With family visits and Christmas fesitivities coming to an end, it was definitely time for a return to the mountains. Of the 14 mountains I have left for my NH 4000-footers, South Kinsman was the closest drive. I picked this because we felt like squeezing the hike into a long drive-hike-drive, rather than having to do an overnight.
As it turned out, New Year's Day was the best day weather-wise (according to the forecast, anyway) of the days we had available to us. With a forecast of cold temperatures, blustery winds, and clear skies, it promised to be a challenging but beautiful day.
Our choice of attack for the Kinsmans was the Lonesome Lake approach. This offered a good trailhead and a well-travelled trail, as well as the ability to stop for shelter and warmth on the way up and down at the Lonesome Lake Hut -- especially welcome on a frigid day like today. The [slight] downside to this approach was that we'd have to climb over North Kinsman to get to South Kinsman, and then reclimb it again on the way back.
With almost every stitch of our coldest weather gear on us or in our packs, we set off from the parking lot at the Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch shortly after 8am. The temperature at the parking lot was a cool -23C, and we could hear the wind roaring in the treetops above us. A thin layer of misty clouds obscured the sun, but you could tell it wasn't far away. Hopefully, this cloud would dissipate as the day went on.
Given recent wet-then-cold weather, we were hoping for well-packed trail conditions, and we started off just with our yak-trax grip aiders. This worked perfectly, as the trail up to Lonesome Lake was packed with hard snow that worked well with the aids. Ewart set a brisk pace, and we were soon warmed up. We were also soon at the height-of-land near Lonesome Lake, and within the hour, we were at the Lonesome Lake hut. We met many groups -- mostly families with young kids, actually -- hiking down after spending a New Year's Eve in the hut.
Our stop in the hut gave us a sheltered place to have a snack and adjust our gear (and make sure to take any traction aids off of your feet before setting inside). We then continued on, taking the Fishing Jimmy trail towards Kinsman Pond.
We put snowshoes on at the hut, but in hindsight, this was probably a mistake. There wasn't all that much base, and the trail was very hard packed in most places. Yak-trax would have been better. Laziness got the better of us, though, and we kept our snowshoes on, negotiating (with some difficulty) the steep pitches on the Fishing Jimmy trail. Cramponed snowshoes were not the ideal weapon with these particular trail conditions.
In time, we arrived near Kinsman Pond. Jenn and Ewart continued on up towards the summits, and I took a quick detour for a picture stop at the shore of the pond. I'm glad I did, because I got my best shots of the day here -- moody and frigid-looking pictures of rock-hard Kinsman Pond, with North Kinsman looming above into the mists.
Dramatic view of Kinsman Pond
I hurried along to catch up with Jenn and Ewart, catching them about halfway from the pond to the summit. At 3,800 feet, Kinsman Pond is already most of the way to the summit, so it wasn't much farther before we were standing on the wooded summit of North Kinsman. From the lookout just to the east of the summit, I could see nothing but white -- the clouds had still not cleared out!
Ewart (having already done South Kinsman before, in any case), decided that he'd turn back here and wait for us back at the hut. Jenn and I continued on, trying to pick up the pace a little so that Ewart wouldn't have to wait too long. I could see the sun trying to work it's way through the clouds, and we had occasional blooms of thin sunlight and shadows. Maybe on the south peak, we'd have a view?
The col between North and South Kinsman was not that deep, nor was the trail leading down into it and out of it that difficult -- the grades were nice, and the conditions were good. We made good time, and soon we were at the summit of South Kinsman.
Approaching blustery S. Kinsman Summit
South Kinsman is more open than North Kinsman, with a decent area of low scrub and semi-open terrain. There are two slight high-points, and I wasn't sure which was higher, so we tagged both. There was a large cairn at the southernmost of these two points, and I assume this is the official summit. Above us was blue sky and sun, but we were still surrounded by a sea of clouds, so no view towards Lonesome Lake and Franconia Ridge for us!
After a few quick photos, we turned and headed back. It was cold up here! My thermometer measured -27C (-17F), and with an estimated 45 km/hr (30mph) wind, we calculated the wind chill value to be -45C (-49F)!
Protected from the elements