Monday, April 29, 2013

Moonlight Franconia Ridge Traverse - 4/27/13

What tremendous weather we had this past weekend. I hope everyone got out to enjoy it in some fashion. I certainly did, and lucked out with the perfect night to complete a Franconia Ridge Traverse in the moonlight, starting Saturday afternoon (4/27). The main reason behind taking on this hike was because I needed to hike the Franconia Ridge peaks in April and also because I wanted to get back to some 4000 footers since my winter finish on March 10th. Shoulder soreness, once again, sidelined my brother from coming along. Despite that, it was tough for me to pass this one up, so I elected to carry-on with the original plan, solo. The summer weekends are filling up fast, personally, and it looks as though I may only get to hike 2-3 times per month over the next few, so passing this one up was just not an option.

On a different time-clock than just about everyone else, I arrived at the Tram Parking Lot at Cannon around 5:00pm. The lot was pretty much empty, and the skies were showing some passing clouds, which the weatherman said would be expected. My plan was not to go up to Lafayette first, and I definitely wasn't going to walk 6 miles back to my car at the end of this, so in addition to hiking, this trip included a 6 mile late afternoon bike ride on the Franconia Notch Bike Path to the Whitehouse Trail.

The bike ride was very pleasant. I've walked about the same portion once before. Going south, there was a lot of downhill, and I probably nearing the speed limit of 25mph! I passed a total of about 4 pedestrians on the 6 mile stretch. When I came to the Liberty Springs Trail, I could have stopped there, locked up, and started up the trail. However, to reduce the effort, it was a no-brainer to continue further on the bike path and come out to next gate on the right, which is the parking lot for the Liberty Spring Trailhead (also Whitehouse Trail). Here, I would be able to easily pull into the parking lot the next morning around sunrise and retrieve my hidden bike. I locked it to a tree in a good spot, and started up the Whitehouse Trail back to the start of the Liberty Spring Trail.
Whitehouse Trail bridge
Flume Slide Trail junction
Now that it was after 6:00pm, I was finally on my way to Flume on the Flume Slide Trail. Sunset was 7:44pm, and I was shooting to get there by about that time, but I had started just a tad later than I needed to  to make it. On my way up, I ran into Mike Cherim, Bill Robichaud, Allison Nadler, and Brenda Vail, who had descended the actual Flume slide after traversing the entire ridge that day. It's nice to be running into all of you on the trails and becoming acquainted. You can read Allison's report here and Bill's report here for photos of the ridge and slide during the day! I saw their boot tracks coming over to the trail from the area near the base of the slide. Based on their pictures of the slide, I should have done it, but I chose to stick to the Flume Slide Trail and what I knew because I had only 30 minutes of light remaining or less when I reached that spot.
Flume Slide Trail steam crossing
Mt. Flume summit seen through the trees on Flume Slide Trail
Flume Slide Trail, approximately a 3/4 of the way up
The Flume Slide Trail was icy, but not so icy where crampons or an ice axe would have provided any benefit as the crampons or axe probably would have done more dislodging of ice than gripping in many spots. The ascent required careful calculated steps in some places, but with the help of sturdy roots and branches, and occasional bare rock, I managed with no issues. The water running underneath provided some of the few sounds I heard all night. By the time I reached the summit of Mt. Flume, the light of day was completely gone. As I climbed over the jagged section to the summit, I could tell it was going to be a beautiful night on the ridge. Although I didn't quite make it in time for sunset, I still enjoyed taking a well-deserved break on the summit. This ascent of Flume was my 200th summit of a White Mountain 4000 footer.
Mt. Flume summit at night 
Mt. Liberty summit
The hike over to Liberty from Flume was smooth and uneventful. The path over the post-hole mangled trail was well traveled. I arrived on the summit, vacant of course, and took in the quiet and calm view of the lights down in Franconia Notch, and the tiny lights moving up and down the highway. At this time, the moon was not yet present. This was perfect because I still had 2 miles to go until I hit treeline. The 2 miles was the same as the 1 mile I just did to Liberty, uneventful....until I stopped at little ledge to take a breather. While looking up, a bright flash of orange went across the sky. I saw its tail extinguish in several orange dots in sequence behind it as it went over. I'm used to seeing white shooting stars, but this thing was on fire! It was the only shooting star I saw. As I started to re-gain elevation on the approach to Little Haystack, a new light could be seen through the trees. Excitement grew, of course, because it was the nearly full moon beginning to rise over the Pemi Wilderness. At that point, I realized what was happening...this was going to be more perfect timing that I could have imagined, and I started to pick up my pace toward treeline.
Little Haystack with a rising full moon in the background
At about 11:30pm, I popped out onto the exposed ridge just before the Little Haystack summit, pretty much in awe. There were clouds in front of the moon at first, but since I could start to the see sky lighting up, I could tell the clouds were minimal and low, and once it past them, it would be bright for the rest of the night. Sure enough, that was the case, and I found myself in the middle of a perfect Moonlight Franconia Ridge Traverse. When I stepped onto the Little Haystack summit, the moon was rising over my right shoulder above the Sandwich Range, and as I traversed towards Lafayette over Lincoln, the Gargoyles, and North Lincoln, the moon went from my right to my left. On the summit of Lafayette, at about 2:00am, the moon had just crested the spine of the ridge.

In order to get a half decent photo, the camera had to be on my little tripod and taken using the timer to make sure there was no movement. After a while, I took less photos in each spot, and just enjoyed the scene that unfolded at every stop. If you think I'm the only nutty one out there, I did pass one group of 5 hikers right after Little Haystack, the only other people I saw all night. My guess was that the temperature didn't go below 30 degrees. I was completely comfortable throughout the hike, and was beyond prepared for any conditions. There was no wind. There were almost no sounds. The only sounds I recall were the crunching of my boot on rocks or the occasional sheet of ice. There were billions of stars, and sort of just like on my Bonds sunrise hike, a plane flew right in front of the moon, and the moonlight illuminated the plane's exhaust. I was also able to make out the entire outline of the Pemi peaks, Owl's Head, and very faintly I was able to see the Presidential Range. 

Mt. Lincoln 
Mt. Lafayette summit marker 
Mt. Lafayette summit
Looking south towards Liberty and Flume and I-93
The descent all of the way down the Greenleaf Trail was pretty arduous. The 1.1 miles from the summit to the Greenleaf Hut, was all rocks and boulders making the legs scream. I also slipped completely on a sheet of black ice (since I was going by moonlight still), landing right on my back on my snowshoes secured to my pack, thankfully. Except, I slammed my elbow giving me a few minutes of pain. The elbow pain subsided by the time I reached the hut, but the relentless descent of the rest of the Greenleaf Trail did not make the pain in my legs go away. The trail was a mess of hardened post holes all of the way down, which required me to aim my heels for the holes. I did have one final moment of awesomeness when I came to the impressive, and new-to-me Eagle Pass and could see the moon blaring its glow on the Cannon Cliffs and through the trees, it's light reflecting off Profile Lake below. I sort of wasn't expecting Eagle Pass since I had not hiked the lower Greenleaf before. After that awesomeness, it seemed like forever to get through the last half mile of trail which seemed like it had more boulders than the summit cone. Eventually, I was walking under I-93, and within sight of my lone car in the Cannon Tram lot. By this time, the moon was no longer in sight, well hidden from my view behind Cannon. The sky now more blue than black, sunrise was coming. I hopped in quickly, and drove south to retrieve my bike in the woods at the Whitehouse Trail, before changing, taking a few minutes to close my eyes and rest, and eventually getting home.

Hike Stats
Trails: Franconia Notch Bike Path, Whitehouse Trail, Liberty Springs Trail, Flume Slide Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail
Distance: 13.2 mi. (doesn't include 6 miles from Cannon Tram to Whitehouse Trail on bike)
Elevation Gain: 4,850 ft.
Actual Book Time (hike portion): 10:35 


  1. Replies
    1. Hey thanks for checking it out! I've came across your blog once before, but I read your "Why I Climb Mountains" page last night, and I couldn't believe how spot on that was. You have explained all the reasons why I also hike. This world is going nucking futs, and there's no better way to get away from that then doing something like a Moonlight Franconia Ridge Traverse (or even just a walk down an easy trail.) REALLY like your 2013 Goals. Good luck!

  2. I'm glad you had a great hike! The moon was really beautiful on my way home that night.