owl’s Head for another time and drove home stopping for some real food on the way.  Owl’s Head, perhaps we’ll see in September.

 

Mount Waumbek

Mount Waumbek

  • Elevation: 4,006 Feet
  • Location: Lancaster, NH
  • Date Hiked: 3/12/2017
  • Companions: 5e & Brenda
  • Trails: Starr King Trail

Nothing like going up a four thousand footer on a 0º winters day with a -30º windchill.  No seriously…there is nothing like it and I mean this in the most neutral way possible.

As I obsessed over my layering system, waiting for 5e and Brenda to pick me up in Lincoln where I had been staying in a tiny cabin for the weekend,  I seriously questioned the decision-making spot on my frontal lobe.  5e had proposed this hike way back in January inspired by daylight savings.  I enthusiastically agreed to join her despite my lack of winter hiking experience and my snow-shoe resistance.  She brought her best pal Brenda who had never hiked a 4000 footer before (never mind in winter).  Fortunately we were all on the same page as far as not being overly attached to summiting and keeping the communication lines open in order to stay safe.

The hike was described as being one of the more moderate of the NH48 for winter hiking and thats why 5e picked it out.  The trail was a 7.2 miles round trip out and back with a steady grade and nothing too steep or exposed.  There was a smaller peak called Mount Starr King along the way followed by a mile of ridge but the ridge was in the trees so we were protected from the wind.  The trail was snow and ice covered and totally packed down so we were able to just wear micro spikes without needing snow shoes.

Twenty minutes into the hike and we were sweating bullets stopping to shed layers and trying to stay dry.  Our body temperatures dropped as we gained elevation.  We steadily climbed for hours and I became aware of the places where I was getting cold and I wondered if I would be okay, if we would be okay, if I would know if I wasn’t okay and where my edge was.   As we ascended,  we checked in a lot and helped each other with zippers and laces and buckles and clips.  Gloves and freezing temps make everything more challenging.  I take my gloves on and off dozens of times when exerting myself outside in winter.   My hands get sweaty and I don’t want my gloves to get too wet or I need to get into a zippered pocket and then unwrap a snack.  Then my hands are cold and I put my gloves back on and so on.  We checked each other out from time to time assessing each other’s okayness.  Now 5e and Brenda have been pals for 20 years and know each other pretty well.  But since they don’t know me nor do I know them as well, the gauge of “are you okay” was less precise and had a steeper learning curve but the trust was there.  The thing about hiking a 4000 footer with others is that it creates instant intimacy.   You go from, “hi my name is__” to detailed accounts of whats going on with your body as you burp and rip farts and help each other in and out of your clothes and boots.

The higher we got the more snow was on the trail and caked all over the trees. Any pain or discomfort or cold spots I had went to the back burner once we popped out onto the ridge.  The blue sky creeped through making way for a breathtaking wonderland up there.    Once on that first summit called Starr King we put on more clothes, ate some snacks and then quickly moved along.  Stopping for even two minutes was enough to start rapidly cooling down.  The ridge was gorgeous.  We were in the trees but there were some clearings with some intense views.  The first summit, Starr King actually had more views than Mount Waumbek.  We passed some remains from an old fire cabin…ironically all that was left was the fireplace and I wished it had a fire in it.

Before we knew it we had summitted Waumbek exactly 3.5 hours later.  We were elated.  5e made a snow angel, we snapped some pics, ate more snacks, and I discovered some ice chunks that had formed on my eye lashes that were just impressive!

We cruised down the mountain half trotting and I even butt slid a few of the steeper snowier sections saving my knees.  My feet started to throb once we got to a lower elevation I laid down on the trail and elevated my feet on a log reminding me of all those painful descents on the long trail last summer.  It was so beautiful looking up at the trees and the blue sky with the fast moving clouds and I tried to take in as much of it as I could.

Once back at the car we were stoked to have had a successful hike and it was a relief to take my boots off and change into dry cotton in the warm car.  It was a lovely drive home through Franconia Notch with Lafayette looming on the left and Cannon rising up on the right.  We texted and called our loved ones to let them know we were safe and off the mountain.  I got to know my new friends during the 3 hour drive home and we shared stories.  I was home in time for dinner and I was in bed by 8:30.

In conclusion, I’m still not sure how I feel about winter hiking.  I love the snow and I love the snow caked scraggly trees up there.  But zero degrees is kind of intense.  I’m hoping my next winter hike will be at least 20 degrees warmer.  I have yet to snowshoe up a mountain and to be perfectly honest, I am not that eager to.  I don’t mind the micro spikes…they feel like a super power.  I AM however VERY eager to hike up a mountain in sneakers and shorts and I can’t wait for that.  In the meantime I will continue to experiment with winter hiking.

Post hike

It’s been just about two weeks since I finished hiking the Long Trail. I reunited with my awesome and incredible partner who picked me up in Northampton at The Venture Out Project Headquarters where Bear Bait and I were hanging out after generously being picked up by Perry in North Adams.

Talk about a sight for sore eyes!  I’ve never been away from my partner for this long in the 8 years we’ve been together. In the 4 years we’ve lived together I’ve never been away from home for more than 10 days. Infact the last time I left Jamaica Plain for this long was 15 years ago when I spent a month at Haystack in Maine and then drove with my friend from Boston to Santa Cruz, CA via the Deep South following a map I saved from a skateboard magazine detailing every skatepark in the US and trying to skate as many as possible along the way. (This was before internet)  Before mountains inspired me to adventure, outdoor skateparks with concrete bowls led me to almost every state and up and down both coasts on many road trips.

Even after two weeks of being home I am still enamored by running water, flush toilets, the kitchen and the stove with its endless-seeming gas flow, chairs, vegetables with their water still in them. I enjoy the little things like the opportunity to wash my hands and I love making toast and real coffee.

I was extremely tired when I got home and was mostly grounded but there was definitely a crash.  I drove to Vermont with my pal Seven and picked up a Long Trail hiker on the side of the road in Johnson and drove them back to the trail which soothed some of my post trail grief.  We also drove thru smugglers notch and saw rocky craggy caves on this notch road. Then we went to the Green Mountain Club Welcome Center where I ritualistically handed in my journal and Long Trail End-To-Enders Certification Application which will formally put me in the archives with others who have hiked the trail and also award me a patch!  I also bought myself a hat.


After a week I feel like I finally recovered from a month of unrestful sleep and adjusted back to my urban environment. It’s very loud where I live. I’m on a Main Street directly on a major city bus route and a block from a fire station. Lots of sirens and squeaky breaks and engines of large vehicles. It’s overwhelming sometimes.

I finally went back to work this week as I have spent all my money. I am happily self employed. I was reminded of hiking down the forehead of Mansfield today at work as I have my ladder set up on top of some sketchy scaffolding of wood planks over a stairwell.  I actually think I was more comfortable and less afraid as a result of some of the sketchy steep spots I climbed in Vermont.  It feels good to work again but it’s emotionally challenging being out in the world surrounded by the chaotic energy of stressed out people rushing around chasing shiny things.  I’m booked solid for work for the next 3 weeks which feels both oppressive and relieving and I’m grateful for the work.

While I did wash my backpack and aired out some gear, my stuff is still exploded in my room. I think part of me is in denial that the hike is over and I don’t want to put anything away.  I’m looking forward to some fall hiking in the White Mountains in October after I catch back up on my finances this month.  I hope to hike more and do less and make my life simpler thus stay more connected and present to the stuff that matters most like the sky and love.

I do feel that I released something while walking  n the woods for a month. I had a self esteem boost that has enabled me to be more free. I’m just shocked sometimes when I realize I’ve been internalizing negative messages reflected back to me by a mainstream culture where bodies like mine aren’t enough. I am just that much more committed to this lifelong practice of self love and self acceptance as a hairy female bodied, pot bellied,  masculine mannered, male presenting (while not intending to pass and ridden with a lifetime of bathroom anxiety), sometimes slightly scruffy bearded, short, queer, butch, soft core, breastless 38 year old woman person human!

I met marathon runners who couldn’t handle the trail. I met conditioned athletes who have done all kinds of remarkable physical things but they could barely hike in the Northeast.  I saw people with fancy expensive ultralight gear and fit looking bodies who complained and wanted to quit. The Long Trail of Vermont is rugged.  The White Mountains of New Hamshire are rugged. I hike these ridge lines with great joy and sheer determination and I often give my mind all the credit.  But I must give my body some credit too.  I am strong. I may not look it but I am. And I am tough as nails.

Coming soon: A gear review and how my $35 New Balance trail runners faired the 272+ miles and how I missed my boots thus my overall footwear dilemma.