After layering up, we climb for another ten minutes or so, enjoying that wonderful period of time on a hike where you emerge from trees into glorious open views. The vistas opened up in all directions except to the east, where a bit of elevation remained before reaching the top of Little Haystack. It was completely clear in all directions, with only a bit of high haze visible far off to the west and south.
We had reached the spine of Franconia Ridge here at Little Haystack Mountain, completing the ascent phase of the hike. The next phase: follow the trail (the Appalachian Trail, no less!) that led north along the ridgeline, all the way to the summit of Mt Lafayette, which was a good 2.5 km (1.5 miles) away.
The wind and the cold, combined with the knowledge that time was already marching into early afternoon (it was almost 1pm at this point), means that we elected to push on right away.
Back in 2011
, when Chris and I had attempted our ill-fated attempt at this loop, the ridge had been covered in a hard crust of snow with patches of rock and ice, making even relatively shallow slopes somewhat dicey. Today the snow was much softer and where the ground or rock was visible, it was generally not covered in ice. It was suitable for continued use of snowshoes, so we continued along with them in place on our feet.
There aren't many places in the Northeastern U.S. that are true open tundra. Here along Franconia Ridge was one such place. We were in a completely different world than the forested slopes or indeed, the featureless flatlands that we had driven from just a few hours before. Especially in wintertime, it feels truly alpine here.
We headed north along the ridgeline, climbing up and down over a few small bumps, angling towards the prominent peak looming to the north of us. We could clearly see the the ridgeline and our path leading ahead of us, connecting us to its base.
A whole new vista had opened up to the east as we crested Little Haystack and started our journey north along the ridge. The heart of New Hampshire's White Mountains lay before us now: the Pemigewasset Wilderness, large and undeveloped and wild, surrounded on three sides by a semi-circular ring of peaks. Beyond that rose the higher mountains of the Presidential Range, their bare rock summits all shining brilliantly white in the clear sun. Among them, the high dome of Mount Washington rose highest. It's frosted weather station towers clearly visible. This was Gillian's first visit to a White Mountain summit view like this, and she was suitably impressed.
We spent the next forty minutes negotiating the little ups and downs along the ridgeline. Mostly it's quite adequate and even favourable for snowshoes, but in a few other spots we need to be careful when we encounter a bit of extra hard pack or even a touch of ice. We stop periodically in the lee of various boulders or the crest of the ridge itself. In these little oases of calmness, we can take off our gloves and balaclavas and hoods and scarf a few bites down, or more properly observe the wonderful winter mountain scenery.
Just before reaching the summit of Mt Lincoln, there's a section of ridgeline that is noticably rougher and blockier than the rest. The trail stays just east and below the actual crest (which would require some actual rock climbing to stay on), and every so often there is a dramatic view west down a cleft to precipitous slopes below. There are also a few cool standing rocks along here.
After the blocky, craggy section, we climbed steeply up to the tip of the prominent peak above us. It's the summit of Mt Lincoln, of course, but I wasn't thinking too fully, and I had mistaken this summit for Lafayette (and had been verbalizing that to Chris and Gillian in the conversation leading up to the top). So when we got to the top, saw the beautiful view, but then also saw another
beautiful white peak just to the north of us, I at once realized that this was the top of Mt Lincoln
, not Lafayette. Chris and Gillian were less impressed with this news, and took some time to absorb and adjust to it (they had been mentally prepared to start our descent from here, I guess....).
(As an aside, the summit of Mt Lincoln was where Chris and I had turned around back in 2011
. Without crampons and given the conditions at the time, I had decided that the steepish descent down the north side of Lincoln was too sketch without them).