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Picture Perfect Franconia Ridge

                Truth be told, I am avoiding things these days… Keeping to myself and avoiding aspects of life. Of course, the best place to do this for me is in the mountains. Maybe that’s why I have been hiking like crazy lately? And what better way to escape than to get above it all? Today, I was going to take the Ridge, Franconia Ridge to be exact. For the redline, for just over 25%, and for the love of not having to think, or thinking thoughts that I don’t think below 5 thousand feet. The best thing was that this was going to be one of those perfect days and I was going to have a complete view from Lafayette all the way to Liberty. Of the three times I have been to Lafayette, I have never had a view.
                Isis and I start our day very early and hit the road at 4am. We are at the trailhead and underway by 630am. The air was cool and the sun was already out. Since Isis and I were going over to Liberty so, we went up the Old Bridal Path rather than falling waters. Which meant we would hit Lafayette first and work our way down. As we got underway, the camera was malfunctioning and I was left to wonder how I was going to capture certain shots. I wanted. One of those shots being my favorite tree. Thank goodness the lens worked its issue out because I was heartbroken. I wanted those shots and I was not happy about the possibility of trying to figure out how to replace a camera. So, we stopped at my favorite tree on the Old Bridal Path and got my shot. The trail itself is in great shape because it’s so well-traveled. The only down side is that I end up picking up a lot of trash rather than moving branches and rocks. Isis and I keep going moving into the elevation and feeling the sun get stronger. The rocks increased as we gained elevation and I was looking forward to Agony Ridge as we hopped them.

                The crowds were on their way up too as I was passed by several groups of hikers. Isis and I were taking our time since we were going all the way to Liberty and it was the longest day of the year. Why rush something and take a good look around? Isis and I hit sections that would bust out of tree line and provide just a taste of what was to come. We hit the Agonies and Agony Ridge and it was stop and go as we took in the views and navigated the rocks. I noticed that a few sections, the rocks were being worn slick and wondered about hikes to come. If you do these trails enough, you really notice the changes. I was in awe of the views and we had not even hit the actual Franconia Ridge yet. Isis and I began leap frogging with two hikers from New York and laughed as they experienced the "butt kicking" this trail can give a first timer. I mused about the other times I had done this trail and how much fun it can be in the winter. I think they were impressed from my stories and providing them trail information. Finally we hit some flat sections and soon we arrived at the Greenleaf Hut at 9am.

                Isis and I hung out for about a half hour to let the clouds pass and to have something to eat as well as a rest. Hikers were milling around the hut and those that we had passed on the trail caught up and began their ascent of Lafayette. The two from New York went in to check out the hut and get water. At 9:30a we got under way and looked forward to the views. As we went up the Old Bridal Path to the ridge, I got my shots of the hut and the surrounding peaks and scenery. I was in awe of the sights I had not seen and felt extremely lucky I got to experience this first hand. Pictures just never seem to do it justice. Isis and I take our time heading up the 1.1miles to the summit. The rocks are a lot different when not covered in snow and ice so, we step with care and I watch Isis’ feet for signs of distress. We pause to take in the view and even though I am eager to get to the summit, I want the clouds passing over head to clear. I put on my wind shell to cut some of the cold wind that was blowing and as my breath hit it, I could see it.

                We crest the summit at 1030am and I am spinning around looking at a view I have never seen before. Taken by the sights, I take a lot of pictures and end up getting in a conversation with a hut volunteer and a Forest Ranger about my travels. Isis gets treats, love and rest at the summit, while this conversation is going on. Our next destination is Mt. Lincoln and as we leave the summit, I am again struck by sights I had not seen the last time. Franconia Ridge is in its glory today. There was a lot of traffic going to Lincoln and I knew that it would only increase as we got closer to Little Hay Stack. I never expected to run into Alton and her Shiba Cole! Coming down some rocks, I saw the brightly colored knee socks and then then Cole’s green bow tie. We had caught them at the beginning of their Pemi Loop (not knowing this at the time) and it was really good to have our dogs finally meet. Isis was her usual bitchy self and Cole seemed blissfully uncaring of her attitude. We paused just long enough to say hello and have a picture taken. Each of us had a big day planned and we spoke of maybe hiking together in the future so that the dogs could get use to one another. Maybe Isis will have a friend (if she doesn't eat his face ;) )?

                Making our way up to Lincoln, the trail continues to get crowded and the view is just never ending so, you really don’t notice the crowd. The trail is easily navigated as we make the push to the summit of Lincoln which would be my quarter mark on my Grid. We arrived there at 1120am and the clouds are swirling around and the view continues to hold. More pictures and conversation with two other hikers mostly centering on Isis who is now curling up with random strangers. She’s a devil to other dogs but a complete angel to other humans and I love her even more with each hike. She gets a snack and a chance to rest before moving down the ridge again through the Gargoyles. These are really just rock formations that look very funky and are really fun to walk through. The next stop would be Little Hay Stack which is guaranteed to be way over crowded with amateur hikers and hikers alike.

                As predicted we passed a lot of amateurs and one particularly loud group of foreigners that were on their phones and dressed in street cloths. Who walks a ridge on their phone??? Oh yeah, someone who really doesn’t hike. We opted to not stay on Little Hay Stack because it was so crowded and noisy and as quickly as we arrived at a little after noon, we instead hit the new section of the Franconia Ridge trail that we had not done yet. Almost immediately, the trail got quiet and I could hear myself think again. We quickly ducked back into the trees and out of the wind so, the jacket came off. Then we started going down slowly and with care as this was steep. After several down sections, we hit some flat dirt and were able to cruise on over the trail. We ran into a few souls while traveling to Liberty and all were heading in the direction of Little Hay Stack. This section of the Ridge trail was also easily traveled with no need to move branches or rocks. It seemed to take no time at all to get to the junction of Liberty Spring and then we headed up to the summit for .3 miles.

                Those .3 of a mile were rocks and vertical gain. I again mused about this being way better in Winter. We again broke out of tree line and had our final view of the day. Liberty never disappoints and we arrived at 145pm. Speaking with the hikers at the summit Isis enjoyed a lot of love and a lot of treats. She was truly getting tired and I knew we still had a long way to go. The breeze was picking up as we all chatted about hiking and different trails we’ve experienced. I got Isis going who was quickly falling asleep for fear that I would end up packing her out. We begin to make our way down the Liberty Springs trail which is dropping elevation over rocks and always a challenge for tired feet. Isis requires a lot of rests and a lot of treats. We encounter a lot of hikers coming up the trail. Some prepared to spend the night at the tent site and some that should not be on the trail at all. We stop to help out a hiker who is fighting cramps and offer up some energy gel and love from Isis. Our summit company also passes us and we quickly follow behind. Waking over the rocks and carefully stepping down we reach the flatter dirt trail of the Liberty Springs trail and enjoy the rest. My feet are not hurting after the long day. They are just fatigued and I can only imagine how Isis must feel.

                We come to the end of the Liberty Springs trail and separate from our summit company. Isis and I head down the bike path and begin the long walk back to the car. We pass by the Basin and continue on to the Lafayette Place Camp Site. Isis is getting really tired and I am forced to carry her a little ways. She almost falls asleep in my arms except for getting jostled around. The bike path is paved so, it’s the easiest to walk but just really long. We come into the camp ground and walk over to the tunnel leading back to the car around 5pm. Isis is then loaded into the car and given her final treat of a Greenie. She is completely spent and ready to sleep for the ride home. There are plenty of hikers milling around and I change both in the parking lot and in the car. We head off down the road shortly after that looking for a munchkin and a cup of coffee. The day was a complete success full of beautiful views, familiar faces, and no thoughts that I didn’t want to think.  That sense of peace came over me on the way home.
                I’ve made my share of mistakes for which I am recovering from and that has caused a certain amount of avoidance and running away to the mountains weekly for me to feel some relief. It’s seems that here is where I can sort it all out or forget for the time being while spending time amongst the trees, rocks, and like minded hikers . Not being able to change the past, and not being able to control or predict the future, I can do nothing but live in the here and now. That here and now has me spending a lot of time in the mountains with Isis at my side building a relationship with her and getting to know myself as a strong single person. While I do crave companionship, I also recognize not being ready, I struggle to keep a life at sea level in perspective. It's difficult some days and others are an absolute joy. No matter what though, I will always find or figure out a way to go to the mountains to heal. For that I am grateful and will continue to pursue my goals above the clouds as I also rebuild at elevations below 4000 feet.  

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