View Full Version : White Mtn. Hut to Hut - Part 1 (July14, 2003)

Pete Hogan
03-24-2004, 05:34 AM
It turned out to be more than I ever dreamed! The sensory overload of the Franconia Ridge and the Pemigewassett Wilderness stalled my forward progress as each step presented another stunning panoramic vista. Frequent stops in order to catch my breath – partly due to the physical challenge of the ascent, but moreover as a result of the emotional and spiritual exhilaration of the incredible grandeur surrounding me. It seemed as though I was taking photographs of scenery I had just taken just moments before: the ever-changing, sun-splashed landscape…click; a brilliant yellow alpine blossom…click; the almost iridescent green hue of lichen covered rocks…click. The beauty of this wondrous place overwhelmed me. The extraordinary two-mile ridge from Little Haystack to Mt. Lafayette resulted in a total of forty photographs!

Plans for this three-day hut to hut had been in the works since March. The original route had been slightly altered to include an option for West Bond (4540’), Mt. Bond (4698’) and Bondcliff (4265’) from Galehead Hut on the final day (weather permitting). Over the first two days, we would summit Mt. Lincoln (5089’), Mt. Lafayette (5260’), Mt. Garfield (4500’), and Galehead Mountain (4024’).

The first hiking day had our group ascending the Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack (4760’) and then traversing the famed Franconia Ridge, taking in the summits of Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette before descending on the Greenleaf Trail to Greenleaf Hut for our first overnight. The accumulative distance for the first leg of the journey was approximately six miles with 3850’ of vertical ascent.

The second day started at Greenleaf Hut. Shortly after a hearty breakfast, we ascended the 1050 vertical feet to the summit of Mt. Lafayette. We then traversed the incredibly beautiful Lafayette ridge and north peak before descending below timberline for the long and gradual hike to the summit of Mt. Garfield on the Garfield Ridge Trail. Our day ended at the newly reconstructed Galehead Hut. A short hike to the summit of Galehead Mountain either before or after dinner was also part of the day’s itinerary. This leg of the journey turned out to be the most physically challenging of the three-day trek. Although this segment was only 8.2 miles long and a moderate 3200’ of vertical, the gains and losses of seemingly endless bumps, humps and clumps took its toll. The AMC White Mountain Guide alluded to this with a passage that stated, “the trail is more difficult than one might gather from a glance at the map.” In retrospect, that is an understatement!

The third and final day started at Galehead Hut and offered two options. The entire group would begin the day with the steep and rocky ascent on the Twinway Trail to the 4902-foot summit of South Twin Mountain. Then, depending on weather and/or personal endurance reserves, we would either descend via the North Twin Spur over North Twin completing our trek at the Haystack Road trailhead, or continue on the Twinway to Mt. Guyot. After reaching the summit of Guyot, we would connect with the Bondcliff Trail for a traverse of the Bonds before ending our journey at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center. The first option entailed approximately 6.4 miles with a 1450-foot ascent and a 2950-foot descent. The Bonds option would cover nearly 15 miles of trail with 3410 feet of cumulative ascent and 3350 feet of descent. We were well aware of the challenge of the Bond’s option and were willing to go the distance if the weather remained favorable.

Prior to the start of the hike, we parked one car at the North Twin Trailhead in case we decided to descend over the Twins on the last day. Another car was parked at Lincoln Woods as our primary descent route. The remaining vehicles were used to transport our group from the Comfort Inn (where we stayed on the travel day) to Lafayette Place parking for the beginning of our journey. (We made sure each vehicle had a WMNF valid parking pass so we wouldn’t any surprises on our return to civilization!)

Our first hike day dawned relatively clear with the forecast calling for partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the upper 70’s, humidity slightly over sixty percent and refreshing winds at 10 mph. The prediction was for more of the same weather on Tuesday, with the possibility of scattered thunderstorms on Wednesday.

With packs weighing an average of 25 pounds, we started from Lafayette Place at 8:15 AM. We chatted excitedly as we began our great adventure, stopping for a group picture at beautiful Stairs Falls. The sparkle of the morning sun reflected off the cascading water at Cloudland Falls, where we once again took some time to capture the moment on film. Our first major rest stop was at Shining Rock (11:00 AM), where we dropped our packs and descended the rugged spur trail to the massive granite buttress. When we returned to the trail junction, we were ready for the final thirty-minute stretch to the ridge at Little Haystack.

Emerging from the confines below timberline to the panoramic expanse of the Franconia Ridge is something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Words simply do not do justice to the incredible sights and the flood of emotions as this alpine paradise is reached. After a brief lunch, we continued our relaxed ascent of the summits of Mt. Lincoln (1:30 PM) and Mt. Lafayette (2:30 PM), where we spent time basking in the greatness surrounding us. Along the way, we were in awe of the engineering prowess of Mother Nature. We wondered how those rock formations remained balanced so precariously on the steep western slopes. We marveled at the resiliency, strength and pristine beauty of so many delicate alpine plants. We were amazed at the grassy alpine meadows that defied imagination and the harsh environment. All along the route we were enchanted by the endless expanse of wilderness and surrounding mountains of the Pemigewassett. Indeed, there was an individual and collective sense of our good fortune to be able to be here to see and appreciate these inspirational wonders. We also knew how lucky we were to have the blessing of great weather and wonderful people to share this experience.

Despite an unspoken consensus that this day should last forever, we decided just before 4:00 PM to descend from the Lafayette summit to Greenleaf Hut where we would spend our first night. In 50 minutes we arrived at the hut and after some uncertainty and confusion over bunk selection protocol, we settled in to our post-hike routines while preparing for the night ahead.

Supper was served to a full hut promptly at 6:00 PM. Our meal included appetizers and drinks with Hawaiian beef, rice, and pumpkin pie. The food was excellent and plentiful and the service and hospitality of the hut “croo” was outstanding. After supper some members of our group hiked briefly up the Greenleaf Trail to an open vantage point that provided unrestricted views of a magnificent sunset over Cannon Mountain. It was a glorious experience and a fitting end to an extraordinary day.

End of Part 1.