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Coming Alive on Franconia Ridge...

       One thing is for sure, if you are planning a trip on Franconia Ridge, don't count on the forecast to be accurate and plan for anything. I had set a target early in the week to head up because the forecast was clear and it didn't change for days. I actually wanted to do the entire ridge to Flume and as always, I'm flexible in my planning. I've learned this kind of fluid flexibility in my life and it helps me not just on the trails but off too. So, why should today be any different? Isis and I packed up Friday night and got to bed early. We were bound for Franconia Notch by 4am which would give us a start around 6:30am. Upon arrival at the trail head, the wind was blowing as it always seems to do. It's just that this time of year, it's a cold and angry wind. Today would be in the negatives and I was prepared with all my winter gear. I brought the snow shoes and ultimately left them in the car. It was not long on the trail that I decided to put on my balaclava as well. Stopping at my favorite tree, Isis had a snack and I layered up. Plus, it was time for a photo too. Today seemed to be shaping up to be a hike that saw not to many intrusive thoughts. I was glad for this as I just needed to be out on the trails today. Old Bridal Path, set me up for a classic day.

     Having hiked this route already in winter, fall, and summer, I felt confident today which honestly has been a new feeling for me as of late. Isis and I made our way through the trails below tree line with ease. The snow was minimal still and Isis was having a great time tracking different rodents and birds. I was truly enjoying the colder temps and the fact that we seemed to be the only ones on the trail. I half wondered if that would remain the case. Right before the climb to agony ridge, Isis and I stopped for a snack as my stomach was about to loudly complain that I forgot my banana back in the car instead of eating it on the ride up. I soon realized that the zipper on my pants was busted but thankfully, I had enough layers on that I was covered. It just seemed that my shirts were riding up making my lower back a little colder. I would hopefully not have to worry too much and still, this was a concern in the cold. So, once put back together, we began to hit the agonies and agony ridge. The views were popping up and so was the ice. I barely managed to get up on steep section and quickly pulled over to slip on my hillsound microspikes. Perfect! I was able to get up the remaining steeps and found myself standing on agony ridge and looking up at a very clouded, dark, and stormy Lafayette. Classic! I said to myself.

      The temps were dropping and looking at Franconia Ridge sent a chill through me. Isis and I pushed on to the hut and we saw our first two hikers over take us. We gladly let them go as we were taking our time today. Now unsure of the official length of our hike which could be just Lafayette or we could get all the way to Flume. I just wanted to get to the hut first for a break and some hot soup (even though it was no where near lunch). Isis and I kept climbing over rocks and ice on the Old Bridal Path and she seemed to be doing well in her purple fleece coat (I had put that on at tree line). with 1/4 of a mile to the hut, my legs were tired already and I wondered about the rest of the journey. We made our last climb and the hut was directly in front of us. I knew that I didn't want to sit on the porch today so, we ducked under the backside stairs to get out of the wind. Thankfully, this was where the least wind was too. Isis had some food and I got some of my soup. Again, I fixed my pants and the rest of my layers. We got moving quickly again as it appeared that the cloud was not going to lift from Lafayette. It's OK, I've had the view before and I'll have it again.

     Rather quickly, I realized that this leg of the hike was turning into my winter hike from 2012. I could not see the trail, the wind was in my face, and my steps were getting blown in as quickly as I was stepping. Isis did not really like this either but she kept moving with a lot of encouragement. I believe that if she had just refused to move, we would have turned back but she kept going, making her way to the summit. She did stop and she did hesitate except she did keep going forward. I was keenly aware of her stress level as it mimiced my own. I was careful not to get lost off the trail heading up (like last time I was in this weather). I was careful to stop and focus and look to see the cairn even they were blending into the white landscape. Other hikers were coming up behind us and passing. This again was fine as I needed to see where I was stepping. The sun was trying to burn through the stubborn cloud but was having no luck. Isis and I crested the trail to the summit and stood on the viewless summit. A few others were up there but all of us quick moved on in the conditions. Two gentlemen stopped long enough for pictures to be taken between us.  My original idea was to head back down. This was not a very nice day on the ridge. Or was it?

    Isis and I did start to head down again but she quickly about faced and went back and then towards the direction of Lincoln. As we began descending Lafayette, I found myself in knee deep snow and then with another step, I had snow up to my waist. I laughed and then quickly remembered how little Isis was. She managed to get through it though as did I and we were back on the trail as far as we could see (which was not very far). The wind was whipping and I wondered what I was doing. I also remembered the blue sky that i saw over in this direction. I wanted to punch through the weather wall that Lafayette often has and get to Truman or Lincoln to see. Of course, if I was going that far, I might as well go all the way. We would evaluate at Little Haystack as to the rest of the trip.

    Isis was not a fan of this leg of the trip either. She had icicles forming on her face and I did my best to keep her going. The ridge was definitely angry in this area today and I just kept pushing on. We crossed Truman and got a reprieve from the winds. I took advantage of this for a break and a chance to catch my breath. I too was significantly frosted over and seemed to be growing a few icicles myself. My water line froze as did my extra bottles. It was just cold today and I needed to keep moving.

      Somewhere between Truman and Lincoln, I saw the views and the blue sky. It seemed to brighten the mood from something concerning to I think I can do this. Isis and I melted just a little too. It was cold enough to suck the life out of my camera batteries and so, I began using my iPhone a little more. I was taking pictures just hoping that I captured something as the sun was actually bright in my face. The sense of urgency and my adrenaline had decreased and my steps got lighter. The scenes were breathtaking on this end of the ridge and the trail was actually down to the dirt in places. I kept my spikes on though since I knew I would find more ice in other places. 

   Isis and I slowly made our way through the gargoyles and over to Little Haystack where there were other hikers hunkered down or getting ready to head back below tree line on the Falling Waters Trail. We stopped to chat with two gentleman and they were quite taken by Isis and offered to snap our picture. The wind was probably about 20 mph here so, we crouched down and quickly got back up again. I didn't think that continuing on to Liberty and Flume was a good idea given how much energy it took both physically and mentally to get us this far. So, we quickly ducked below tree line on the Falling Waters trail. I neglected to get the two gentlemen's names and figured they would pass me and I'd ask then except they never passed. I guess I was moving downtime trail at a decent pace. Falling Waters goes straight down from the summit and there is ice and snow to deal with. Not enough snow to butt slide so, I am careful. Isis just wants to go which can cause me to fall. The crowds were coming up and most (at least this high up) had the right gear. As the trail flattened out and I was getting closer to the falls, I began running into several unprepared "hikers". Most were in regular street cloths (jeans and fashionable coats) and no foot traction. Luckily, they were turning around and not getting in over their heads. The water on falling waters trail is still flowing nicely which made for a tricky descend. It was well worth checking out though instead of continuing on to Liberty and Liberty Springs.

      It seemed like forever and yet it also seemed really quick that we were back at the parking lot. It was between 3 and 4pm that I found myself changing out of my wet hiking cloths and Isis was already asleep in the passengers seat. I was destine for the biggest and hottest cup of coffee I could find as my teeth chattered. The heat could not kick in fast enough. Reflecting back on the day, the one thing I could think of was how absolutely alive I felt coming across that ridge and how connected to myself I felt. Every fiber of me was concentrated on getting across that ridge and once I was at Little haystack, that release of energy once I realized that I did it. I pushed through not only the weather wall but also my walls. The walls that would have me turn back. Feeling raw and opened to this experience, I thankfully accepted an invitation to reconnect with a dear college friend. A perfect end to a high velocity hike with a glass of wine and some great conversation.

      Continuing on with my goals, two more peaks for my 5th round and mileage to add to my yearly and over all totals. I am becoming less focused on the numbers and more focused on how I can grow in these hikes. My journey continues as I try and build on these positives. I am stronger today than I have been in a little over a year and I can finally feel as though I am about to come alive again. I am in competition with no one except myself and from that growth is infinite. 

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