Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Franconia Ridge Trail: If You Don't Trip, Then You Aren't Looking Around

I am usually one to make fun of the tourists for stopping short in the middle of the road, captivated by the fall colors as the leaves take on their myriad of autumn hues. But I willingly admit that it was my turn this time. This latest adventure was one marked by me tripping over rocks, roots, whatever...and all because I couldn't stop looking around :)

The trip started innocently enough: Diane's alarm didn't go off and I forgot my hiking shoes. But when we finally turned onto Route 93 into Franconia Notch State Park, nothing else mattered. In fact, as we drove under the mountainside that use to hold The Old Man of the Mountain, I am surprised we were able to stay on the road.

And then we started hiking...

It had rained for the past four days and we had chosen this day because it wasn't.
We started laughing out of sheer joy when naively realized that Falling Waters Trail would mean walking up a raging waterfall during Peak Foliage.

Seriously, does New England get any more beautiful than that?
So we kept moving upward, hiking about 3000 vertical feet from the parking area to reach the summit of Little Haystack. With Vespi on lead behind me, we were guided by Other Dog, a beautiful white huskyish creature who had decided that he could wait for us but not his humans. He would appear like a ghost out of nowhere, seemingly checking on Vespi and then continuing upward. He stayed with us for most of the hike, until we ventured off onto a spur toward Shining Rock - where I believe his humans finally caught up with him.

Vespi was in her glory.
At the summit of Little Haystack, she climbed atop the lone boulder marking the highest elevation.
She was posing for a picture.
I shook my head, laughed, and took the shot she wanted.
Actually, I took like three of them, but this one was the funniest :)

And then it was time to
"Run the Ridge"

With the Presidential Range to our right and the Old Man & Cannon Mountain to our left, we were hard pressed to stay focused on our foot placement.

The Ridge was not like Brigadoon today.
The winds were constantly and just cool enough to stand up the hairs on my arm as I cooled off from the ascent. Clouds littered the skies, making a sunburn out of the question but casting a perfect photographers glow on the yellow and red valleys below.

We stopped for a quick lunch just after the summit of lafayette,
nestled behind some rocks on a pseudo peak.
Our original plan had been to make a quick dash over to Garfield and back,
but I should have known.

There is no such thing as a quick dash in the Whites.

Diane kept an eye on the time as we made our way down the wet, slippery slope. We had descended out of the Dry and windy Alpine Zone and into the slick muddy mess of a pine forest. As life long skiers, we still had not perfected the art of walking downhill and eventually had to turn around before our destination. We really did not want to be walking out of the woods in the dark.

When we got back up to the Franconia Ridge, the once whispy clouds had no become a solid grey sky. The winds had picked up and we knew we had to push forward. Potentially heavy rains were expected and we didn't want to get caught up. Besides, after looking down at the gorgeous valleys below, we couldn't walk to walk through the vibrant colors. :)
So began our final descent from the ridgeline down to the Galehead Hut.
Nestled just above a pool of mountain water and built in the 1920s, the hut looked more like a mansion than the classic Vermont lean-to. Leave it up to the Appalachian Mountain Club to go all out.

We still had some exposed ridge to go, so enjoyed our final glimpses of the apex of our hike. We could see Shining Rock way over to our right and were impressed with how far we had ventured. Boulders that Vespi could barely make her way up now looked smaller than a pinhead, a true sign that we were indeed on our way home.

But the final section of our journey was not a sad one.
The Old Bridle Path took us directly into the peak of foliage and I made a remarkable three step recovery as I tripped over what I couldn't tell you. A day that had been marked by laughter, good conversation and stunning views ended in very much the same fashion.

Driving home from New Hampshire, a combination of peace and pride swirled about in my head. How awesome that we were able to follow the weather and run away from the shop on just the perfect day. Thanks to Mike for holding down the fort so that the ladies could get out for some fresh air :)

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You!!