Lafayette – January 5, 2019

Let me just say I did not think this one would happen.

As I mentioned in my last blog post about hiking, I’ve had my eye on the Franconia Ridge for a long time. Lafayette is the queen on that ridge standing at 5,260 ft in elevation. After we had to bail on our ridge plan the other week via Falling Waters Trail, I had planned to try again at the end of last week. Had everything ready to go, Maverick in the car, tried to start it only to find out my battery was shot. Needless to say, we didn’t end up heading up to hike that day. It was like someone really didn’t want us on that ridge.

So today, I wasn’t going to bother with the ridge. Screw the ridge, I thought. I’ll get to it next year. Or something. I planned to do Pierce and Eisenhower for sunrise because it was supposed to be clear in the early morning and all day, no winds. Which is unheard of in the Whites. I had already hiked both these mountains before, but Maverick hadn’t done Eisenhower yet and Pierce owns a soft spot in my heart.

However, I snoozed my alarms that went off at 2 am…until 6:30. Yikes. So we set off at 7 from home, and I was still a zombie driving. I haven’t yet gotten back into the groove for teaching again since break, so I was running on barely any sleep from the past couple days. This resulted in me being so tired driving, I decided to just stop at the trailhead of Old Bridal Path and Falling Waters Trail. Change of plans. We were doing Lafayette.

For a nice Saturday in the mountains, it was expected that the trailhead here was pretty busy. We parked, took out a ball because I was sick of Maverick’s sticks ripping my leggings and bruising my thighs as he ran by me lately, and met some nice people we were parked next to before heading up via Old Bridal Path. PS- Maverick managed to lose his ball in the snow 0.2 miles in…..0.2!!! So much for that plan.

The snow was sticky enough and packed in enough to not even need my microspikes on and the climb was pretty steady for the first mile and a half. Then some steep parts started to intersperse once we got our first peek at Lincoln in the distance. I had known that from 1.9 miles to 2.9 miles the trail was known as “Agony Ridge”, a name that originates from the hut cru of Greenleaf Hut who have to haul giant packs of supplies up for the AMC hut. Let me tell you, this ridge lives up to it’s name. It’s a killer for sure, but it also has the most amazing views.

The famed Franconia Ridge
Note the stick I had been hiding behind my back so he would sit and focus
From one of the outlooks on our descent with the setting sun casting its rays on the ridge

These outlooks are also where we encountered our first people of the day. I think most had chosen to ascend Falling Waters Trail…which I was avoiding at all costs…and then do the ridge to descend via Old Bridal Path, so we got to enjoy our hike up virtually alone. At one outlook, we ran into a group of 3 girls and 2 dogs who Maverick was all excited to try to play with before we went on. The trail got steeper and I finally put on my microspikes, though it was so warm with zero wind that all I had on was a long sleeve shirt and underarmour and was still sweating.

At Greenleaf Hut, we took a much needed break to eat a clifbar and put on some Musher’s Secret, which Maverick acted as if I was amputating his foot each time I swiped some wax on him. Shepherds, man. The girls and dogs we had encountered before ran into us here again, so I offered my Musher’s Secret to them as well before we started up the last 1.1 mile to Lafayette’s summit.

Upon entering the alpine zone, everything changed. The girls and dogs caught up to us again and we ended up hiking together for most of the rest of the way up, which was really nice. Maverick loved the husky, Teeko, and his owner and I even ended up exchanging numbers to hike together again sometime because she tries to get out every weekend as well. They were a fun group which made it so that even when my microspikes failed me at one point and I slid about 20 yards down the mountain again, we were all able to laugh about it. I guess that’s the perks of not hiking along.

Our new friend Jordan taking a picture of the amazing views, one of the girls she was hiking with Renee, and the dogs Teeko and Maverick just before my spikes failed me and I slid down that slope
Looking south along Franconia Ridge from the ascent of Lafayette
Ice ice baby

At one point, so close to summit, we got to what I referred to as the boulder problem (thanks Alex Honnald for that term 😉) the trail originally went through these two huge boulders (pictured below) but that had become a waterfall of blue ice. Very pretty, but also pretty impossible to ascend. We tried to look at alternate ways up, but the prospect didn’t look too hot. I was thinking I might have to call it and yet again not reach summit. But then my 3 new friends caught up to us, and myself and two of them tried a way up to the right of the boulder problem. They were able to make it up, but yet again my microspikes failed me. (Yes I’m aware I really need to invest in some good crampons. Trust me, I know) I had to turn around, this time sure I wouldn’t make it and had almost resigned myself to this fact. But then a group was coming down from far off to the left and waited until I was back on trail to know I had made it safe because they thought I was crazy for being alone. The thing is here, everything is ice. Every single step you take is calculated. You have to watch where you put your every footstep. Feel how you dig in to make sure you won’t slip. Squat and bend and stay low so that should your foot slip out, you’re ready to catch yourself. It’s the most technical hiking I’ve ever done. It’s hard. It’s an adrenaline rush.

This group advised I try how they had just come down, far to the left of the boulder problem. If I swung far enough left, low in the rocks, and then ascend in their tracks, I should be able to make it. Part of me wanted to say screw it. I was exhausted. We were close enough. But giving up is not in my nature. So I thanked them for their concern in my coming back down to the trail from our failed attempts and the advice on where to try next and off we went.

Looking up the ice filed alpine zone
Maverick wondering why Mom takes so dang long
One of my favorite parts of winter hiking – RIME!
From what I thought would be out “summit” at the Boulder Problem. See the blue icy waterfall behind him where the trail was supposed to run
Boulder Problem
Looking up at Teeko and Mav from the alternate route Jordan and her friend ended up taking
If I had thought what we were doing before was technical hiking, it was nothing to what we did in this steep section. Hand over foot we climbed up the side of this wall of ice, every step tested and calculated before pushing up again. One false step, one slip, meant you were going down. And down. And down. Of course, Maverick was already waiting for me at the top of it, back on the main trail whining because I was taking too long. And then finally I had made it past. And we only had another short climb before we hit summit. And boy, was it worth it. The views. For miles. On what was supposed to be a cloudy day, we could see everything, the cloud coverage hanging just above all the peaks so that everything was laid out for us. And almost 0 wind whatsoever, which was straight up unheard of here. We must have stayed on the summit for at least 20 minutes, completely content as we weren’t getting blown away or freezing our butts off. And also not exactly looking forward to heading back down that section.
Looking over at the beautiful Presis from the summit sign
Ridge Running – Looking down Franconia Ridge to Lincoln from Lafayette
After so many failed attempts and not thinking we’d even make it today, we did!
Looking back down the ridge behind us
Just playin on summit cairns
Washington showing off its beauty of course
While I had thought about maybeee doing the whole ridge, I just did not want to do Falling Waters Trail after our last attempt. Maybe next summer. Or fall. Or sometime in the future. But not now. So we went down the same way we had come up instead. Back down around the boulder problem. Luckily, Maverick might not be good at fuss or voran, but he does know weird commands like “side” and “left” and “right” so that when we reached that sheet of ice again, I was able to say “right!” And sure enough that smart boy ran off to his right into the rocks and made it down without a single slip.
As a measure of just how hard that last 1.1 to the summit and back was, we left Greenleaf Hut at 11:42 and reached summit at 1:12….that’s an hour and a half just for essentially 1 mile. And heading down? Another full hour. Just to descend.
We were the last ones on the trail down it seemed, but that’s fine by me. While I had originally planned for a sunrise hike, it ended up almost being a sunset hike. But that’s okay. And wouldn’t you know, just as we were about to get back to where Falling Waters Trail hooks in at 0.2 miles, Maverick veers off the trail and falls behind so I stop and turn. “What the heck are you doing?” I asked him. “We’re almost to the car, come on.” And what does that beast come bounding towards me with??? His dang ball from this morning 😂 I kid you not he actually found that thing again 7 hours later.
So while this may have been my hardest hike yet, it was also probably my favorite hike yet. I was talking to a friend on my drive home and he was shocked to hear it had been a 7 hour hike. He asked how can you do that? Do you really enjoy hiking for that full 7 hours?? I immediately laughed and said “oh, God, no” because that’s the truth. You do not like every minute of a hike and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re lying. Trust me.
There are times you hate it. You wonder why the heck you’re doing this. Who does this shit for fun I mean really?? Agony Ridge?? Just whyyy. You sweat. You fall. A lot. My legs are covered in bruises today. You make it home finally and struggle to get out of the car because everything hurts. But then, when you’re there, you just get it. It’s not something I can put in words. It’s not something any picture will ever do justice. I take all these pictures, then I get home and look at them and think “huh, that looked so much more incredible than this picture shows”. You meet these people, like Jordan, who value the same things you do and have the same mindset of this is badass. This is what I need to do in my life. You push yourself so much, you learn that you’re capable of more than you could have ever dreamed of. You put yourself in these dangerous positions that make you realize, wow, I could die. And you live. And you keep pushing. And you love it. And it reminds you just how alive you are.
So I may not love every minute of those 7 hours, but I love Maverick every minute of it. And I love that we do it together. And at the end of it all, I wouldn’t be truly feeling alive if I didn’t.
See that Mav? We were just there
Oh yeah, we definitely didn’t take a nap here on this bench once we finally made it back to Greenleaf Hut…definitely not
You is handsome and you is perfect and you is smaht

Until next time White Mountains