Friday, December 30, 2011

A Franconia Ridge Christmas Completion - 12/26/11

I've hiked a lot of awesome hikes this year, but this one was completely off the charts. The trail conditions, weather conditions, cloud formations, and timing all resulted in one of the most intense and beautiful hikes we've ever experienced. The photos we captured leave us amazed. At twilight on the day after Christmas, under an Earthshine crescent moon and a bright Venus, my brother reached Lafayette completing the 48 AMC White Mountain 4000-footers. I accomplished my goal in August on our Moonlight Presidential Traverse, and with his summit of Lafayette, two brothers accomplish the 48 in one year.

With #48 in sight for Bill, we felt we could have hiked anything. We got going around 8am, and it was snowing and pretty cloudy. I told Bill it looked like the time I started up Lafayette in February, except there was only a few inches of snow this time on the ground. Our plan was to ascend the Flume Slide Trail, so we went on. We crossed a couple of nice sized streams and followed some nice fox tracks as we hiked into the valley.
Brook Crossing on the Flume Slide Trail
Fox tracks
After the nice stroll in, then once at the slide, it quickly gets steep and it continues up relentlessly until you reach the top. We had our microspikes on just before the slide. The ice was covered completely with fresh snow. The ice was so good, I wish I brought my crampons and ice axe, but we managed just fine with our microspikes. It was a fun climb in the summer, but even more fun in the winter. It really felt like we had to climb the mountain, not hike to get there. We got some teasers of the blue sky on the way up, but it looked like it was going to be cloudy all day. It was such a relief to reach the top of the slide, we took a nice break before heading the .1mi to the summit.
Near start of the Flume Slide
Climbing a scrambly section
As we left the trees at the cliff, the wind and clouds were pretty thick, making it a complete change in weather in just a few steps. We approached the summit with the ledge to our left and the wind was blowing all of the snow around us. I followed Bill to the summit. It just so happened that Flume was Bill's 45th and it was my 90th this year. Next, we got into a hiker jam leaving the summit, and we stopped to have a chat for a few minutes, and then carried on. They were the only hikers we saw all day, except someone by himself on Liberty with khaki pants, Timberland's and no jacket. I sure hope he was ok, and we wondered what in the world he was doing.
Bill carefully ascends Flume
Dan on Mt. Flume, 90th White Mountain 4000 footer in 2011
Mt. Liberty was beautiful. When we arrived at the summit, we got our first clearing over the Pemi Wilderness, and the cloud bank was driven right up the crest of the ridge from the west. That was impressive, and then when we came down around the rocky ledge and looked back, we saw the sun had broken through, and we were looking at the summit glazed perfectly in ice.

Looking north along the ridge from Liberty
Looking back at Mt. Liberty
In the trees, the wind didn't effect us much, but it was still as cold, and the snow still blew around and above us. We arrived at the Liberty Springs junction, and I remember it being absolutely freezing and wanting to keep moving. We took a break. Next, we looked in front of us and saw the completely unbroken trail. From the junction to Little Haystack, we battled snow depths from a few inches to possibly 1+ foot drifts of fluffy snow. When we reached Little Haystack, the sky was a much nicer blue, the sun was shining when not blocked by cloud, and the clouds bumping into the ridge were starting to bunch up, and they came in waves that we watched move in. To our right, the Pemi was clear, Washington rose above the clouds, and to our left the clouds were just jaw-dropping.
Bill ascends to Little Haystack with the Pemi at his back
Dan on Little Haystack with the wind ripping
Now above tree line, we found ourselves in an intense different world, which we immediately adapted to. The trail became a sheet of ice, and the wind was blowing us and our microspikes across the icy trail. On the summit of Mt. Lincoln and Truman, the ground was complete ice, and it was dicey just posing for the summit photos. It seemed that as we climbed higher the winds became stronger. At this point, the clouds completely covered the land, and the sun was starting its downward journey. With the wind blowing so hard, it being so cold, and the clouds looking like they did, we could have been on Everest. I bet you couldn't count how many times we collectively said, "WOW!"
Sunset shining on ice above the clouds
Bill in front Washington, lookin' like he just 'chuted in
After Truman, we realized that the sun wasn't waiting, so the race was on for Lafayette. With every second, the views became more impressive and breathtaking, it was hard to keep walking. Bill looked forward, up to his final peak, which now stood clear of clouds against a deep blue sky. As we made it onto the summit cone, we faced some very steep drifts on a section of trail which took some gas out of us requiring a quick break. After this, we were treated to an amazing view of Mt. Washington and the Presidentials. The peaks were completely covered in white beneath a layered sky of blue and pink. To our left, it was clear enough above the clouds to see the mountains of VT.

The Presidentials beneath a winter sky
The clouds rolling by in waves
The summit of Lafayette was lit up in a golden light from the sunset, almost the same way Monroe was in August for my completion. With Bill in the lead, and me capturing the moment, he reached the summit, putting the 48 White Mountain 4000 footers in the books in less than a year. It was frigid, but the wind was slightly calmer. We stood atop the summit, embraced each other with a big brotherly hug, and then we stood in amazement as the sky went from blue to purple and orange, and then to orange and deep blue. Next, we noticed the incredible Earthshine crescent moon and Venus. It is hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment we had. Its so mixed up in the excitement and adrenaline that came from the conditions and heavenly views we experienced. Although I could stand on top of a mountain at any time of the day and be happy, we were frozen and finally we felt the effects of how strenuous this hike was.

Bill's final moments before completing the journey
Bill reaching for his summit
Bill completes the 48 White Mountain 4000-footers
The descent was problem free all of the way down. We stopped at the hut, and sat under the porch to take a solid break. We busted out the Glenlivet Nadurra and shared a few swigs in celebration of a successful traverse (so far). With some trail snacks in us and our insides nice and warm, we skedaddled down the Old Bridal Path, anxious to reach the warmth and comfort of the car. The Old Bridal Path was very nicely packed out, which made for a pleasant descent.

We were both strong the whole time. When the winds picked up on the top, and we began sliding across the ice, I slowed down to make sure Bill got to me, then we proceeded. We had to wait some gusts out, and we also had to pick up our pace once when a fast moving cloud was coming towards the mountain between Lincoln and Truman. This hike required teamwork, and would have been really sketchy solo. There were a lot of tests and challenges above treeline, like cautiously glissading short sections of ice or even walking without leaning towards the west in the heavy wind.

On January 1, 2011, I started a quest to complete the 48 peaks in one year. After finishing my quest in August, in eight and half months, I started hiking many of the peaks again. Some of them Bill needed, so he continued to tag along, and before we knew it, Bill was in a race to wrap them up before the year, just like me. We experienced conditions in all 4 seasons. Between us, we hiked in every single month this year. We've hiked in the middle of the night, in a couple of snowstorms, and also in pouring rain. We had some miserable hikes and ones with views to last a lifetime. It got close at the end, but on December 26, 2011, two brothers stood seemingly on top of the world watching an alpine sunset in subzero temperatures, having both completed the AMC White Mountain 4000 footers in one year.
Earthshine Crescent Moon and Venus
Bill on Mt. Lafayette, #48
Dan on Lafayette, 37th Trailwright
Bill and Dan on Lafayette
Hike Stats
Trails: Whitehouse Trail, Liberty Springs Trail, Flume Slide Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path
Distance: 13.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,850 ft
Book Time: 10hrs 39min

Click on the slide show below to see the full album from this hike..

Franconia Ridge Traverse

Share your Adventures with SpotAdventures


  1. Awesome hike - I'm going up in about a month. Got some more conditioning to do. It will be my first winter traverse of the ridge so I am a little nervous.

  2. Wow, great pictures and report Dan! Congratulations to Bill on completing the list. Looks like an epic day, but a very rewarding hike to close out a year of success.
    It's been great to follow along on yours adventures and we'll hopefully see you guys on the trail again soon.
    Happy New Year!

  3. In-freaking-credible! Congrats again to Bill (and you) on an amazing year. You guys both have had quite the spectacular 48 finishes! This was just an awesome TR for an amazing hike. I've GOT to get out on Franconia Ridge in winter!! Looking forward to more great stuff in 2012.

    Happy New Year


  4. Philip - Thanks, although I'm thinking about a break, keep me posted, my brother says he wants to go back too

    Owen - Bill is thankful for yours and everyone's well wishes, we're certainly pumped about the feeling of it all. I'm happy we got to hike Moosilauke in October, and we'll have to get a winter hike in this year.

    Mark, Thank you very much, I certainly had fun planning these hikes. Both of our finishes couldn't have been better, and each of our hikes between had their own little adventures. I just got some crampons and an ice axe, so it will be tough to keep me off the mountains through the winter. As long me and Bill don't celebrate 2011 too much tomorrow night, on Sunday, I already have a post drafted to announce some plans and possibilities for 2012.

  5. This is really wonderful and amazing i liked the way you have been there. Amazing and thanks for sharing this.

    Business Degree Programs