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The Magic of Franconia Ridge


 
                Last week, I didn’t summit Carrigain and I felt it all week in my heart. Something was missing. It was a mixed up kind of week on top of it as I started a new job which while I thought it would be one thing, turned into another. My mind was set on Franconia Ridge and that seemed to pull me through things. I wanted to get these peaks in before winter and that meant that I had this weekend and next. Schedules were not matching up, which was fine, it just meant that I would take Isis solo and that also meant that I would split the ridge and attempt Lafayette and Lincoln (Little Haystack too) first. I have done this for my multi season 48 and had rain as well as socked in clouds and I have also done this for my winter 48 and had a snow storm that I really should have turned back on and yet I pushed it and got the loop. Now, I was looking for a view that I have not had and nervous about it ( I was not even this nervous about Katahdin). I checked the forecast several times throughout the day all week and talked over plans with friends and my mother. I was feeling less than confident as the week went on. Even though the forecast was clear, there were two storms brewing. The first one knocked me out of Saturday as an early morning text alerted me to conditions that I didn’t need to drive in or have Isis hike in. I was determined for Sunday and the weather was looking iffy at best. I had to try though and Sunday morning at 4am, the debate began. Do I have to? Can’t I just stay in bed? If I don’t get up, will my week be that off to me? A couple of snoozes and I am on my way after a message and a post on line.

                Lafayette Place trailhead is wide open. There is one other car when I pull in. Isis has no clue what she is in for and neither do I. The wind is whipping and I can hear it as I get ready in the car. I know that it’s supposed to die down by afternoon and hopefully by then I will have made it to tree line or beyond. I decide that because I have Isis with me, I’m going to take Falling Waters first over the Old Bridal Path. I’d rather deal with the water crossings and the waterfalls first and believed that the agonies would be no problem to navigate down rather than up on our return. So, as we hike, my body is warming up and I can feel the sweat forming already. My gloves are off and on regardless of temp and Micro spikes are a must. The one thing that is very apparent is there is a ton of ice on the trail already and I found myself wanting a huge snow storm to dump the required trail cushion down. It’s cold and I am conscious of Isis and how she is skating on the ice going up the trail. We start to hit the water crossings and I pick her up so that we can get across. To my pleasure, the bridges are starting to form. There is a thick slush that I can stand on and not have my foot get submerged at all. The waterfalls are of course beautiful as they are freezing and also a little treacherous as Isis and I try to navigate the ice flows.



                The vertical gain also kicked in combined with more ice flows and my focus became solely what was going on with Isis. She was having some difficulty on the higher ice and I found myself picking her up more. My micro spikes were also dull so, I switched out to my crampons. As we continued, another couple caught up to us and presented me with my sunglasses that I had dropped by the waterfalls. I thanked them and kept moving due to the cold temps and not wanting Isis to get too rested. We climbed through the trail and the ice flows and found ourselves on Little Haystack, a peak that didn’t count except to say that we climbed it on our way to Lincoln and beyond. The view presented itself rather quickly and I let out an audible “Hold shit!” several times as I kept walking (there was no time to stop and eat due to wind and cold). The view on the ridge just kept getting better and I found myself surrounded by mountains and clouds and as I walked, I snapped pictures and even sent a text just to say how beautiful it was. He would always talk about the magic that was the ridge and now I had an appreciation for this magic. I looked ahead and saw that Lafayette was in the clouds and I just hoped that the front moving through would push them out. Otherwise, I’d be prepared for some nasty weather as usual. The trails on the ridge were combinations, of rock, blown snow, and rime. Isis was having some difficulty on the rocks and tended to walk off the trail and in the snow. She was not cold though and seemed to be taking care of herself. We were not stopping too much and I generally pushed myself to get up to Lincoln. We made our way through the Gargoyles and the wind was whipping as well as the temp dropping. I pulled my balaclava up over my nose and covered my face with the help of those sunglasses that were retrieved by that couple I ran into earlier. Crossed over Lincoln and didn’t stop there as Isis was getting very anxious and I could see it in how she was moving. I thought several times as we were making our approach to Lafayette that we should turn back and then each time it would be longer and more exposed if we did turn back so, I was prepared to pack her in my pack and we kept going forward. Into the clouds and into the front, the wind whipped us around and the rocks, ice and rime were building as well made our final push. I was becoming nervous as well and onlhy one song seemed to calm me. Nightminds by Missy Higgins played over and over in my head as I walked through the mess. The summit was right in front of me and I felt as though I lept up to it. Then I looked around and scooped up Isis and prepped to take an infamous summit selfie.  The couple that Ihad been following came up as well and I was able to get a picture of me with Isis to represent all our work today.




                We started down the trail not long after that because it was well into the negative and I could feel it on my face.  Isis was stopping more and not because she was tired but because the wind was howling and she was afraid as she had been on several sections of the ridge too. Unfortunatly, I almost headed back down the Skookumchuck trail and was redirected by the hikers still at the summit. I didn’t need to go to Garfield. I wanted to get to the hut so that Isis could have some cheese. As we walked down, the wind was howling up and causing a great deal of distress in little Isis, I was getting ready to scoop her up when another hiker that was coming up in full face protections, was snapping pictures of her. He stopped us on the descend and explained that he was trying to take pictures of all the trail dogs he could and that Isis was beautiful. He as trying to put together a picture book of trail dogs of the Whites. It seemed like a great idea and as I tried to leave, he kept talking and Isis’ anxiety from the wind and cold went sky high as I knelt down to check on her she climbed up behind my neck and on top of my pack on my back. I explained that I really needed to move on at this point and get to the hut. He finally relented and let me go. Isis did calm donw as we got into the tree cover by the hut and it began to feel a little warmer too.




 
                Approaching the hut, the skies had cleared slightly and we continued to navigate the ice flows. Isis and I had some cheese, soup, and trail mix (for her) on the porch of the hut’s sheltered side. Her water and my Gatorade are now frozen enough that my knife will not allow me to chip through to make an opening for some of the unfrozen liquid to spill out. My hope is now that she will get some water from ice and snow and that they become less frozen as we head down. The next stop on our trip would be the Agonies and Agony ridge. A section I have only gone up and never down. The ice is pretty constant and I am doing well with the crampons still. Isis however, is slipping and sliding all over the place and reminding me of butt sliding. I am concerned about the steepness of the agonies and hoping that neither one of us slips and falls on the other. We take it slow and take breaks on the flatter sections as the sun is shining and it’s warmer now. It seemed to take forever to get through this section at the pace we were going so, when we cleared them, I was relieved to be on flatter trail. The ice was diminishing along with the snow on this side and we were able to move rather quickly. I switched out my crampons and back to micro spikes regardless of how much they needed to be sharpened, they were better than bare booting it in the ice at the bottom of the trail. All those that had only gone to the hut or to Lafayette, were on their way back down as well. Isis and I had done the loop and I was never more proud (even if I say that every week).



                The week was looking iffy and I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed in the face of change once again as I become accustomed to a new week day life. It took a pretty serious talk with myself this morning to get myself to the trail head and I am really glad that I did. It’s amazing what pushing through things and not forcing situations will do for someone. At any given moment, I could have turned back. I chose to see it through for my first view on Franconia Ridge. Even though I lost it on Lafayette, I had enough of a view to really experience the magic that this ridge has to offer and now there is one week to go before winter starts… family parties and the holidays will prove interesting to schedule around however, I will continue to try and hike each weekend. Speaking of holidays, I had packed my Santa hat… completely forgot to wear it.
 

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