As the hiking vacation continued, I returned to Franconia Notch having had great success the other day on Lafayette (5260 ft.), Lincoln (5089 ft.) , and Little Haystack. It only seemed logical to focus my attention on the other side of the road and complete Cannon (4101ft) as well as North and South Kinsman (4293ft and 4358ft). They were right next to one another after all and could be easily completed in a day hike. At least that was the plan at the beginning of the day. While everyone else was working, I was heading north…
The plan was to take Lonesome Lake to the Kinsman ridge to the summit and then double back to go to Kinsman’s two summits and following Lonesome Lake back down to the base. That Monday morning, I woke up early and briefly thought that I had lost my mind getting up at 4am on a vacation to go hiking. Then I remembered that gaining that patch and getting that AMC dinner reception made it all worth it…. Proving to myself that I was capable of completing this journey would ultimately make it all worth it for me too. I am my own worst enemy on this journey and the object was to keep myself going. It was truly becoming a mind over matter thing.
I was not comfortable this particular Monday morning. I had to put on a different pair of hikers that were in my mind heavier and a lot more “clunky” than the ones that I wore on Lafayette and Lincoln as well as all the other mountains before I ended up in that stream crossing. I put them on my feet and grimaced at them knowing that I didn’t have a choice, my other ones were still too wet. So I sighed and packed up the car. Once again fed the cat ou tof guilt and gave her a pat on the head.
“You know my guilt for leaving you all day is going to make you fat. You have the house and I’ll see you tonight.” And I headed off down the road.
My GPS at this point was probably use to me punching in Franconia Notch and would probably automatically go there if it could program itself. The morning was kind of dark and a little chilly. Seeing as it was October, I was not surprised. I wanted to get to the trailhead early since it was peak foliage season and I knew that the leaf peepers would be out in full force once the sun came out. I was not sure how many would be on the trail and I had completely forgotten about the tramway. I felt like I was dragging all the way up to the trail head. Things just felt off for me and not because it was a Monday and my mind was still thinking that I should be working. I was having trouble focusing on things and keeping my head on the hike. As often was the case for me, if I am not careful, my mind goes in 10 different directions and not all of them are good. I make it to the Lafayette Place campground and park the car. I sit there for a few minutes to try and collect my thoughts. With another sigh, I’m slinging my pack on my back and making my way through the campground. At first I stop on a bridge between the parking area and the start of the trail.
“Whatever is going on inside, you need to push it out of the way. Or you need to have one hell of a conversation on the trail. You can do this. Don’t let this feeling stop you. And don’t let anyone stop you.Past present or future...” I tell myself and follow it up with a good natured “Fuck it. Get moving.” I never mentioned that I have to kick myself in the butt verbally a lot did I? Yeah, it helps.
Again, I am thankful that this is a tourist peak and that there is a bathroom I can use before I get to far into the trail. Not that I am opposed to nature but if there is a bathroom available, I’m going to choose that over anything. The morning was still cold and damp. I was bundled up as I began my trek on the Lonesome Lake trail. Right after the trail began, it started climbing. It was at this point that I began to question myself. What was I thinking? What was I doing? My legs were tired and my heart was pounding. Still, I kept moving forward. The trail did flatten out after an initial incline and had a series of wooden bridges over some water ways. So, I was able to pick up my pace and even out my mood. I had myself convinced it was because the sun was not out and it was for lack of a better word… Gloomy. I had made it as far as the Hi-Cannon trail cut off. From here on the Hi Cannon, it was just under two and a half miles. I had completely forgotten what I had read about the Hi Cannon trail the previous night. The section that described the Hi Cannon as a challenging one way trail that should only be tried if you are experienced and pretty much knew what you were doing. What I saw was that it was a shorter route to the top… And that was the only thing that I comprehended. I started up the Hi Cannon trail. A change in route without telling anyone and I hoped that nothing would happen.
As I was walking, I was thinking to myself that it was not that bad and I was feeling better since the sun was trying to make an appearance as it fought its way through breaks in the clouds. The trail was considerably rockier and a lot of exposed roots seemed to trip me up. I blamed the fact that I had my other hikers on for that. Also, the actual size of the trail seemed to be shrinking. Some passes were barely wide enough for me to walk at a normal gait. Occasionally it was as if I was walking on a balance beam. Again, I had come to a point where I was questioning myself. What the heck was I thinking do this hike? What was the point of doing this whole journey? I was slipping back and needed something to wake me up. What I was presented with was a tiny drop of water. It glittered in the sun and caught my eye. I stood for a minute and caught my breath. I looked at this drop and captured it on film. Of course, my focus was off and my hands were shaking so, it took me a little while to get the shot. Much like the dragon fly in Pillsbury State Park, that drop of water had the ability to refocus me. Small things made me appreciate what I was doing all the more. Being one small person and taking on this journey gets refocused in all the little details that catch my eye on the trail. I am able to keep moving after a quick Thank You to whoever is listening.
Shortly after that moment, I come to another junction on the trail. The sun was out in full force at this point and I was getting really warm. No one else was on the trail, so, right at the junction, I opted to change my shirt from long to short sleeves. It probably would not have been a big deal if anyone happened to come up behind me either. I’ve seen more than my share of people changing clothes on the trail as I walk. This junction was the point of no return for me. I could have taken the opportunity to follow the Kinsman Ridge over to the tower but instead opted to take the Hi Cannon and ignore both what I had read and how I was feelings. The trail quickly seemed to become over grown and hard to differentiate between trail and woods. There were plenty of rocks and blow downs to climb over as well as exposed ledges. Through the trees I could look across and see Lafayette and I could look down and see the road. This admittedly threw me off as far as my old fear of heights was concerned. I again regained my thoughts and kept moving. The next section I came to was a completely open and deteriorated ledge that I needed to jump from one side to the other.
“You’re just having a lot of fun with me today.” I spoke out loud. “Really, I get it. I should have gone the other way. But I’m here now and I’m not going back.” And with that I leapt to the other side. To be far, it was not that much of a leap but for me. On a day like today, it was. I looked back and mustered a little smile.
A rather open scramble was then thrown at me and I was not impressed again. I could look down and see the road as I climbed this section. Again, I did it though. Seeming to hold my breath, I kept moving towards my goal. What I was give next was not entirely unexpected and still I was take off guard when faced with it. It was a ladder… A fifteen foot ladder over just about nothing.
“You knew about this. You’ve seen it in pictures. You said you wanted to do it which is probably why you came this way. So, get moving.” I stepped up to it and decided that the best way was to go on all fours and just lay low. Balance the pack on my back and just hold my breath and go. “And apparently don’t blink.” I said as I crossed to the end. What I saw next, stopped me on the ladder. I needed to transfer myself to a balance beam. I looked at it and I froze. I briefly thought that if I turned around, there was no shame in not making the summit. I knew that I needed to get off that ladder so, I leapt…. Forward. I was able to almost slide upward so that I was on my feet. My stomach pressed against the rock face and my feet inching towards the end. I almost lost my balance once as I was shifting my pack. It would have been a long way down if I fell. But I didn’t. I got to the end of it and jumped down to the trail below.
“Never ever ever again.” I told myself looking back at what I had done. “As soon as I get back to the car, I am so done with Cannon.”
But first I had a summit to claim. It was at this point that I decided that it would be a one peak day. The Kinsman’s would have to wait since I was just about spent from today hike. I kept hiking on seeming normal trail; sometimes dirt, sometimes flat granite to walk on, and the usual roots and rocks. The sun had gone back in and it was getting colder. I was not going to stop and change again though. At this point, I just wanted to get to the observation deck and get back down. I was aggravated and feeling a little edgy which was no mind set to hike on. On my way to the observation tower, I ran into the tramway that was spilling out a group of leaf peepers. They all looked so perfect in their Northface coats that didn’t seem to have a spot of dirt on them. I on the other hand was filthy and probably smelled like I’d been out in the woods for a week let alone a few hours. An older British couple was heading towards the ladder I had just come from instead of heading to the observation deck. These are the things that I worry about. Not myself but some inexperienced hiker heading the wrong way down a trail that was dangerous. I kept walking though hoping that they’d figure it out and reverse direction.
At the observation tower, I was greeted with curiosity. It seemed to me like people had never seen a trail hiker before. People were fascinated by me and actually moved out of my way as I made my way up the stairs. The actual observation tower was locked in the clouds so, I figured that would play in my favor. I did talk with a few of the people up there. The couple that took my summit picture wished me luck on my journey and gave me the same old line of how they could never do something like that. Once I was the only one on the deck, I said.
“Neither did I until I actually started. Now I can’t think of doing anything else. I’m scared to death and I’m doing this."
I made my way back down the Lonesome Lake trail. This of course was the trail I should have stuck with. It was a quick descend and considering he weather, there as not that many on the trail. I did run into a couple that appeared to be getting in over their head and having a hard time navigating the rocks. I gave them a ‘good luck’ and kept moving. I really wanted to get back to the car. The closer I got to Lonesome Lake, the more people I started to run into again. Most of them were the tourists that were crowding the area looking at the leaves. Some were hikers like me. Very few had a concept of trail etiquette which further fueled my need to get back to the car. Number eight was mine but my psyche seemed to take a blow on this day. Back at the car, I sat for a bit to collect myself.
“I’ll be back here again and I’ll finish it. You can't stop me. I won't let you. ” With that, I was off on the road to home. I had a plan to rethink at this point.