By: Andrea Klaphake, Franconia Notch State Park Interpretive Ranger
One of my goals before interpreter season, was to get to Franconia Notch before I moved and started working there as an interpretative ranger at the end of June. But I wanted to do it in a unique way, which is why I spent three days and two nights hiking west from Crawford Notch on the Appalachian Trail (June 3rd-5th). This hike was not only my introduction to Franconia Notch State Park, but a lesson in hiking safe and hiking smart in the White Mountains.
The weather is known to change frequently in the Whites, even in the summer months. From the moment I started my hike near the Ethan Pond trailhead, with my two friends, we were bombarded with clouds and drizzling rain. There were several opportunities to turn back but after assessing the risks involved, we felt confident to proceed with our thoroughly planned hike. The weather forecast called for: rain, drizzle, 40-50 F, wind, wind, rain, and of course, a ton of fog over the next three days. Let me show you what I experienced on my way to my state park!
The rain held off for the majority of the first day but the damp conditions made the bog bridges and walking on rocks hazardous. We had to concentrate on footing and walking with intent for the entire time on the Appalachian Trail.
The most impressive stretch of trail that I set my eyes on was after Thoreau Falls. Winding and smooth, the trail is less rocky and hiking is very enjoyable as you approach Zealand Falls, and then another ascent up to the Zealand Falls hut. My crew and I stopped at the AMC Zealand Falls hut in order to recharge and regroup. Yes, our boots and socks got soaked because of puddles and rain, but the smiles never evaporated from our faces.
At the end of the first day, my group and I had hiked around 12 miles and camped out at the Guyot Campsite. After a long day, we tried to dry some clothes out, but eventually we grew sleepy and our eyelids felt heavy.
For the second day, we were sore and still tired, but we hiked up the .8 mile route back up to the Appalachian Trail and hiked 6 miles to the Galehead Hut to try to contact our friends coming from the opposite direction. We planned to meet at Garfield Ridge Campsite, which we did quite successfully! The second day was definitely our ‘easy’ day.
The third day was an exciting day. It was the day that I was about to embark on Franconia Notch territory! It was also another 12 mile day and filled with a lot of decent after we climbed the Franconia Ridge. Despite that we couldn’t see the views, there was something about being on top of the mountains when they were cloudy that one could appreciate.
After hiking down the tumultuous Liberty Springs Trail, to end in the southern end of Franconia Notch State Park, we were thrilled to be done and to find the car safely in the parking lot (after we had swapped car keys with friends on the trail). Now it is time to inhale carbohydrates and reflect on what we just accomplished!
3 Weeks Later…
After hiking the Franconia Ridge with clouds and fog surrounding me, I knew I had to do it justice by hiking it on a warm, sunny Sunday. On June 24th, I headed out around 6:30 am and started at the Falling Waters trailhead to ascend the ridge that left me wondering. This is what I saw:
I hope my journey to Franconia Notch teaches two things. One, to always feel prepared before a hike for a variety of weather conditions. Two, hike the same trail twice. After hiking this 30 mile stretch of trail, I intend to suggest hiking tips for all levels of hikers by giving programs and informal programs. Check the July schedule out for more information on how to hike safe and smart in the White Mountains and for other educational programs.
There are spectacular sights around each and every corner. My first expedition to Franconia Notch was indeed unique, and I am even more thrilled that I got two very different perspectives of Franconia Notch.