There were three us who were itching to ski as Christmas was upon on us in two days. The eerie feeling of no snow that lie ahead was out of the ordinary. We chose to embrace the beauty that was within each step on this snowless day. Our friend Mike is 40-something deep into his quest of all 48 of the 4,000′ foot peaks in New Hampshire. While he has done these three a few times, it gave Dan and myself the chance to hit all three in extremely favorable Winter conditions.
Even with no snow, Micro Spikes were a must have for some sections of the up and down. Parts of this hike were revisited from my younger years and my immediate feeling was: why hadn’t I done this loop sooner!
We set out from the Lafayette Place Parking Lot just off 93 in Franconia Notch. Headed up the Old Bridle Path for .2 miles to the Falling Waters Trail which is 3 miles to the Franconia Ridge trail, part of the Appalachian Trail. While anywhere past the first sets of falls would be misery for kids under 11 or so years old, the first couple of swimming holes (about a mile up) are a realistic hike (away from crowds) and a great reward for the youngsters and parents alike.
Things can get a little tricky with water crossings thrown in before it gets steeper… Along with the ice flow coming down the the trail in some sections.
Once up to the top of Little Haystack the trail intersects with the Franconia Ridge trail providing inspiring views in every direction. It made for a nice lunch spot looking North towards Liberty (4,459′) and Flume (4,328′).
We then turned South to head towards Lincoln (5,089′) before heading onward to Lafayette (5,260′) to complete 1.8 miles across the ridge. Still in awe with the clear weather and the snow free ridge trail, we continued along like it was early Fall. We were all smiles as the clouds rolled by in a harmless manner. Certainly a rare Winter experience in the Whites.
Up to Lafayette we went to finish off the uphill portion of our day. This is the part where you get that extra step regardless of how your legs may feel…gotta love adrenaline!
We remained for a while on top of Lafayette taking in the spectacular 360 degree views before heading down the Greenleaf Trail back to the Old Bridle Path.
We made our way to the closed Greenleaf Hut (circled below) 1.1 miles for a quick snack. From the hut we had another 1.1 miles to the Old Bridle Path. What a 1.1 it was through some epic clouds that flowed over the trail and surrounding ridges. Seeing a bare Cannon Mountain on 12/23 was a little freaky…as of today though, they are 43 trails strong with fresh snow on the ground and more on the way.
The steep, rocky descent was no match for us after coming down from the clouds. However, damn glad we had hiking poles. The remaining mile or so towards Franconia Notch was refreshing after the ups and downs of covering 8.3 miles over 6 hours. It could be done in less time but we were taking our time taking it in.
Any fairly active person, if not up for the whole loop, can make the hike up to Lafayette and back via the Bridle Path to Greenleaf Trail which is no easy walk in the park covering roughly 3 miles up and 3 back. If the weather is good, your good, and it’s still early in the day make it a loop.
This a hike to be revisited with friends and family in the years ahead.
Always have a beat on the weather
Rock the right gear, hydration, & food
Stay within your limits