Lafayette to Flume Traverse, 9/7/2014

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Jul 18, 2005
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Nashua, NH
September 7, 2014: Franconia Ridge Traverse – Lafayette to Flume

Trails: Old Bridle Path, Greenleaf Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Liberty Spring Trail, Franconia Notch Recreation Trail

Summits: Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty, Flume

Hikers: Rebecca Schubert and me

This was day #2 of a back-to-back weekend of hiking. The first day was, from end-to-end, a pretty difficult experience. I was very hopeful this day would be better. We both had an early start planned for Monday and wanted to finish the hiking early. Once we knew when we wanted to finish it was a simple exercise in backward planning to see when we needed to start. The forecast was for terrific conditions all day; a prefect day for above the treeline on Franconia Ridge. On our way to the OBP/FWT trailhead we stopped to spot a vehicle at The Basin, our planned ending location.

With a little help from our headlights we started up Old Bridle Path; we had roughly an hour of darkness before retiring the headlights for the day. Our first target was Greenleaf Hut. After the experience from the previous day I wanted to be sure of a full load of water before leaving the hut; Franconia Ridge is a pretty dry place. On our way to the bottom of Agony Ridge we retired the headlights and enjoyed the remaining climb to the hut in natural light. Most of the way we had limited views due to cloud cover on the summits and areas of undercast; but it was clearing fast.

We reached the hut without seeing another person along the way. Inside, the hut croo was busy serving breakfast to the Saturday night guests. I pulled my reservoir, topped it off, and we were soon on our way to Lafayette. After leaving the hut we slowly gained elevation and wind as we moved toward the summit. Finally above the treeline the wind was coming from the north/northwest and making for pretty uncomfortable conditions. We both had an extra layer on with hoods up to deal with the wind. I think we both knew comfortable conditions would arrive with the sun; and the area was clearing out fast.

We reached the summit of Lafayette, got a few pictures, and headed to a sheltered place on the south side of the summit to relax for a few minutes, enjoy the views, and have refreshment. I felt a lot better than I did the day before. A little fuel; a Builder Bar, crackers, and a Monster couldn’t hurt. We finished the break as others arrived from Greenleaf Trail and more were approaching from the south. Before the place got crowded we took off for Lincoln. Within a few minutes the latest fuel started to kick in and I was feeling really good. We were able to hold a solid pace as we moved down the ridge, over Truman and on to Lincoln. A couple stops were still needed on the approach to Lincoln but that’s normal, even on a really good day. We met a few people on our way to Lincoln but only a few; that’s what happens with an early start. We had only a quick stop on Lincoln and were on our way to Little Haystack.

Somewhere around Lincoln we heard the sound of a helicopter. I was scanning the sky for it and couldn’t locate the thing. With hearing aids, sometimes it’s really tough to identify direction on sounds. Finally, I looked down and saw the military helicopter coming around the north side of Cannon Mountain, appearing to be at an elevation below the summit. I commented to Rebecca I thought they were most likely on a rescue mission; a training flight at that elevation in this area didn’t seem likely. Eventually we all learned the sad news.

We continued south through the area known as The Gargoyles and on to Little Haystack. Still faced with a very light crowd, and outstanding weather conditions, we were really enjoying the day. On Little Haystack I did a time check and found we were right on plan for the hike (actually a little ahead). Soon, we would be heading below the treeline as we continued south to Liberty, and then Flume.

Once we went into the trees the layers came off. We were sheltered from the cool breeze and the sun was running the temperature up. The south exit from Little Haystack was a little slow through the steep rocky section but we soon cleared it and settled into a brisk cruise to Liberty Spring Trail junction. The long gradual climb to the trail junction also takes care of most of the climb to Liberty. We reached the trails junction and generally kept moving on to the summit.

We arrived to Liberty with a few others already there. Several of those folks were also on their way to Flume. After a couple summit pictures we were on our way to Flume. For some reason the descent from Liberty to the col seemed a lot more than usual. I’m pretty sure nothing has changed; it just seemed like we spent a very long time going downhill before starting back up for Flume. Eventually it happened and we were again climbing.

Most of the climb to Flume is a mild elevation gain but there are a couple short, steep pitches along the way. With a few stops to keep the heart rate where it needs to be we made our way to the summit. There was a large population of non-biting insects there. Fortunately, the breeze was still coming from the northwest and by selecting a place on the northwest side of the summit we managed to stay out of the problem area and take advantage of insect control from the wind.

We still had a self-imposed deadline for finishing but were way ahead of plan for the day. After lounging on Flume for a while we set off north to head back over Liberty to descend via Liberty Spring Trail having decided descending Flume Slide Trail might be risky due to wet conditions from the recent rain. On our way to Liberty we met more folks headed to Flume. One of the hikers was a familiar face – Jason Beaupre (finishing up a two-day Pemi Loop). It’s always fun to see a familiar face on the trail and in the case of Jason it’s a real treat. We stopped for a while to visit. Eventually we all realized there were a few more miles before the end of the day and we got moving.

That very long descent we enjoyed from Liberty was our down payment on a long re-climb (Liberty stood between Flume and Liberty Spring Trail). We made our way to the summit, I stopped long enough to empty the boulders from my boots, and we were on our way. We had an exit cruise of a little over four miles, with the top half being very rough and rocky terrain. We settled into a comfortable pace and headed for The Basin. All we had to do was hike, the trail was clear and dry; even the usually muddy sections were no problem at all.

Roughly an hour ahead of plan we arrived at the waiting car. Rebecca and I tossed our things inside and we were off for OBP/FWT Trailhead and the waiting truck. Soon we transferred the gear, said our goodbye and Rebecca was on her way. I took care of a few post-hike details and was not far behind.

Thanks Rebecca for another terrific weekend in the mountains. I’m looking forward to the next time out.

I’ve posted some pictures from the day.

BIGEarl's Pictures

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