A Final Taste of Winter

Looking towards Mount Lafayette 

I found the message Doug sent me Friday night hard to believe.  “Looks like it is going to be very cold tomorrow on Franconia Ridge, they have seen a little snow this week and are anticipating high winds.”  I had not been up north in a few weeks, but last time I was there the mountains were void of snow and the temperature hovered around fifty.  The disintegrating snow, mixed with the light rain that day in March was enough to convince me to put the ski gear away for the season.  The fact that two weeks ago it was in the high eighties, and that I have been cycling in a short sleeve jersey for the last month, made the prospect of winter weather seem ridiculous.

Franconia Ridge from the Cannon parking lot
I found the idea of wintry weather up north ridiculous, but I was quickly proven wrong the moment I opened the car door in the Cannon parking lot.  The air was cold and the wind was ripping through the parking lot as I scrambled to the back seat in an effort to find a puffy coat I had stashed with the rest of the day’s gear.  Looking up at Franconia Ridge, it was encased in snow proving that winter had been revived, at least above tree line.  Lucky for us, the plan was to spend the majority of our day above tree line following the Franconia Ridge Trail while ticking the summits of Flume, Liberty, Haystack, and Lafayette (oops, I have never been a great planner).   
Looks a lot like winter
The night before as I packed – and tried to disregarded Doug’s message about the weather – my kit rounded out for the day akin to what someone would pack going for a fast and light day of peak bagging in the White Mountains: trail runners, a small pack, a lightweight puffy coat, a wind shirt, a lightweight raincoat,  light hat, light gloves, an altimeter, and some snacks.  Fortunately for me, as I waited for the coffee to brew before leaving in the morning, I decided to bring an extra wind jacket, rain pants, a slightly larger pack, and a pair of boots.  The moment I opened the door in Cannon’s parking lot, I was extremely grateful for that decision.

Doug with Liberty in the background

It did not take much elevation gain before snow started to become a fixture on the trail.  Nearing tree line, small drifts threatened the top of my boots and would have made a day in trail runners an uncomfortable affair.  We chose to gain the ridge via Liberty Springs trail, which meant to summit Flume we would have to backtrack the ridge, then come back across to where we started.  However, gaining the ridge we encountered extremely strong winds that seemingly blew our motivation away as we opted to begin heading toward Haystack and cutting our trip a little short.

Doug with Liberty and Flume in the background

The traverse from Haystack to Lafayette found me wearing everything but my rain pants and puffy coat in order to protect myself from the wind.  Crossing the ridge we passed numerous groups, many of which must not have a Doug in their midst; a large amount of them seemed under prepared for the conditions we encountered.  Sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers seemed to rule the ridge (all clothes unsuitable for a summer ascent, much less on a wintry day) something you see more of in the summer and less of in the harsher months.  I can only imagine that being under dressed in those biting conditions did not make for a fun outing.

Looking across at Cannon

With the wind whipping and Doug’s and my appetite for the mountains satiated, we made quick time across the ridge and were quickly heading toward the Greanleaf hut.  At the hut we had a quick snack, then continued with a fairly routine descent to the car via the Old Bridle Path.  While our initial plan was to reconnoiter part of the ridge for a future attempt on the Pemi loop in a day, the weather did not wholly cooperate. But it did give us a fun day in mountains, and perhaps a final taste of winter for the year.