I tried to time the trip to coincide with the leaves changing but I think I was a week or two early. Still, it was lots more dramatic leaf color than Oregon gets.
I arrived at Providence airport on the Friday September 20th at about 11 pm. Long freaking day with lots of weather delays along the way. We were driving north from his house in Attleboro the next morning, way too early for me. We started off with an easy warm-up on Mt. Monadnock. We were going to do the Pumpelly Trail, one he had done a few weeks earlier. Weather was cloudy but it was pretty humid and sticky. The trail starts out as a nice forest walk and then climbs to a rocky ridge that you follow for 4 and a half miles to the summit.
I was enjoying the hike and the feeling of solid rock under my boots (much different from the loose volcanic stuff I'm used to back home). We were sweating in the heat but liked the nice wind once on the ridge. We stopped for a snack in an area of bare rock. The summit could not be seen for the clouds but as we got closer, it came into view and I could see tons of black dots moving around on it. As we got closer, I could tell it was about 150 people hanging out. The trail we had hiked up was empty of people except for us but apparently, there are lots of other trails to the top that are shorter. I was dreading eating my lunch among a bunch of people but when we got there some very hot girls started talking to us so I got over it. ;- ) Too bad their boyfriends were there too though.
The hike down was uneventful save the off-trail route I took. I enjoyed the scrambling over to the real route but Brian, with no technical climbing experience, was giving me dirty looks. Once we got back to the car, we headed up north to some land on a river outside of Woodstock, NH that a woman he works with was letting us camp on. It was great, we had 14 acres to ourselves on a small river. And the luxury of an outhouse and covered picnic table was awesome too. We set up camp in the dark that night.
The next day was an off day for us and we went and did the tourist thing at The Flume. For anyone who's wondering, pass on this. It's a 2 mile walk that cost $8 per person to see a semi-lame waterfall.
Day 3 was the Franconia Ridge Traverse. This was my friend's goal hike of his year. He doesn't hike or climb like I do but I was anxious to see what he was planning. It had rained through the night and was still humid and drizzling when we got to the trailhead. I was set on climbing up Little Haystack first the way the route was submitted on SP. Brian wanted to hit Lafayette first and since this was his goal hike, I deferred. We climbed in fog the whole morning, barely getting any views when we hit the viewpoints along Agony Ridge. We did get a cool view of the clouds churning along the opposing valley ridge sticking to the contours of the terrain. We took a break for a power bar, as usual, about .1 miles from the Greenleaf Hut. (We didn't know it at the time though.)
When we hit the Hut, we warmed up, had some lunch (even though we had eaten a snack 10 minutes earlier) and played a quick game of chess while our shirts dried out. After about 45 minutes of breaktime, we headed out down the trail. 15 minutes later, we realized we were on the wrong trail and backtracked to the Hut where we saw the sign we had missed with clear directions.
A few minutes after the Hut we came to Eagle Lake and then hit the cairned path to the summit. The clouds would clear up a bit now and then but it was cold and windy all the way to the top. We met an AT thru-hiker at the top with the biggest bag of gorp I had ever seen. He had come from Maine and was going to try to stay at the Hut that night.
We didn't spend too much time there, just got a few pictures and then headed on the ridge to Lincoln. As we walked the clouds were clearing. It is a quick easy hike over to Lincoln and by the time we got there, it was clear. We spent about 5 minutes on Lincoln and headed to Little Haystack. I led Brian astray a few times on more scrambly stuff than he wanted but I was enjoying it. When we got to Little Haystack, there was a couple with a large Bernese Mountain Dog on the summit who was being very protective of them. We walked a bit aways and had a snack and then headed down the Falling Waters Trail.
It's a very cool trail once you get down low as there were about 3 or 4 neat waterfalls next to the trail. You cross the stream a few times until it finally meets up again with the original trail (Old Bridle) and goes back to the parking lot.
We drove back to camp, only about 5 miles south on the highway and played some cards until bedtime. Day 4 was a rest day and we went into Plymouth for some supplies. Lots of hot young college girls walking around there. :- ) Brian decided that he would send his future son there as he knew he would appreciate it.
Day 5 was Mt. Washington! We made it to Pinkham Notch by 8 am and the previous night's Chili Mac was catching up with me. After spending some quality time in the visitor's center and downing some Pepto from my first aid kit, we were off. 10 minutes later we were halted by construction on the trail!? There was a large earth mover diggin erosion control burms in the trail and a guy standing behind it acting like a flagman. The ridiculousness of this made me laugh out loud. There were about 5 other hikers besides us standing in line like cars on a barricaded construction zoned highway. We couldn't tromp through the woods around it as the ranger who was playing flagman was right there. So, we waited and eventually, he waved us through. Soon enough we were out in front of everyone else and making time up the trail, which was a lot of rocks in some dirt with some ditches dug through it. Not very smooth sailing.
We took a break just before the Hermit Lake Hut and a HUGE musclehead dude ran past us. He was about 6'5" with pythons like the Hulkster in a tank top. With his longish thin blonde hair, he reminded us of Dobber from the old tv show, Coach. We nicknamed him Gunther and got the heck out of his way. He was obviously training for something and would have crushed us like little bugs. We saw him 10 minutes later at the Hut panting by a picnic table and posing for a nearby woman hiker.
We continued on up Tuckerman Ravine and I was amazed. The huge greenish granite bowl with golden trees on the mountainside was great. Plus, we were now scrambling! Easy Class 2 stuff but still better than just hiking.
We made our way up to the waterfall and then climbed the last part to the saddle. Once on the saddle we looked to our right and realized we still had a long ways to go. Scrambling and hiking over the boulders we met up with an older guy who started telling me about his treks in Nepal and Alaska and climbing in Peru. He was probably about 65 to 70 and was hiking up in Keds tennis shoes. He kept pace with us the whole way to the top and kept me entertained with his stories.
The summit was another story. It was a zoo of elderly people who rode the train up and were smoking around the summitpost. We forced our way in front of them while they stood there with their thumbs up their butts and took our pictures. We then found an out of the way picnic table to have our lunch. A small black and white cat came over and sat next to us and begged for food. He looked WELL fed.
After about an hour or so, we headed down the Lion Head Trail. We enjoyed a peaceful walk down the boulders and through the dwarf spruce trees to the Lion Head. From there it was more easy scrambling down until we met up with a couple who asked us if they were on the Lion Head Trail. We told them yes but they didn't relly believe us until another guy came along and told them yes also. Whatever! We quickly outpaced them to get rid of them. We cruised back the trail to where it meets up again with the Tuckerman and hiked out with my friend , Brian, complaining the whole way about how long it was. (I didn't dare tell him that our next hike would be longer still.) He did great though and I could tell he had been training for our week of New England summits.
Next day was a rest day while we drove from New Hampshire to Maine and into Baxter State Park. Friday morning we were up at 5 am having oatmeal in the dark. By 7 we had gotten ready and broken camp and were on the trail up Katahdin, which was the one I had been looking forward to for months since we planned this trip. I had been dreaming of the Cathedral route, 2000 feet of Class 3 and 4 scrambling (mostly 3). I could tell that Brian did not want to do this route with me. Hell, he wasn't sure he wanted to do this mountain at all but he was being a great friend and hanging in there for me.
We hiked in the Chimney Pond Trail which starts out along a stream and then hits some lakes on the way to Chimney Pond Campground. We made the campground in about an hour and a half, just before 9 am. The weather was clear but a storm was supposed to roll in that afternoon. That could mean 1 pm or it could mean 5, no one knew. So I kept us going but Brian decided he wanted to do the Saddle Trail. He was ok with me doing the Cathedral and I did not like the idea of us splitting up when neither of us had been there before. But I was determined to do the Cathedral and he was determined not to. So we split and I started up the scrambling.
I was in Heaven. Easy climbing but enough so that you had to pay attention and were using hands and feet. There are 3 "Cathedrals" along the ridge, greenish colored granite gendarmes. I passed up a couple parties and fell in behind an older guy who looked like he had done this route 1000 times. I couldn't catch up to him but I was keeping pace with him from about 100 yards back.
Over the first Cathedral (see photo above) and to the right of it. Then a short trail section and more scrambling to the second gendarme. Then another with some airier moves. I was sometimes off the main trail enjoying some easy Class 5 moves without much exposure and trying to make this route last. After the third Cathedral, I came to a talus field and after that some more scrambling over a hump in the ridge. Then the trail met up with the Saddle Trail and I could see the summit to my left.
It was getting windy and I could see the storm coming on the horizon to my left from the southwest. A long white line of low clouds that crept closer as I had made my way up the ridge. I knew we were not going to be able to descend the Knife Edge (below) which was probably just as well as the downclimbing section of the Chimney probably would have involved a lot of my buddy yelling at me and him freezing up.
I made my way to the summit and was stunned to see about a dozen people, the women in bonnets and long dressed, the men in flat-brimmed hats, black pants with beards but no mustaches. It looked like I had been beaten to the summit by the Amish! They were standing on the summit sign with one guy videotaping them. I guess they weren't Amish then, maybe Mennonite or something. It was kinda surreal after climbing this mountain to meet them at the top. I think they had come up the Hunt Trail.
I checked my watch and I had done the route in 1 hour 55 minutes. The sign at Chimney pond had said the usual climb time for Cathedral is 3 hours so I was happy. I wondered what Josh had done this route in though, probably like half an hour.
Brian met me about 15 minutes later as he made his way up from the Saddle Trail. Before he could tell me we WEREN'T doing the Knife Edge, I told him we weren't. I had spoken moments before with the climber I had followed up and the winds were picking up and he said there was no way he would do the Knife Edge so we took some photos, had a sandwich and headed back down the Saddle Trail. We told jokes all the way out and enjoyed our last trail for this year. We talked about next year's trip. Where would we go? Yosemite? Kings Canyon? Norway? Isle Royale? Who knows. Tune in next year.