Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A View From the Cheap Seats - Round Two!

A hiker friend of mine came up with the label “View from the Cheap Seats” one day while a group of us were sitting atop South Doublehead mountain, gazing from the ledges down over a wooded valley to the distant village of Jackson, feeling like we  were all sitting at the top of the cheap bleacher seats in a ballpark watching life pass on by. 

Franconia Notch from both sides

The Franconia Notch area was once home to the iconic New Hampshire figurehead hanging from the cliffs of Cannon Mountain known as “The Old Man of the Mountain”.    Unfortunately, the Old Man crumbled and finally tumbled down into the valley below back in 2003.  Ah, gravity.  The two hikes I will highlight in this entry start from the same parking area (Cannon Mt. Tramway) but ascend opposite sides of Franconia Notch. 

The first hike, to the Old Man’s former hangout, is Cannon Mt. which features a tramway to the top of the ski slope, as well as a viewing tower for all season adventurers.  My journey travels about ¾ of the way to the Cannon Mt. summit (4100 ft.), the last ¼ being a far easier hike,  completed in perhaps a half hour.  

The Kinsman Ridge Trail

The Kinsman Ridge Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) begins on the western side of the notch, climbing steeply almost immediately through the hardwoods after leaving the Tramway parking lot.  The trail parallels, and at one point joins, the ski trails for much of the upper part of the 1.5 mile hike (approx. 1.5 hrs.). This steady, rugged climb enters into the scrub pines after veering away from the ski slopes eventually leading to a side-path which I feel offers the most spectacular view of the Notch and Franconia Ridge.  The photo’s I offer support this opinion far better than I ever could with words .

The left side of Franconia Ridge looking east.
The top of the former Old Man in the Mountain Head.

The right side of Franconia looking southeast.

Old man with a beer!
The second hike ventures to the summit of Mt. Lafayette (5260 ft., 6th highest in NH) and is a much longer, fairly difficult climb on both the Greenleaf Trail and the Old Bridal Path, which intersects at the Greenleaf cabin, for a total hike of 3.8 miles, at least 3 hrs.  This hike is more suited to avid climbers out for a day-long event and should not be viewed as a casual day-hike. 
Below Eagle Cliff.
The Eagle Cliff Pass looking west to Cannon Mountian.
Crossing under I-93 to the eastern side of the notch, the trail follows alongside the highway until an abrupt left turn leads one up a rather steep, rocky incline via switchbacks to Eagle Pass at 1.5 miles.   This spot offers fine views to the west across the Notch to Cannon Mt. while passing thru a natural cleft between Eagle Cliff and one of Lafayette’s western buttress’. After making your way through the boulders in Eagle Pass, the now more moderate trail skirts the long western buttress for a bit more than a mile through the hardwoods until reaching the Greenleaf Hut at the junction with the Old Bridal Path (trailhead of the Old Bridal Path is accessible a mile or so south of the Greenleaf trailhead). At the hut, hikers can enjoy a rest, a candy bar and a glass of cold lemonade offered at a small cost. Leaving the Greenleaf Cabin on the Old Bridal Path one descends into a small swale and skirts a small pond prior to a moderate and rather treeless climb to the summit of Mt. Lafayette (1.1 miles) .

From the cabin looking towards Mr. Lafayette.
This area can be dangerous in bad weather conditions as there is no protection other than seeking shelter under boulders in make-shift caves  (an experience I have unfortunately had during a quick moving summer thunderstorm,  one not enjoyed at all and definitely not advised).  Live and Learn.
Mt. Lafayette Summit looking west to Franconia notch.

I hope these photo’s give the viewer a real sense of the mountainous regions above treeline here in NH.  

Mt. Lafayette Summit  south along Franconia Ridge.

By Brian Markee

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