Franconia Ridge, July 21, 2021: The First Time I Genuinely Felt Fear While Hiking on the Appalachian Trail

If you don’t know me, welcome! This is my first post of 2022, although I’ve been hiking the Appalachian Trail in both large and small sections since 2019. I’ve completed a little over 1,700 miles of the trail so far and was fairly close to that point during the day of hiking I’m about to recount.

Last year, I started my hike in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania in hopes of completing the portion of the Appalachian Trail north of that point. I was just over 700 miles into this section hike around late July, in the middle of the portion of trail that goes through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. For those unfamiliar with the AT, this is generally known as one of the hardest sections of the entire trail due to steep climbs and descents, rocky trail that sometimes requires using all fours, and exposed portions of trail above treeline where the weather has a mind of its own.

That being said, this portion of the trail is also incredibly beautiful and rewarding (and because of that, a little crowded too). I was headed up to one of the known most beautiful areas of them all – Franconia Ridge.

Lincoln, New Hampshire

I arrived at Chet’s place in Lincoln, New Hampshire, my favorite hostel stay of the hike. Chet isn’t in any of the guides by choice. He’s been hosting hikers for years in his garage turned hiker hostel, and has an incredible life story and kind heart. I managed to be the only hiker staying there that night – such a rarity. I soaked in the advantages of being able to get some real rest and one on one conversation with the hostel owner.

It stormed that night, and more spotty weather was predicted for the next day. Since I knew that my hiking day would include a section of trail that is completely exposed to the elements, I pondered with Chet’s help whether hiking that day would even be a good idea. He let me know he’d keep an eye on the weather with me, and to our delight, the forecast the next morning showed that the chance of storms had mostly gone away, although some rain was still predicted.

It was still a difficult decision to make – to stay or go. I was eager to go, as I had just come off of a few zero days when my boyfriend at the time came to visit. Reading this from the comfort of home, it might not seem like a big dilemma. But when talking about walking on exposed mountain ridges, a little blip in the weather goes a long way in drawing the line between a safe and unsafe hike.

I decided to go for a walk to a gas station to get a breakfast sandwich and make my decision clear-headed on the way. On my way back, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, was a dollar bill looking at me like it was placed there waiting for me to pick it up.

So I did what anyone needing to make a smart and informed decision would do – I based it on the fact that I found a lucky dollar.

I took it as a good sign and placed it in the pocket of my rain jacket, said my thanks and farewell to the owner back at the hostel, and hopped in a shuttle to the trailhead.

Heading Up to the Ridge

As the trail started climbing, it was like any other day of hiking. I stopped for water at a small creek flowing across the trail near a campsite and listened to the chatter of voices from that direction while I filled up. I noticed that it felt a little cloudier through the gaps in the trees while a chill swiftly set into the air. As I secured my water bottle back onto my pack, sprinkles of rain started discreetly pattering on the leaves above me, the occasional drop making it through to my head or pack. I had my rain jacket on, but the heat generated from climbing up the trail still made for a comfortable temperature to be wearing just shorts and tall socks.

I eventually emerged out of treeline and onto the ridge – an exciting moment to have reached one of the iconic areas of the Appalachian Trail. The rain had steadily increased from a few sprinkles to a light drizzle, but it was nothing to be worried about as it wasn’t supposed to storm anymore. I knew I wouldn’t see any views from Franconia Ridge that day as the sky both above and below me was painted grey. I was ok with it and actually a bit relieved, as I knew it would mean less crowding on the trail.

Weather Has a Mind of Its Own

Then things started to change, and quickly. As I walked the gradual incline of the trail, I passed a few hikers heading swiftly in the other direction. The rain went from drizzling to near-pouring . The wind went from being present to being angry. I hiked faster and faster, tired, but knowing that if I just kept pushing, I’d get up and over this thing.

That’s where some mistakes started. In hindsight, I should have stopped and put my rain pants on, and maybe other layers of clothing, right then and there. But hindsight doesn’t exist in the moment. Maybe I wasn’t really comprehending how far I still had to go to get back under treeline, or how much harder it would continue to rain. I just kept on hiking as fast as I could, thinking that it would keep me warm enough and get me down fast.

I passed another group of hikers coming in the other direction – all three of them in full-on rain gear, hoods up, gloves on, looking like they were on an immediate mission to get out of the weather as we barely made eye contact.

Then again, just as quickly, the rain went from pouring to a horizontal deluge, the wind from angry to harsh strong gusts that were passing through my body like I was a ghost that it couldn’t see.

When most of us are walking in other places and this happens, we go inside or take some cover. The reason that this moment is so significant to me is that it’s the first time I really felt like I suddenly had a different and humbled perspective of these mountains. It all came rushing to me – what it actually means to be caught in the elements, completely exposed with no protection. What it actually means when people talk about hikers that run into trouble because they aren’t prepared for a difference in weather between the top and bottom of a mountain. What it actually means when we say that the tops of these mountains have weather of their own.

I pressed on, but started to feel that nervous energy forming inside my chest. This wind and rain were getting really intense compared to anything I had experienced before. The trail was becoming less visible. I started feeling those twinges in my hands and feet that signal they’re heading toward numbness. My rain jacket was useless at this point and had I even been carrying a hiking umbrella at that time, it would have rendered hopeless in the wind.

The Voice of Britney Spears Emerges

Then I heard it. Is that… Britney Spears?

Silence again.

Then I found myself humming along “You’re toxic, I’m slippin under…”

With what would usually be a sigh of annoyance on a hiking trail, I sighed with relief that I still had my sanity. I realized there were two hikers up ahead. I couldn’t see them, but they had to be right in front of me. I could hear their music blasting around gusts of wind, and their occasional hollers with that tone that they knew this was completely insane but they were somehow having the time of their lives. I was guided and comforted by the voice of Britney Spears for a few more minutes until I finally caught up and passed them. They looked like they were just out for the day, and the distraction faded as the seriousness of the situation amplified again.

The trail continued climbing and I kept moving, finally reaching the highest point of the ridge, Mt. Lafayette. My hands and feet were going numb at an alarming rate. I could barely see through my glasses and didn’t have a dry surface anywhere that I could wipe them on. Visibility was reduced to mere feet in front of me at times. Completely drenched and freezing every time the wind blew, I felt panic start to rise. It’s really hard to admit that.

In all of my hiking thus far, I felt a flash of fear. It was that split second twinge of a feeling that did the work for me of summarizing my adrenaline-laden thoughts: “I can’t feel my hands, I can’t feel my feet, I can’t see more than a few feet in front of me, I have a long way to go, Do I remember how to hit that emergency button on my inReach if I had to? Do I know where my inReach is in my pack since the clip broke? Can I even feel my hands enough to hit the emergency button on my inReach if I had to?”…you get the picture.

I countered that twinge of fear with a shouting thought in my head.

“Breathe!”

I actually stopped moving (maybe not smart in this scenario) and took two big slow breaths.

Then I kept walking. I knew that panic in this situation would make everything worse and I had to stop it.

Two other hikers passed me coming the other way, looking as miserable as I felt. We barely exchanged glances before they swiftly turned off down a side trail. I continued to follow the Appalachian Trail as it started descending. Rather than bringing me hope that I was now beginning the descent toward treeline where I would be more shielded from the elements, the other side of the peak met me with harder intense blasts of wind and rain. I don’t know what exactly was going through my head, but I think I realized that “keep going as fast as possible” was no longer a viable option.

I crouched down beside the next boulder I passed, dropped my pack and started to pull more layers out as quickly as possible. I couldn’t feel my fingers to the point that opening my pack and getting my jacket unzipped was a frightening challenge, but I kept telling myself to breathe and found myself thankful that I was experiencing the payoff of always keeping certain clothing items easily accessible.

This is me on Blood Mountain in Georgia in 2019. This is the same clothing combination I was wearing on Franconia Ridge that day. Below is me on Albert Mountain in North Carolina in 2019. I should have been wearing something like this from the get-go.

The Fall

In between bouts of vigorously rubbing my hands together I put my puffy jacket on under my rain jacket, got my rain pants on, and threw an extra pair of socks over my hands. The boulder was hardly a relief from the wind or rain, and not long after I set off from it, I fell. It was one of those glorious, swift but slow, no hope of stopping it type of falls. The weight of my pack brought me right down. I didn’t even know how it happened, but I blamed a trail covered in wet rocks coupled with numb feet, poor visibility, and wet glasses.

It’s crazy what the human psyche can do, because the first thing I did was glance around to see if anyone saw it happen. Rest assured, the image of that fall is only shared by myself and Mt. Lafayette.

I got up and kept going, trying to keep panic at bay and wondering how not very many minutes prior I was wearing a rain jacket and shorts, hiking in light drizzle in comfortable temperatures and didn’t recall anything of this caliber forecasted for this timeframe. I found myself starting to lose the trail in short bursts as the clouds would move around me leaving me only able to see a few feet in front of me. I followed the rock cairns that seem so blatantly obvious when in good weather on a clearly defined trail that it’s an incredibly humbling moment to grasp their full use.

I came to a point where I stopped in my tracks. The trail sort of seemed to drop off into an abyss of white. There was no real ledge and I knew that somewhere it kept descending over the little hump that I couldn’t see beyond. It was a strange moment though. I felt that pang of fear again: “Wow, I’m really truly losing the trail and having to look for it”. I didn’t have time to keep stopping to figure it out. I didn’t know how far treeline was in that moment and I didn’t have time to play guesswork with my numb extremities. These logical thoughts in the moment were sort of morphed into a bubble of a split-second decision that I just knew was the right one. I had to turn back.

Turning Around

As I stood at that dead-end trail illusion, I remembered that I saw those two hikers turn off at the top of Mt. Lafayette, and remembered that there was a side trail that lead a mile down to one of the white mountain huts. I had to get out of this pounding rain and relentless wind as fast as possible, and I had to go with the known rather than the unknown. I didn’t know exactly how far treeline was at this point if I proceeded on the Appalachian Trail, but I knew that a half-mile up, a right turn and a mile down would lead me to shelter, other people, and relief.

Anyone reading this who has long-distance hiked will understand this – turning around is really not something we think about often. There is always forward motion. Heck, we hikers get frustrated when we turn down the wrong side trail and have to backtrack an extra ten feet. “Extra” walking on a long hike can somehow just feel like a huge deal, so for me to turn around and go back up an ascending trail for a half-mile in terrible weather means that I felt it really, really had to happen.

Greenleaf Hut

That half-mile back up to the peak of Mt. Lafayette felt a lot more treacherous than it was, but I was also running on adrenaline to get me through. Once I reached it and started down the side trail, I still walked (stumbled) down the trail with purpose but knew that I would be ok. If I could just get there, the feeling would start to come back to my hands and feet. Upon approaching the hut, the weather already seemed to fade into a different world. The howling winds were light gusts and the rain a gentle patter again. I had to ask myself if I just imagined the whole thing.

This is the point where I would normally be socially anxious and stand outside the hut debating whether or not I really needed to stop in among a crowd of people inside, but there was no hesitation that day. I walked in to the group of tables full of hikers, most who likely were guests at the hut that night and not venturing out into the rain that day. I went up to the counter and asked one of the croo (the name for the people who staff the huts) what my thru-hiker pass could get me. I happily accepted a bowl of soup and sat down at a table among people who were much dryer than me.

Forgetting all that had just happened, self consciousness started to sink in again. But then:

“Hey, we saw you up there!”

The Britney hikers. This woman was getting started on her afternoon celebration beverages, pulling some liquor minis out. Looking dry and warm and ready to drink, I suddenly understood why they were hooting and hollering in the intense weather – they were about to head down to this hut at the time, where they were staying for the night, while in the same moment I knew I had a long way to go in the weather.

Another woman at the table side-eyed the conversation as she played cards with her young son, and I knew I was feeling a little better because my full self-conscious people-avoiding mode switched on in that moment. I drank the rest of my soup in one swift motion, asked the kind croo member behind the counter if she knew of any camp spots close by, and she directed me to a side trail that had promise of a stealth spot or two if I walked down it for about five minutes.

Stealth Camped for the Night

Walking back out into that rainy chill was amplified after stopping in the hut. The huts are not heated but are certainly warmer than outside, and I was ready to get out of that “just ate soup but still soaked and am now even colder” moment. I started down the side trail and came up to a small dirt tent clearing – one of those where I had to stop and ponder in a few different directions whether or not my one-person tent could actually fit there in this little oasis between the dense trees and moss of the whites.

The challenge didn’t end there – not until I got set up, stripped off all of my soaking wet clothes, and was inside my sleeping bag. The rain had stopped – thanks mother earth! – but the air of the woods hung damp, the mist littered with the occasional trickle of clinging rain from branch onto moss. No will to eat dinner for me, just a light snack. I was in for the rest of the evening, done as a doornail, the ache of the bruise from my fall finally starting to become noticeable. I eventually nodded off to sleep while I debated whether I misread that lucky dollar bill, or that the luck of the dollar bill helped get me through the day.

My knee, starting to turn colors that night. Fortunately it was just a bruise.

 

The Aftermath

Now for those who read this far, I know there are going to be two approaches to this. Either: “What was this girl thinking, she was unprepared, she is making a big deal out of nothing.”  Or “She knew what she was doing and made a lot of right decisions.” I’d really prefer not to have this debate, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a little bit of both.

Things I should have done:

  • Put warmer layers on sooner.
  • Not decided to send my gloves home because the weather had been warm for so long.
  • Kept my inReach (a satellite device) on the outside of my pack, should I ever actually had to use it.
  • Waited out the day of hiking because there was still a chance of bad weather.
  • Turned back on the ridge sooner.
  • Been more aware of what open exposure to strong wind and rain on a peak can feel like.

Had I done these things, the weather wouldn’t have been any different but the memory of this day might not be so intense.

Things I did right:

  • Discussed my options that morning with someone familiar with the area.
  • Actively calmed myself.
  • Recognized when I absolutely had to put more layers on.
  • Sought what shelter I could behind a boulder to put said layers on.
  • Had an inReach (a satellite device) as a last resort, and had the FarOut app (a trail guide) to help determine where I was.
  • Knew to follow cairns when the trail wasn’t easily visible.
  • Was aware of side trails and bail-out options.
  • Made the decision to go with the known rather than the unknown and stayed humble enough to backtrack.
  • Kept my sleeping bag and sleep clothes completely dry.

I’m sharing this because it was so memorable and humbling to me and I just never got around to writing it. This was in July, after a lot of summer hiking in warmer weather. I’m hoping to remind hikers that even when we’ve been out on the trail a while, we can’t always just power through. Exposed areas and weather need to be taken seriously – the people who grew up hiking in The Whites know the caliber of this. Sometimes it’s also better not to plan each day between resupply points with maximum miles in case you lose a lot of miles like I did on that day.

I’ve realized that the more experienced I become in hiking, I’m finding it a trait of experienced hikers to wait out bad weather rather than to always feel the need to push through it because they’re tough, or “prove something”.

I’m hoping to remind everyone how being prepared is important, even on a day hike when heading to exposed sections of trail because the weather really can change that fast.

I never felt that I was in true life-threatening danger and had decision-making preparedness and layers with me on a well-trafficked trail (Dad, really, I was fine). But I was slapped in the face with the understanding of how we hikers could so easily be in danger if not properly prepared.

It’s something we all hear, but a truly humbling experience to finally brush up against that lesson firsthand.

The next day, I had to hike the mile back up to the top of Mt. Lafayette and continue the Appalachian Trail. The photo at the top of this blog post is the view on the way up, and I had these views of clouds rolling over Franconia Ridge in much clearer and calmer weather this time!

Epilogue

I’m writing this ten months later. Through more rainy days and washing machines, the lucky dollar has never left the pocket of my rain jacket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments 31

  • pearwood : May 18th

    Sarah,
    I’m glad you turned around. They taught us decades ago in Army flight school that the 180 degree turn was the most important maneuver we would ever learn. Mother Nature is a cruel mistress.
    I’m even more glad to hear you are back on the trail. I had to bail out shortly after I started in February. I’ll be back next year.
    Blessings on your way,
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
    • David626 : May 19th

      Great post. Humbling. I liked the self assessment at the end. Another suggestion for what what you could have done better: given the possibility of a storm, even if small, plan to assess the situation at the turn off, knowing how much further you would have to go to get to the tree line of you continued.

      Reply
  • MICHELLE E KINGSBURY : May 18th

    Thank you for this post. I learned a lot. The Whites scare me but you showed smarts in turning around. Lessons learned

    Reply
  • David626 : May 19th

    Great post. Humbling. I liked the self assessment at the end. Another suggestion for what what you could have done better: given the possibility of a storm, even if small, plan to assess the situation at the turn off, knowing how much further you would have to go to get to the tree line of you continued.

    Reply
  • Cheryl : May 20th

    The White Mtns decieve many. They are very dangerous. You are extremely blessed to have survived. I wish more people would read this account before heading up here.

    Reply
  • Tammy : May 20th

    Your writing is wonderful and kept me reading to the end! I’m so glad you’re okay! Thank you for sharing your story with us!

    Reply
  • Greg "babbling Brooks" : May 20th

    I’m glad to read you are back on the trail. Haven’t heard from you in a while. Although my trek is at my desk, my journey continues as old guy walking with a cane but is enjoying life. I don’t know if you know my book is published 2021. You read early story while I was returning on the plane just over yr ago. I added pictures to some of my stories http://www.gregbrooksrunning.com. Book Amazon….. Brooks Running, Memoir. Keep writing and posting, as I read Trek daily and walk with many of you on AT.
    Be well,
    Greg Brooks, Rochester, NY

    Reply
    • Sarah Lesiecki : May 24th

      Hi Greg! I am halfway through your book, I’ll send you an e-mail soon!

      Reply
  • Steve : May 20th

    Congratulations on your return to the trail. Your experience in the mountains may have been scary, but what a great adventure that you will remember for the rest of your life. Thanks for sharing it with us. You are a gifted writer whose words paint wonderful pictures for your readers. I hope you will share many more stories of your hiking aventures with us in the future! Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • Jersey Mike : May 20th

    Hi Sarah, great post! You tell the story directly And with humility, which will help others exercise better judgement and make good decisions as you did.

    You did an excellent self assessment. (In the Ay we called that an After Action Review (AAR)). I don’t judge your decision making negativity. You did a good risk assessment up front, and turned around before you were in over your head.

    Things change rapidly in the mountains. I think more rapidly than one can imagine without experiencing them.

    I once had a similar experience. I was at elevation, and saw a storm front approaching. I studied for a moment or two and assessed it would arrive in 40-45 minutes. Well, it was on me in 5-10minutes. It was really nasty, and I was just out there, completely exposed. That experience completely changed how I look at and risk asses hiking in the mountains, and just how fast conditions can change.

    A big take away for me from this post is a reminder to always have and follow a turn back plan when hiking in the mountains. Thanks for that Sarah!

    Reply
  • Andrew : May 20th

    Thank you for taking the time to post this experience. Im 10 months out from starting my thru hike, and for a guy like me who is a bit “seasoned” (58 years old) its my mission to glean as much real experience from hikers as possible. Ive hiked a few hundred miles in my life, including summiting Kahtadin 6 times, and also learned the same humbling lesson you did.
    If people are heading down as your heading up in bad weather, follow em and go make some new friends. I spent a couple miserable hours in a rock crevasse hiding from the elements, and there was no need for the lesson to ever repeat itself..lol
    Good luck and good hiking!

    Andy, aka Struckmatch.

    Reply
  • thetentman : May 21st

    As a hiker and Poker player, I say NEVER trust a dollar bill. Great post. Thx.

    Reply
  • Neal : May 21st

    I enjoyed reading of your experience, and although not any kind of through hiker, had a similar experience back in 1984, at Lafayette. Me and 2 others, whom I was responsible for, were doing a hut to hut hike from Galehead to Greenleaf. I know, not the same as a through hiker. The Garfield Ridge trail is pretty rough, it was cloudy all day, and very humid. But the rain started as we approached North Lafayette, and the weather went downhill fast. The heavy rain was mixed with a little snow as we finally got to Lafayette. We certainly were not equipped for near winter weather, but did like you, hastened to drop down to Greenleaf. The rain lightened some, but the fog was so thick, we could not see Greenleaf hut, until we almost crashed into it. I had forgotten how far it actually was down to Greenleaf, I imagined that it was close to the top. And, it is hard to control your thinking and stay positive. Turning back would’ve been a smarter play for us, am glad you made that decision. Thank you for sharing your experience. Quite a few folks have died in the summer, up in the Whites, I can see why.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lesiecki : May 24th

      Thank you for sharing your experience!

      Reply
  • Michael Castanza : May 21st

    Thanks for that epic post. It brought back memories of a hike in horrible weather through the Mahoosoc Notch on a section hike. Same sort of conditions plus a unhealthy dose of lightening as well. Your post sounded just as scary. Good luck the rest of the way. God bless.

    Reply
  • Rich C : May 22nd

    Great post. Really well written!! The Ridge is a killer, literally. Read The Last Traverse by Ty Gagne for a winter hiking gone wrong story about how a few very poor decisions cost one guy his life and other an amputation or two.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lesiecki : May 24th

      Thanks for the recommendation, I added that book to my reading list and was surprised I hadn’t heard of it, it seems like a must-read for many of us!

      Reply
  • Tom Kelly : May 22nd

    Wow, what a fantastic riveting article. Like others have stated I was glued to the words. Your articulate first-person writing style made for a very entertaining Sunday morning read.

    I recently started to follow the posts as I am packing up my life to move from Florida to someplace up in the NE Tennessee area to be near the mountains living out my remaining years not on a coach but living a hard life off-grid. Compared to you I am a slow simple day hiker with a half dozen or more mountains under my belt. Which means I am in awe by all of you and what it takes to accomplish. I do not belong taking up space in a hostel. Here is one of my stories. Hiking Mt Fuji in Japan for my 22nd birthday. I was hiking with American woman who like myself was in the Navy.

    Mt Fuji’s timberline at the time was about 2,400 meters, approximately half-way up the mountain. The trail quickly turns into lava boulders and loose lava gravel. The group of maybe 20 plus a couple of local guides was already struggling with steep climb and loose lava, when the weather changed in a matter of minutes. We were all very exposed and most were not prepared as it was considered a day and half hike.

    The hike group we joined was out of a Naval airbase vs the actual Naval ship base. What we did not know, think 1979, the closest thing to a cell-phone was seen in a Sci-fi Star-Trek show called a communicator. You get my point. The Naval ship base had actually cancelled the hiking tour due to possible bad weather. Of course we had no idea.

    Sometime in late afternoon we got hit with 70-mph winds, like the mountain’s hand was swiping those nasty ants off of its face. The trail at that moment was 45 degrees angle, as the image is implanted in my memory. Lianne and I took refuge behind a very large lava rock pile, then suddenly to my right another american woman is half tumbling down the exposed trail. I was able to reach out and grab her, yanking her into our little place of refuge. She was pretty scratched up due to the lava rocks tend to be jagged. The winds got so bad, I used my wind breaker in attempt to kind of tie us together as all of us clung to the sharp lava rocks. This is being done with the wind, rain, lava debris not held down by the rain, pummeling us. It was make-shift and barely held us in place with me holding the rock with all of my might.

    Then it was over. The weather lasted only few minutes, but the intensity was indescribable. The husband of the woman quickly found us, and the guides tended to her scratches. Lianne and I continued on the trail. We were NOT prepared at all, we had barely enough money to pay for water. Never mind food.

    Not sure of today, but back then, you hike in August, from say 9-10am or so, by the time you got on the trail. With a few “hostels”, you climbed until 8-9pm at night. We stopped at a very large hostel with thick quilt style blankets for both the bed and to cover. We slept until 2am or so. Resumed hiking to reach the peak just before sunrise. The goal was to witness the “Rising Sun of Japan” being at the summit of Mt Fuji at sunrise.

    This was the morning of my 22nd birthday August 19th, 1979 . The next day I headed to “Hong Kong” as the Aircraft Carrier my squadron was on went out to sea.

    Unfortunately, Lianne and I relationship ended that day, as the hostages were taken in Iran and I did not return for several months, while she was stationed at the Naval Air base in Japan. Some of us when we are young meet many people which we have special moments together and intense feelings. It takes years to reflect on how we sometimes thru naively of age, tend to squander certain people we met not knowing how special they were.

    No matter, it is one of the many adventures I have experienced even though I have a heat-murmur, missing a quarter of my lung and was told I was crippled in my right ankle, due to an on-the-ground aircraft mishap. With the wisdom and the gift of age, I can only say one thing. Never quit trying, how did the explorers and pioneers both men & women survive hundreds of years ago. No cell-phones, Wal-marts, minute-clinics, and the hostels back then were probably quite dangerous. Not to mention hiking “trespassing” on a very large family’s property, as in the great Native Americans.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lesiecki : May 24th

      Thank you for sharing your story! Your words gave me something to think about.

      Reply
  • Jose : May 22nd

    Girl, consider yourself one lucky lady to be able to live through the experience and be able to tell the story and not your obituary. I lived in NH the whole decade of the 80’s and I spent a lot of time up in the Whites and got to know very well the region and it’s nuances and the respect I’ve developed through the years of hiking the region. Back then the through hikers called it “the wall” for obvious reasons. Tough terrain and “wicked nasty” whether that could pop up out of nowhere and the lives that were lost in the Franconia and Presidential ranges. People have the tendency to take these high ranges like if it’s a walk in the park and it ain’t NO JOKE no matter what the season it may be. As a seasoned hiker and as I was reading your gripping story I picked up on the subtle mistakes even before you got started and the most important one was not making a consist study on a “topo” map of the ridge, tree lines, distances and bail out trials and most of all not checking on the weather with the Mt. Washington observatory which is the holy grail of weather observation in that region. And last but not least you should of followed those folks that went down that side trial and gotten off the ridge. I’m not going to point out the rest of your missteps because you’ve pointed them out yourself and I’m glad you made it and are still here to tell your experience for others to learn from. We as humans have this 6th sense that tells us when we are in imminent danger and we have to listen to our bodies and instincts as I did when I was up on Mt. Washington one winter and on the way down I veered off the trial heading down towards the Great Gulf and something inside told me that I was in danger of going down the wrong trail. It took me close to 14 hours up and down, had I not listened to my instincts it would of taken me way longer to get down in the dark on such treacherous trial. To all who hike The Whites BE PREPARED. Amen.

    Reply
  • James Bailey : May 23rd

    It can get a tad windy up there.

    Reply
  • Steve : May 23rd

    I really could relate to your adventure and tough decisions. I was caught in the same storm and had to hike down from Lake of the clouds that day doing the presidential traverse. Good post lot learn every hike has unpredictable turns.

    Reply
  • Che : May 24th

    Nice writing and so easy to read! Thank you. Enjoy❤️

    Reply
  • Michael Hagmeier : May 25th

    The decision to turn around can be a tough one, but life-saving.

    I was hiking a trail in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon in early May, 1980 (after some early Mt. St. Helen’s eruptions. But before the big one.)

    The weather was fine, and the trail in good shape.

    Then I crossed over a ridge top, and the ground was covered in snow. I followed blazes until I came to a large boulder field.

    The top map showed the trail crossing an area of no trees, which I figured was the boulder field.

    The only problem was, I could not see an obvious spot where the trail was in the (snow-covered) boulder field.

    I kept going up and down in the boulders. And could not find a trail.

    I also kept looking for a spot on the far side of the boulder field, to see where the trail re-entered woods, but I couldn’t see anything.

    There was a campground shown on the map not far into the woods, which was why I kept at it.

    Eventually, I became concerned that with my growing fatigue, I might fall and injure myself, which would have put me in a precarious position, so I turned around, hiked out, and went home.

    Several years later, I did a day hike on that trail, but later in the summer and in the reverse direction.

    The trail never enters the boulder field – it stays below it.

    In retrospect, what I should have done much earlier was then back to remind the balzez, and just gone more alowly while following them.

    Reply
  • James Esposito Jr : May 25th

    same thing happened to me on the ridge two days earlier 7/19/2021. Vey humbling to say the least. Had to take cover behind a rock to layer up. fell was bleeding a little. Took refuge at the greenleaf hut. Maybe it was just one of those wet years, maybe that’s what the whites is always like. Eerily similar account , you did an incredible job writing this. Terrific nonfiction piece.

    Reply
  • Scott Monroe : Jun 6th

    Hi Sarah,
    I liked your story of hiking the Franconia Ridge Trail.
    I writing a book concerning Franconia NOTCH and Lincoln VALLEY book.
    I am considering including a portion of your story in the book.

    Can we talk?
    Scott

    Reply
    • Nicole Letson, Westerly RI : Jun 12th

      Awesome!

      Reply
  • Nicole Letson, Westerly RI : Jun 12th

    I really enjoyed your story. I recently just got engaged on Mt LaFayette! May ‘22. And beautiful Weather up to the ridge.. got there and no wind at all.. I got a sunburn! BUT on the way down we had torrential rain, lightning and thunder. Pretty much swam in the pond on the way to the hut because no trail in sight. Your story brought me right back. With all we went through in this experience, we all learned something and that’s how we grow. I’m off to read more stories from you. Thank you!

    Reply
  • MaggieO : Jun 14th

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  • Clare Dudash : Aug 24th

    Lil Bear!
    It’s Spirit!
    I hiked in 2021 and met you soon after this experience. We met just leaving the whites. My mom found this as read it to me without realizing I had met you. Memories came flooding back. What an adventure the trail always seems to bring. I’m glad you were safe. Hope your travels continue to be happy memories in the end for you!
    Happy Trails!

    Reply
    • Sarah Lesiecki : Aug 26th

      Hey! So good to hear from you! I think I met you the day we went over the Presidentials right? How was the rest of your hike? I hope all is well 🙂

      Reply

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