Saturday, 9/26 my wife and I hiked an 8.9 mile loop in the Franconia Notch area of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This is a tough loop that climbs up the side of Franconia Ridge, across 2 ridge summits, and descends steeply via another ridge, placing you back where you started. We followed the Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, Greenleaf Hut, and Old Bridle Path trails, summiting Little Haystack (more of a bump on the ridge than a peak), Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette. We completed the loop in about 7.25 hours, which included roughly an hour of time resting in various places. My wife (the “cardio queen”) ascends better than me, while I am better descending (because I’m too stupid to be scared of falling). If we could have combined her ascent with my descent, we’d have shaved a half-hour or so off the hike.
My problem ascending is simply a lack of cardiovascular fitness. Falling Waters trail is steep in the upper third before reaching the ridge, and the first two-thirds is no cakewalk. Falling Waters is rocky, rooty, and rough, with switchbacks near the top. At the very end of Falling Waters, the trailblazers seem to have said, “Oh, whatever. Let’s just go straight up the rest of the way,” eschewing even the small respite one gets from a switchback ascent. I run out of steam, my heart racing on these very steep sections. I don’t recover quickly after a couple of hours of pushing uphill, so I found myself having to pause for 30 – 60 seconds before going over another steep section. At least no one had to shove me in the butt to get me over the larger rocks, as I noticed one husband having to do to his corpulent wife – at her request, no less. <sigh> I know I’m no lightweight (the point of this blog), but this was a sizable woman – the spandex was a-groanin’.
My gym has a stairclimber, which I’m trying to make friends with. The idea is that it will help me with climbing more than any of the other machines. I can do 20 minutes on the thing at a level 7 out of 20. I’m not sure what level 20 would be like. I’m imagining the stairs flying around like a possessed escalator, flinging me in a crumpled heap against the wall as in a cartoon. Level 7 is plenty challenging for me at the moment; it keeps my heart rate between 145 and 160 on the “fat burner” setting, which is essentially intervals. The machine goes for 20 seconds at one speed. The next 20 seconds brings a different speed higher or lower; you can tell what’s coming next by watching the graph scroll by on the display. The stairs put a steady burn on my legs – I feel the discomfort mostly in my quads. However, that’s JUST LIKE what I feel pushing myself up the side of a mountain, so it seems like beneficial training.
The hike was beautiful, although a bit crowded once we got up on Franconia Ridge. The ridge offered views of Lonesome Lake, Cannon Mountain and Cannon Cliffs to the west, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east. The ridge runs north and south, and the views of the peaks along the way are similarly inspiring. That was my first trip to the Franconia Ridge, and I am very much looking forward to going back. In fact, my next “big” hike is planned for Columbus Day (weather permitting), where we’ll ascend to Mt. Liberty and shoot over to Mt. Flume, which means we’ll have bagged all the 4,000 foot + peaks in the ridge.
Lonesome Lake and Cannon Cliffs from the Mt. Lincoln Summit
Mt. Lafayette summit to the north as seen from Mt. Lincoln
Looking south towards Mt. Lincoln from the summit of Mt. Lafayette
Cannon Cliffs and Cannon Mountain seen from Mt. Lafayette summit
Lots of places to go from Mt. Lafayette
A look into the Pemigewasset Wilderness from Mt. Lafayette summit