We learned of the attack upon arriving at Pinkham Notch. At first we thought it was a gag, in poor taste, but the person relaying the disturbing information was adamant. Everything felt askew but there was nothing we could do but continue with our lives. That evening, in the Lakes of the Clouds hut, everyone huddled around the radio and listened to the president's speech. Many questions went through our minds.
The following day we traversed the northern Presidentials, via the Gulfside trail, and looped back to Pinkham Notch. It was a bright and beautiful day; the sky was unmarked by contrails because all flights had been grounded. It was an eerie juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy; all seemed normal but was not. We returned to Montreal and wondered what the future held in store.
The last time I hiked to Lafayette was in the mid-80's. I don't recall much about the trip other than it was with a few friends and we probably ascended via the Old Bridle path. I don't believe the I-93, through Franconia Notch, was built yet. This time around I wanted to see more of the Franconia Ridge and decided to ascend it via the Flume Slide trail to Mount Flume and continue over Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, Lafayette, and descend via the Greenleaf trail to the tramway parking.
My wife dropped me off at the Liberty Spring trail-head and we agreed to rendezvous at the tramway parking ten hours later. We had radio tranceivers and I'd contact her later to refine the pick-up time. I drove from our motel in Twin Mountain to the trail-head and, despite a tour of the area the previous day, I made a wrong turn at the Flume exit (34A). Instead of heading south on route 3, towards Liberty Springs trail-head and the Flume, I headed north to the Basin parking area. Wrong! Given the way the I-93 is built, I was obliged to return to the northern end of Franconia Notch and use exit 34B to get back on the southbound I-93. The mistake added about fifteen minutes of extra driving time. I'll know better next time.
I kissed my wife good-bye and left the Liberty Springs trail-head at 7:15 AM. The first 0.6 miles winds its way through the woods then arrives at the paved bicycle path running through the Notch. A short walk along the path and over a bridge leads one to the Liberty Spring trail. Another 0.6 miles along this path brings one to the start of the Flume Slide trail. Its condition was excellent and suggests it sees less traffic than the Liberty Springs trail which leads to a designated camp-site and the summit of Liberty.
The initial stretch of the Flume Slide trail was a pleasant walk along a well-maintained trail, curving around the base of Liberty. It crosses four major streams, the first feeds directly into the Pemigiwasset River, and the remaining three are tributaries of Flume Brook which also feeds the Pemi river. I stopped for water at the fourth stream-crossing. Hardwood Ridge was now looming above and it was clear the trail would soon begin to climb in earnest.
I guess the only drawback to hiking in Franconia Notch is the sound of diesel trucks using their "jake brakes". The rumbling drone of decelerating trucks can be heard for great distances and detracts from the natural sounds of wind, water, and bird-song.
Having hiked mostly in the Adirondacks, it's natural for me to compare everything to Adirondack trails. The steep portion of the Flume Slide trail left me searching for a comparable trail in the Adirondacks. The ascent of Allen's slide came close except this route was not slippery with "red slime" and not eroded or criss-crossed with deadfall. It had plenty of exposed rock, similar to what one would encounter on the Zander Scott trail to Giant, but it was steeper and more rugged, not like smooth Adirondack rock. All in all, I found it to be a challenging but very enjoyable route. I agree with the guidebook that in wet weather it would not be a very friendly descent route. Although it is called "Flume Slide", it is an old, overgrown slide and there are only a few views through the trees during the ascent.
I reached the Franconia Ridge trail at 9:35 AM. I've often heard the trails in the Whites were less eroded than in the Adirondacks and first sight of the Franconia Ridge Trail seemed to confirm it. A few minutes later I was atop Mount Flume and enjoying the front-row view of Liberty and beyond. Someone had erected a memorial, consisting of an American flag and a photo, atop the summit. The photo indicated the young man, a 19 year old soldier, was from Manchester and died in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006. It saddened me to learn that his life was cut short, never to see the beauty of this day in the mountains, by a war initiated under false pretenses.
|The route: Flume (right), Liberty (left), Lincoln and Lafayette (far background).|
|Shepherd and his flock on Liberty.|
I suppose I shouldn't have said "throngs of hikers" because I merely saw about a dozen hikers. If I believe some of the reports I've heard, that's a tiny number compared to the hiker traffic seen on Lafayette on an average summer weekend.
|Open ridge-walk to Lincoln.|
The first time I visited the White Mountains, some thirty years ago, I immediately fell in love with hiking above treeline. The unobstructed views of dozens of four and five-thousand foot peaks was a feast for the eyes. Fast forward to the present and I was once again enjoying a veritable banquet of views from Franconia Ridge. Small wonder this is a very popular trail.
|A sample of the ridge trail.|
I normally take a selfie on each peak, to capture the moment in time, but for some reason I just cruised over the summit of Lincoln. Maybe it was Lafayette's siren call but there was more ridge to cover, and savor, before reaching the day's ultimate goal. I passed one last couple and then I was alone on the ridge with just the sun, wind, and my thoughts for companions.
|What a spectacular route!|
|Looking south from atop Lafayette.|
The footing was a little rougher, featuring the haphazardly strewn boulders characteristic of the exposed summits of the Whites, and required a little extra care during the descent. Before long I emerged at the Greenleaf hut and was treated to its impressive view of Franconia Ridge. A few hikers were preparing for their departure and others pored over a map while their Great Dane sat quietly nearby. I paused to savor the moment, looking back at the morning's route, and then entered the woods to follow the Greenleaf trail down to the tramway parking.
|What a great spot!|
|Cannon Cliff seen through Eagle Pass.|
Total time: 6h 45m.