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Thread: A Surreal Solo Day On the Franconia Range

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    Senior Member alexmtn's Avatar
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    A Surreal Solo Day On the Franconia Range

    I’ve been hoping to get in a big above tree line hike in of late, and unfortunately wasn’t able to take advantage of some wonderful days we had earlier in the month. Today (Sat 1/30/2016) looked like the best possibility over the next several days of forecasts, though it didn’t seem particularly appealing for a Presi run: a forecast high of 20 combined with 55mph gusts. On the other hand, the Franconia Range showed as “breezy” with a high in the upper 20s. So off I went to enjoy a full-length Franconia traverse.

    THE WEATHER

    What an amazing day for lighting. Check out the pix. The lighting was otherworldly most of the time, with occasional bursts of welcoming sunlight. The surreal ambiance made the tangle with unforeseen trail conditions feel that much more unforeseen. Such a familiar, wonderful spot was suddenly unfamiliar - still starkly beautiful in its own way, but disorienting.
    I had more than enough layers for it, but the temps were substantially colder for most of the day than forecast, and on Lafayette, the “breezy” winds drove those low temps right into my face to the point of pain until balaclava/facemask/goggles were frantically deployed.

    PEOPLE

    Evidently I wasn’t the only person to conclude that today was the least unattractive option for an above tree line outing. I came across 29 other people (4 singles, 5 pairs, 5 threesomes, all doing CCW FW/OBP loops). Everyone was coming at me – if there were other south bounders, they didn’t catch me – and I knew I wouldn’t catch anyone because I was the one breaking trail. Curiously though, there was a single set of bare boot tracks coming at me during the trip from Little Haystack to the LST. I could only surmise that someone was attempting the full ridge from south to north and then bailed at FW for whatever reason.

    I ran across roughly the same number of folks doing Flume-Liberty hikes, with an unusual number of groups (3 out of ~10) coming up the Flume Slide. (Report: surprise of surprises, it’s ‘very icy’)

    On the northern end of the ridge, conditions were not encouraging folks to stop and talk, plus all our faces were heavily bundled - so I really have no Idea who-all I passed and exchanged good wishes with. I did encounter several friends on the Flume-Liberty end, and made a couple of new ones after noticing that the descent off Liberty toward Flume was sled-smooth. A couple was making enterprising use of their slidy sleds to ease their descents off of Liberty and then Flume. On descending the LST, there were unfortunately too many intervening rock points to make the descent below ~3500' very appealing to them by sled.

    THE TRAILS AND THE HIKE

    As I reached the Whites, it was snowing lightly, and looked as though it had been going on for a while. Not what I was expecting. At the OBP trailhead, there appeared to be 1-2 inches of fresh snow. Once underway, the lower elevations bore out to be 2-4 inches of new medium powder, atop an assortment of older, consolidated snow, ice flows, and rocks. At altitude, it was more like 3-6 inches with a fair number of drifted stretches that were 12-24” deep. My normal modus operandi in such conditions is snowshoes, which minimize backward slippage, but based on a clean forecast and the very recent trail reports I decided to challenge myself (for the workout value as well as just because) and attempt to bare boot to Lafayette’s summit and to go with Hillsounds (‘trail crampons’) on the ridge if needed. Turned out to be lots of work breaking trail, sliding backwards on the powder, slipping around on submerged ice (the latter steadily more difficult as I got higher and higher on the summit cone. I made it, but was glad to spike up at that point. Apart for the continuing energy drain from a small amount of backward slippage with most every step in the new snow, the spikes worked fine. Coming off of Little Haystack, though, I did have to push through an extensive waist-deep drift.

    Overall, I’d estimate the snow base at altitude to be 8-12 inches, excluding drifts. Much less on the trails themselves – the new snow coat was sitting on blue ice and rocks for a large percentage of each trail.

    Once off the ridge, descending the Liberty Spring Trail following the bounce-back to Liberty off of Flume, bare boots were fine, and allowed a few pleasurable standing glissades. The road walk back to the OBP trailhead went quickly for whatever reason, though the persistent energy drain from slippage persisted. 20-20 hindsight: snowshoes from trailhead and along the ridge, then bare boots down the LST and back to the car.

    All in all a challenging, novel, visually wild and satisfying outing. I probably got about 150% of the workout I’d been expecting.

    Alex
    Last edited by alexmtn; 01-31-2016 at 11:16 AM.

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    Senior Member mirabela's Avatar
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    Great pics. It was a beautiful day. We were on the Twins, and for a while in the morning it looked like we were going to be socked in altogether. When it opened up, though -- wow!

    Did you get off before the wind picked up? It wasn't too bad until about 2:30, when it really started to crank.

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    Senior Member alexmtn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mirabela View Post
    Great pics. It was a beautiful day. We were on the Twins, and for a while in the morning it looked like we were going to be socked in altogether. When it opened up, though -- wow!

    Did you get off before the wind picked up? It wasn't too bad until about 2:30, when it really started to crank.
    The biggest winds of my day happened on the south of Lafayette, SW at 30-35 mph, around 11. I was pretty much in the trees after 2:30. What I found interesting about the winds I encountered was their on-again-off-again nature, along with how cold they were on a day that I was expecting some warming. Added an extra challenge to layer management. One moment moderate the next moment icy.

    Sounds as though I may have missed a show later on!

    Alex

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    Senior Member iAmKrzys's Avatar
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    Sometimes pictures are really worth 1000 words... They were really fun to watch and I'm jealous, but I'm not quite ready yet to attempt setting a record for hiking daytrip driving distance!

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    Senior Member John in NH's Avatar
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    Alex,

    Thanks for posting this report. I agree the lighting and conditions up there had a very unique surreal feel. I headed up Lafayette that day, starting much later than you I presume, and the combination of fresh powder, rime, and low angle burst of light made it an unusual day. I'll try and get a TR up with some photos soon--thanks for sharing yours.

    As for hikers, later in the day there were quite a few people out. A few interesting gear choices. Quite a few wet jeans, including one party where only 1 out of 3 had a (small) pack with jeans and sneakers. Also saw a jeans wearer with no pack but a selfie stick and phone mounted. Ahh, Franconia Ridge on a weekend..... Doesn't matter what month it is I suppose.
    www.jwelchphoto.com Photography/Hiking Blog

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    Senior Member alexmtn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John in NH View Post
    Alex,

    Thanks for posting this report. I agree the lighting and conditions up there had a very unique surreal feel. I headed up Lafayette that day, starting much later than you I presume, and the combination of fresh powder, rime, and low angle burst of light made it an unusual day. I'll try and get a TR up with some photos soon--thanks for sharing yours.

    As for hikers, later in the day there were quite a few people out. A few interesting gear choices. Quite a few wet jeans, including one party where only 1 out of 3 had a (small) pack with jeans and sneakers. Also saw a jeans wearer with no pack but a selfie stick and phone mounted. Ahh, Franconia Ridge on a weekend..... Doesn't matter what month it is I suppose.
    Glad you got to partake! One thing I've noticed about the 'cotton, sneakers and 1-pt water' crowd is that they don't tend to be out early. However, even later on when I was on the other end of the ridge, everyone I met seemed appropriately equipped - a pleasure to see!

    Alex

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    Senior Member alexmtn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iAmKrzys View Post
    Sometimes pictures are really worth 1000 words... They were really fun to watch and I'm jealous, but I'm not quite ready yet to attempt setting a record for hiking daytrip driving distance!
    Thanks, glad you enjoyed the pictures - and perhaps you should do the drive - after all, how long can you stand to wait to take your rightful spot in the currently ongoing 'longest day trip drives' thread?!

    Alex

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