A great climb especially in the winter, one of the best ridges to run in the East
First time I hiked this mountain it took me twelve hours because I went with two people who had never even seen a mountain before (They were intimidated by mountains "hills" in Maryland). The visibility was good at 60 miles from Franconia Ridge and I had a clear shot at Mt. Washington and Mt. Mooselauke.
The second time I hiked up this mountain it took me about six hours because I did it solo. That time the haze from hot June day cut the view to until twenty miles, which made Mt. Washington not visible to see.
Both times were hot with no wind, rain, snow or hail. I guess I am lucky when it comes to weather. I still consider this mountain my favorite and may try it winter if the weather is good. Luckily I only live a couple miles away.
Getting a late start out of Boston, I decided to head up to Lafayette vs. Washington since it would get me on the trail an hour earlier. I've wanted to a winter traverse of the Franconia Ridge for a while so this was a good opportunity. Predictably, it took me 2 hours from Brighton (Boston) to the trailhead and I started hiking around 10 am.
The weather was nice on the hike up the Old Bridle Path, however, I could see clouds along the ridge on the way up. When I got to the Greenleaf Hut, the ridge looked clear, however, hikers coming down told me that they had low visibility up there. By the time I got up to the top of Lafayette, visiblity dropped and would remain at 30-120 feet across the ridge. While I ran into 7 people near the top, after Lafayette I would have the entire ridge and hike down to myself. Sometimes Windstopper is not enough, and this was one of those times. With 40 mph winds and low visibility, I also found that my water was freezing inside my pack. Needless to say, I didn't take too many photos on the ridge until I got to Little Haystack, at which time I was happy to duck back into the trees for a nice hike out. I saw about 20 people the entire day. Due to the usual heavy foot traffic, trails below treeline were well packed out while the trail above treeline was very evident. I brought an axe and crampons but did not use them. I'm glad I didn't consider bringing snowshoes, though after reading about several Harvard students being stranded overnight up there during March 2001, I did take a sleeping bag and nylon sheet which provided some peace of mind on the ridge. Some people wore plastic boots and brought poles but these weren't really necessary either.
Afterwards, I made my traditional stop at Chieng's Garden Chinese restaurant for dinner in Lincoln, NH. Always a nice stop after a cold hike.
Did the loop early in the morning, leaving the trailhead at about 5:30am. About half a dozen people on top, although I passed close to a hundred below the hut.
I've climbed Lafayette in the winter, at night, during a snow storm, on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike... I've been alone on the summit several times, and I've shared it with a hundred other people.
My first time up Lafayette was probably the most memorable. I was 16 years old when a friend (also 16) and I decided that hiking looked cool. Neither of us had a clue about what to expect. Our only experience was from James Fenimore Cooper and Louis L'Amour books. With far more enthusiasm than foresight, we planned a two-day loop hike through the Pemigewasset Wilderness Area.
I didn't carry a sleeping bag in those days because they didn't use such things in the "Last of the Mohicans." However, we did carry a masks, snorkels, and a hatchet (We'd seen photos of the crystal clear streams and thought that snorkeling in them would be fun. And, of course, what woodsman doesn't carry a hatchet?).
On the hike, we had most of our food stolen by a bear, drank untreated, mosquito larvae infested beaver pond water, cooked over little fires we made in the middle of the trail, and got no sleep at all. But...we made it! I've been hooked ever since.