Franconia Notch State Park
So this is an introduction to start off the winter adventure season! Despite this December being the hottest I can remember, I spent a couple days walking along snow and ice in Franconia Notch State Park reminding myself that it is now in fact winter and we should be getting used to snow, ice, and numb fingers.
Now I know of some avid summer hikers who regard winter backpacking/camping as a ludicrous activity. They have no problem putting their boots and packs in the closet as temperatures begin to drop, snow accumulates, and wind howls through gaps in the window pane. They cringe at the thought of a winter ascent and scoff at the suggestion of tenting beneath the crisp winter stars. But I am here to show you that it is worth it! It is more than simply being chilled to the core. Winter backpacking intensifies the rawness of the hikers experience, giving the summer backpacker an entirely new perspective on the ever-changing environment we immerse ourselves in. So for those of you tentatively considering to brave New Hampshire’s elements this winter I can offer some winter backpacking suggestions. For those who have already taken to the trails hopefully I can inspire some future treks.
Last weekend, we took a two day trek to Lonesome Lake where we submitted Cannon Mountain and bunked at the Lonesome Lake A.M.C Hut. This area is a popular family hike in the summer given its easy access to the hut and ample swimming opportunities.
From the hiker parking lot (right off I-93 – in Franconia Notch State Park), we followed the Lake Trail until we got to the hut, which can be considered a resort as A.M.C. huts go. Lonesome Lake hut is managed by a caretaker (currently George) in the off-season. It sleeps 48 people in two bunkhouses, offers a self-serve kitchen (stove, sink, etc.), and has close outhouses. For those who are spending the night, the wood-stove is lit by 4pm every day so plan accordingly. We spent the night warmed by the fire and sharing stories with a handful of other hikers bunking that night.
The next morning we woke to the crackle of the A.M.C. radio relaying the Mt.Washington summit weather conditions…a sunny 0F with a wind chill a -15F. Luckily, at 2,760 feet we experienced a warm 15F as we gobbled up a light breakfast, cracked open some hand-warmers, and headed to the summit of Cannon Mountain.
We ascended the Lake Trail until it intersected with the Kinsman Ridge Trail which we followed along to the Cannon Mountain observation tower. The trail was steep and slippery requiring at times an ascent attack on all fours. The outlook just below the observation tower was phenomenal, it showcased the Franconia Ridge adjacent to Cannon.
We returned to the hut via Hi-Cannon trail to Dodge Cutoff then back to the Lake Trail. The whole loop only took a couple of hours and we were back to the lake for a late lunch and with enough sunlight to hike out to the car. As the season goes on and packs down more snow on the Lonesome Lake area, the trails will be prime for snow shoeing and cross country skiing. The accommodations at Lonesome Lake hut offer an excellent (and warm) home base for exploring Franconia Notch in its entirety. A short distance from the hut is the Franconia Ridge trail which links the ridge-line of Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Liberty. It is a serious hike in the winter, almost entirely exposed, and dependent on weather, but offering the best views in the whole park.
So the winter backpacking season has started off with a bang, instead of forcing us outdoor folks inside it forced us to put on more layers. What awesome winter hikes have you gone on in Franconia Notch State Park or the surrounding area? What kinds of methods do you use to beat the cold?