Mountain: Cannon Mountain, Franconia Notch State Park
Written By: Daniel Battin and Matt Leonard
I am only an occasional winter mountaineer. I climb about one 4000-footer each winter. I usually ski for my winter outdoor adventure. However, President’s Day weekend are blackout days on my ski pass so I decided to climb Cannon Mountain. I had purchased crampons on e-bay the week before so I was eager to try them out. I invited my friend Matt to go along and he was excited to go also. He has not hiked in the winter much so he went to L.L. Bean and bought some winter gear including some stabilizers for his boots. I tested my crampons out the day before and it took us over an hour to get them adjusted for my boots.
I threw my snowshoes in the car on Monday morning just incase we decided we needed them. After a scenic two-hour drive we arrived at the Cannon Mountain tramway parking lot at around 11:30am. I put my crampons on and immediately they were falling off! I was disgusted and kept trying to get them to stay on properly. Meanwhile, Matt tried to climb the first 30 feet on the trail, which was iced over with maybe ½ inch of snow on top. Unfortunately, his stabilizers did not work for these hard-packed conditions at all! He decided to use my mountaineering snowshoes since they at least have crampons on them. By the time we actually started climbing it was noon.
Once we got going on the AMC Kinsman Ridge Trail, I kept struggling with my crampons coming loose occasionally. But Matt was really having problems with the snowshoes. He kept slipping on the icy trail and was often on all fours. Also, he would bushwhack around really icy sections of the trail. Then I came up with a creative and useful idea. What if we each had one crampon and one snowshoe? So I traded my left crampon, which was giving me the most trouble, for Matt’s left snowshoe. Equally able, and equally handicapped! As crazy as it may sound, this strategy worked! With very sure footing on one foot and fairly decent footing on the other foot we made good progress.
We saw several hikers on their way down the Kinsman Ridge trail, who thought it rather unusual to see a hiker with one snowshoe and one crampon! One said, “Hey you’re missing a snowshoe!” to which I replied, “No, I am missing a crampon!” There was another thing that happened as a result of wearing one snowshoe and one crampon. I saw how the snowshoe binding had a strap that goes around the toe section and I realized that maybe I had tied my crampons wrong in the first place! We stopped and rerouted the strap that goes over the middle of the foot so that it does a triangle including running over the toe part of the crampon binding. After that, the crampons stayed on pretty well the rest of the trip.
After two and a half hours of climbing, we reached the overlook above the Cannon cliffs. What an awesome view we had of the Franconia Ridge! The skies were mostly cloudy, but the sun was shining on the Franconia Ridge, making for some good photos. We continued on to the summit of Cannon Mountain with its lookout tower. We reached the summit at around 3:30pm, about three and a half hours after the start of our hike. The views from the summit were incredible as well. We could see the Weeks Range to the north, the Franconia Ridge to the east, and the Kinsman Range to the south.
Once at the summit, we made the mistake of hiking down the ski trails instead of going back the way we had come. I had hiked along the edges of ski trails at other ski areas and had no idea that we were not supposed to hike along the ski trails. We were hiking and glissading down and had gone down about one third of the mountain. Then a young-ish ski patrol came by at around 3:40pm and asked us to hike back up and either go back to the hiking trail we came up or ride the tram down. We said, “Okay, --if we have to.”
We were already about a third of the way down the mountain and did not think we would make it up to catch the last tram and we were also unsure as to whether we had enough daylight left to go all the way back to the hiking trail. After thinking for a few minutes, we saw the sign for Kinsman Glade ski trail on the other side, and remembered that it crossed the hiking trail about halfway up. After we crossed, an older guy from ski patrol stopped us. We told him what happened and told him our plan. He said he didn’t know if it was against the rules (and he works there!), but since we’re this far already, we could go down the edge of the main trail we’re on—just be careful.
After a while, he showed up again and confirmed that he was supposed to send us up before. But he and another decided to escort us down the trail. So we continued down and eventually hit a mogul field where we fell down and poof! We were glissading again. I eventually stopped on a gnarly black diamond ski trail called “Avalanche” and we each put our crampons and snowshoes back on again. Several ski patrols accompanied us down the rest of the mountain to be sure we made it safely. The warned us never to hike down ski trails again. I felt bad that I had caused them the trouble although I never felt in any significant danger. I realize they have a job to do and with today’s litigious society they have to make sure people do not get hurt on their mountain. And, when Matt and I got back to my car at the trailhead, we found a White Mountains HikeSafe brochure on the windshield with the first tip circled for emphasis!
I wanted to go to Eastern Mountain Sports in North Conway. When I couldn’t find a parking space, I took it as a sign to just continue home after a long, tiring, and somewhat embarrassing day.
Once home (7-7:30), Matt traced the route we came down on a trail map he had picked up at the top. We had followed:
Tramway (blue square) (during this part we slid down on our butts for a bit; before ski patrol showed up)
Middle Cannon By-Pass (black diamond) (2nd ski patrol)
Pauline’s Extension (black diamond) (near the end of this we put crampons and snowshoes back on)
Avalanche (black diamond)
Banshee Cut-thru (blue square) (had we gone straight, it would’ve been steep, icy black diamond)
Banshee Glade (blue square)
Notice that the middle half was all black diamond, and the rest was blue square. I have been an avid hiker and skier for years. Quite a few times I have hiked up mountains and skied down. Matt is an occasional hiker and snowshoer. Considering what we went through, and without the proper gear, Matt did pretty well for having never downhill skied before! He’s going to take it up next week, but will stick to the beginner slopes for quite a while!
We’ve learned our lesson about how dangerous doing this is, and don’t plan to in the future. We’re lucky the ski patrol was in a good mood.
Since we did this on our own and didn’t use the mechanical lifts, we can add another notch on our list of the 48 NH 4000-footers (my 30th, Matt’s first).
All in all, it was a fun day in the mountains. However, the day would be pointless if I did not learn my lesson. Yes, I made a mistake in hiking down a ski trail, but I never intend to do that again so at least I learned something from this experience. STICK TO THE HIKING TRAILS WHEN HIKING!