Saturday, July 24, 2010

Visiting Kin

"If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking." - Buddhist Proverb
March 27, 2010. It had been two weeks since my young friend Mark had climbed his first White Mountain in New Hampshire. Now we were back again. This time we had a 10 mile hike planned that would take us over two more 4,000 footers, North Kinsman and South Kinsman. I had planned the hike to be at least 10 miles for a reason. Mark is a Boy Scout and he is working on his hiking badge. This entails doing several 10 and 20 mile hikes, most of which he has done with the troop and his mom, an excellent hiker in her own right. She and I had discussed presenting a 10 mile hike to Mark's hiking badge leader Dwight, and he had agreed to allowing a mountain hike with me to count towards Mark's badge. It certainly was going to be a more difficult 10 miler than anything the Boy Scout Troop did in Connecticut, as Mark and I would feel thoroughly beaten up when the day ended. But I mean that in a good way.

Mark and Nuttah MD at trailhead sign in Franconia Notch
The day was cold but clear and the wind was light. It was going to be a gorgeous day. We would be hiking from Lafayette Place Camp Ground up to Lonesome Lake, and then on to Kinsman Ridge and the two peaks that dominated the ridge, North and South Kinsman. Franconia Notch is formed by Kinsman Ridge on the west and Franconia Ridge on the east, and is split by Route 93 going north and south. It is one of the most scenic and heavily visited areas of the White Mountains.

The trail to Lonesome Lake.
Mark and I geared up in the parking lot and soon were on our way. The trail leading up to Lonesome Lake was fairly easy and the lower part was mostly snow free. Still we carried microspikes, crampons, and snowshoes. The traction would come in very handy further on. Lonesome Lake sits high above the floor of the notch and the Appalachian Mountain Club has one of their huts there. It is one of the most scenic spots for a hut and one of the most accessible, so it gets many visitors during the year. We had planned to stay there ourselves but no space was available, more on that later.

Trail and warning sign at Lonesome Lake. Footprints across the frozen lake showed someone had ignored the warning
We soon reached Lonesome Lake and started to circle it westwards. The lake is girdled with a trail that has several outlets heading up or down. This is a popular way to climb either the Kinsmans or to climb Cannon Mountain, known for its ski area and as the former location of the Old Man of the Mountain. The Old Man had always been the very symbol of the Granite State until it plummeted into the notch on May 3, 2003. The loss of this icon still haunts those of us who have gazed on it and believed it would long outlive our children and their children's children. It just goes to show that you are never promised tomorrow and that all things must pass.

Outlet stream at south end of Lonesome Lake
The Kinsmans and Kinsmans Ridge loom over Lonesome Lake
This trail around the lake would take us to the hut and to the trail we would be taking up to the ridge, Fishin' Jimmy Trail. This trail with the easy name would prove to be less than easy on the body with a very steep and challenging section as it approached the ridge. But for now we stopped at the hut and took a break before the push upwards.

Mark takes a break at Lonesome Lake Hut.
Mark and a frozen Lonesome Lake. Franconia Ridge lies across the notch
When we had finished taking a breather, we slung packs and headed out on Fishin' Jimmy Trail. This trail would turn out be quite a slog with many undulations followed by a steep and very icy pitch up to Kinsman Ridge. I had my crampons on and Mark was using my microspikes. Without these traction tools we would never have made it safely to the top. Mark is a solid hiker but by the time we had finished Fishin' Jimmy Trail he had developed something of an animosity towards it and I couldn't blame him. Steeper than a staircase and treacherously icy, the trail had taken a toll on us when we finally reached the Junction with Kinsman Ridge Trail. Kinsman Ridge Trail runs the length of the ridge but we would only be taking it far as South Kinsman summit and then back again. But before we did that, it was time for lunch. Fishin' Jimmy Trail had taken a couple of hard hours to cover so we headed off on a little detour to Kinsman Pond and shelter. Kinsman Pond lies below North Kinsman and would be a lovely place to stop for lunch.

An early section of Fishin' Jimmy Trail. This benign section gives little warning to the steep and icy sections ahead.

At Kinsman Pond. North Kinsman rises in the background.
Mark prepares lunch at Kinsman Pond
  Kinsman Pond shelter is an AMC open cabin. There are many such shelters in the White Mountains. Some are available by reservation in season, such as the AMC huts, and some are by first come first serve availability. The Kinsman Pond shelter has recently been rebuilt and we found some backpacks inside which indicated there were already a few hikers that had dumped gear here and headed out for the day.

Kinsman Pond Shelter
After a simple lunch of pepperoni sandwiches and trail mix, we headed back to the juncture with Kinsman Ridge Trail. The snow was now about 3 to 4 feet deep on the trail and the sign and any visible tree blazes were all just a little above the snow cover.

Kinsman Ridge Trail Junction sign.
Glad to be done with the outward journey on Fishin' Jimmy Trail we headed up Kinsman Ridge Trail. Earlier, when we had reached Kinsman Pond, Mark had assumed we were nearly at the top of the ridge. When North Kinsman came into view over the pond he asked, with clear concern in his voice, if we had to go up on "that." I told him that we would be climbing to the highest point on Kinsman Ridge, so anything above us now had to be climbed. He wasn't too pleased to hear it and when we started on the climb up Kinsman Ridge Trail he started to occasionally grumble about "this stupid trail." Mark is 14 and a remarkable hiker for his age, but many hikes in the Whites can seem like climbing uneven stairs for hours with the weight of a pack on your back. Mark wasn't the first, nor will he be the last, hiker to grumble a bit! After what seemed a long time, but wasn't, we reached the summit of North Kinsman at 4,293 feet and saw the glory of Franconia Ridge to the east.

Mark and I on North Kinsman
Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman. Mt Lafayette is left of center and Mt. Lincoln is right of center. The white gash in the foreground is Lonesome Lake. Rte 93 lies very far below in the notch.
Cannon Mountain at left as seen from North Kinsman. Mt Lafayette is the white peak on the right.
When we had reached the summit of North Kinsman I was tired. But I'm part Irish and very stubborn and had every desire to continue on to South Kinsman before turning back. I was a little concerned for Mark however and I decided to give him an "out". So I asked him if he wanted to skip South Kinsman this time and head back. He told me no he wanted to go on as planned. I then asked again and said I was tired myself and didn't mind turning back at all to give him another chance to save face as it were. He responded in his classic monotone, "Frankly Mr Pro, I don't believe that. We are finishing the hike." I had to laugh but once again the young man had impressed me and made me proud of him. It would not be the last time. So on we went to South Kinsman. The weather was gorgeous so we took advantage and dumped some of our gear along side the trail to lighten our load. I kept some emergency gear with me for safety and because Mark's mom had once again invoked the need for me to bring Mark and all his body parts back safely. We were soon on the summit of South Kinsman at 4,358 feet.

On South Kinsman
North Kinsman seen from South Kinsman

Looking southeast. The white scar is Mt. Flume
Mt Moosilauke as seen from South Kinsman. Mark's mom and I had climbed that peak the year before. I had to point out to Mark that his mom had been higher in the Whites than he had to that point. Never miss an opportunity to mess with a kid's head!
The white lines at center are the ski trails of Loon Mountain in Lincoln NH. The peaks in the distance are the Osceolas and the Tripyramids.
We had bagged two more 4,000 footers and it was time to head back. We would be retracing our step. Both of us were tired but it always gives you a boost when you know you are heading back. We re-crossed North Kinsman and grabbed our gear then headed down to the junction with Fishin' Jimmy Trail. Mark took advantage of his nylon snow pants and slid down on his butt whenever he could. Fishin' Jimmy was no fun going in the easy direction either and many injuries occur when heading downhill, so it was a real pleasure to finally reach Lonesome Lake hut once again. When we reached the hut we could clearly hear some of the people partying inside who were to stay that evening. It's unusual for the hut to be full in March and I wondered why it was today.

The entry to the main cabin at Lonesome Lake Hut
The front of the Lonesome Lake Hut. This porch has a spectacular view of Lonesome Lake and Franconia Ridge.
We took another rest and food break at the lake before heading down. When we were outward bound from the lake we started to run into hikers headed for the cabin and they told us why the cabin was full that night. It seems a bunch of friends reserve the cabin each March for a formal "Thanksgiving" meal and dance! The men carry full suits in their packs and the women bring dresses and high heels! On top of that, they each also hike up some part of the meal in their pack. One guy had 12 roasted turkeys in his pack and one girl had a full birthday cake and bottles of wine! It makes you feel good about people when you hear things like that. The revelers we ran into seemed a bit impressed with Mark when they realized the hike he had just done and very graciously invited us to turn around and join them at the party in the hut. Unfortunately we had a long drive home still to do and we were a bit under-dressed for the occasion anyway (I hadn't brought my heels) so we had to decline. We would be stopping at the Woodstock Inn for dinner and microbrew on the drive south so there was that consolation.

Dinner at Woodstock Inn and Station before the long ride home.
We reached the trailhead tired but happy. We both had two new 4,000 footers under our belts. The sun had set and the moon was over Franconia Ridge. Mark also had another 10 mile hike done towards his hiking badge. It was a real pleasure to dine at the Woodstock Inn that night. It was a real pleasure just to sit actually, and to drink a well earned Pemi Pale Ale. It had been another great day in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I have had many of those in my time and hope to have many more. And I hope Mark does as well.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience you and your son had.