Today’s epic hike began with a 4 AM wake-up call (late by some hiker’s standards) and a drive two hours north to Lincoln, New Hampshire accompanied by Venus flirting with the crescent moon and old friend Orion pivoting in the sky. A lot has happened since I last saw Orion, and we have a lot to catch up on. But I focused on the road and the surprising number of cars driving north with me. Who are all these people driving at 4:30 on a Saturday morning? Are they up early or wrapping up a late Friday? At least one car drifting out of their lane multiple times indicated the latter.
The reason for the early morning was to beat the swarm of hikers that inevitably descend on the Falling Waters Trail. This is one of the easiest trailheads to get to, and one of the prettiest returns on your hiking investment with multiple waterfalls along the trail (even in a dry August) and a beautiful ridge line hike across Little Haystack Mountain to Mount Lincoln to Mount Lafayette along the Franconia Ridge Trail, which is a section of the Appalachian Trail (surely one of the AT’s most beautiful sections). A short detour takes you down to Shining Rock, which lives up to its name with water flowing down a large granite face. That detour doesn’t feel short when you turn around to hike the tenth of a mile back to the trail junction, but its worth the time.
So knowing the trail would be crowded, I had my cloth mask at the ready and utilized it many times on the hike. The majority of hikers brought masks with them and used them in tight quarters as you were passing each other. I found myself wishing I’d brought a balaclava instead of a mask just for the ease of quickly pulling it up and down as you came across other hikers, and I came across a lot of hikers on this one, particularly on my descent of Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut, which is open for business once again but requires a mask when you walk inside. I was very ready for a cup of coffee when I visited, and a visit to the restrooms before beginning the descent down the Old Bridle Path.
One thing that annoys me about crowded trails is trail etiquette. In particular the people who leave their toilet paper after peeing next to or on the trail. Pack it out with you, or if that grosses you out dig a cathole. But don’t leave it clumped there for all to see. A friend tells me that there are three times the normal number of people hiking this year because of COVID-19. After my experience on Pierce/Eisenhower and now Little Haystack/Lincoln/Lafayette, I believe it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect the mountains. Leave no trace people!
Mount Lincoln is of course named after Abraham Lincoln. As peaks go its pretty easy, sitting between Little Haystack and Lafayette. Little Haystack is 760 feet above the 4000 foot mark but doesn’t qualify because its less than 200 feet to Lincoln, which is 5089 feet. As the taller of the two mountains, Lincoln gets the nod for the official 4000 footer list, but I can’t help but feel hiking Little Haystack and not getting credit for it makes up for hiking Tecumseh (3′ short of 4000) and getting credit. The 48 giveth, the 48 taketh away…
Mount Lafayette is named after Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the Revolutionary War and a heck of a singer in the Hamilton musical. The mountain is 5249 feet and the most prominent of the three. I lucked out with the weather, which offered beautiful views and a refreshing light breeze. On my descent it started raining a bit, which didn’t amount to much. But I bet it made some of the granite and basalt slippery. Thankfully I was well past that by the time those few drops started falling.
The loop up Falling Waters to Franconia Ridge Trail/AT to Old Bridle Path back to the parking lot is nine miles. I’d like to say I did it solo, but I had a lot of company on the trail from my start at 6:15 to the return to the car at 1 PM. I took a few photos of waterfalls, detoured to Shining Rock overlook, lingered for “brunch” on the summit of Lincoln, for some trail mix on the summit of Lafayette, and for coffee at the Greenleaf Hut and still completed the loop in under seven hours. Not bad. I didn’t set any speed records on the trail, and I’m just fine with that. But I did lose five pounds in a day, even with rehydration and grazing on trail mix the entire drive back. All-in-all a wonderful day in the White Mountains.