Franconia Ridge (August 6)
After a rainy rest day in Lincoln, NH, I feel more than ready to get back to the trail today. On the ride there, other hikers and I peer up at the thick clouds and wonder. We look up and say things like, “Supposed to be nice today…” and “It’ll clear! ” We’re all hoping especially hard for clear weather and nice views today. It’s one thing to hike through rain in the middle of the forest, but another to miss the stunning views up in The Whites.
I start the day hiking with Watchless, a middle aged female thru hiker. Several miles pass by uneventfully, and then I trip on a root and fall in the middle of the path. It takes me a while to shake it off- we sit a while and wait for me to feel less queasy about it. I’m bleeding some, but nothing too big for a bandage and some tape. It reminds me of going to the beach and loving the swell of the waves, just dancing in the ocean, until suddenly one pummels you under, and you have to fight to get back on your feet again. Usually in a really undignified way, with your swimsuit half off and sand everywhere…suddenly the ocean doesn’t seem so friendly anymore. In this case, even though I know it’s unfair, I feel some resentment towards the mountain, that it would hurt me. I feel less light hearted about the hike- and maybe more respect for it too. This proves to be a good lesson for the day, as the hike ahead is full of challenges.
Eventually Watchless and I stand up and carry on, more cautiously than ever. It is amazing up on Franconia Ridge. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The ridge is made of several mountain peaks all in a row, all above tree line. We seem to keep summiting, again and again, kind of like hiking over rolling hills on a golf course, except these peaks are so high and rugged. We summit the first and I can see the path stretching ahead before us, leading up to the next rocky summit ahead. It looks so adventurous, with the path appearing then disappearing again in the fog. As soon as I see that summit ahead, I’m thinking, wow, it would be so neat to go over there and climb that, and then I realize that’s where the path leads. That’s basically my experience all through The Whites, in the days to come. I keep seeing beautiful summits ahead, and sure enough, the path leads right there.
It is foggy and windy up on the ridge. At times the fog evaporates in patches and we catch glimpses of the beauty around and below us. These views are sporadic and momentary. But there is so much beauty in the view of the rocky summits, the stony winding path, and the fog. It is so rugged, seemingly untouched despite the many hikers on this path.
It is challenging to hike through the wind. It comes up from the valley and sweeps up over the mountain. Sometimes it is so strong Watchless and I literally stand still and cling to a nearby rock, hesitant to lift our feet. The descent from the ridge is also very steep. I’m glad for my injury because I think it humbles me- it would be easy to get hurt here if you tried to go fast. After hours of carefully picking our way down among the rocks, I start to feel mentally, physically and emotionally drained. When we finally finish the descent from the rocks down to the trees, I have to agree with Watchless. She says, “I never thought I’d say this, but it feels so good to be back in the trees!” It is very comforting to be back in the familiar protection of the alpines.
That’s the thing about The Whites, they are humbling in a way no other part of the trail is. For one thing, this is the most physically challenging piece of trail I’ve hiked. I’m in better hiking shape than ever before, yet I do fewer miles here than I’ve ever done. Not only are climbs and descents steep and physically difficult, they also require thought and strategy, time and patience. The rocks jutting up in the trail are often uneven and large, and many times I have to resort to sitting down to slide down rock faces. Movement tends to be spastic and jerky with a heavy pack threatening my balance. All this makes for a humbling experience, and then the vast and rugged beauty also slows and humbles me- I stop countless times in a day just to turn around and take in the views surrounding me.
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