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Hiking Cannon Mountain

A flurry of texts over the work week from two directions with questions about hiking led to a decision to join forces for a hike of Cannon Mountain. On the one hand were the Perry’s, increasingly famous in the White Mountains for years of summiting mountains and red-lining trails. I don’t recall a hike in the last couple of years where they didn’t know at least one person on the trails. And a text from my niece Kellyn offered a nice treat, with her deciding to hike with us as well.

Cannon Mountain is an old granite mound that’s famous for a sheer rock face that once held the Old Man of the Mountain until it collapsed in 2003, and for the tram built to promote tourism and skiing on the mountain in 1938, making it the first passenger tramway in the United States. The Old Man of the Mountain gave this granite mound its first name, Profile Mountain, but eventually its resemblance to a cannon from some vantage points let to what we’re familiar with now.

So the stage was set for four hikers to set out on a cold February 13th morning for a hike from Lafayette Campground. We chose the Lonesome Lake Trail, with three of us starting in micro spikes on the snow-packed trail. Our fourth hiker stuck with snowshoes the entire time. The conditions on the popular trail made either option fine. As with other hikes, you quickly know when it’s time to put on the snowshoes. For us that was when we took the largely unbroken Dodge Cutoff Trail over to Hi-Cannon for the hike up to the summit.

Lonesome Lake is a beautiful lake sitting in the bowl of Cannon and the neighboring mountains of the Kinsman Range. It’s a destination of its own, and plenty of people hike up to see it, walk on the frozen lake for the beautiful views it offers, and then hike back down. But you don’t summit mountains when you turn around halfway. We powered on, snowshoeing through a wonder of marshmallow trees up the steep trail. There’s one ice-caked ladder on Hi-Cannon that I’ll always remember for the limited footing options presented to us, but we all got past it with a little help and a dose of courage.

The thing about summits is they tend to be much colder when you’re exposed to the wind and you stop moving. Sweaty gloves quickly freeze up, making a change a requirement to keep your fingers working. We considered the observation tower for a few minutes and opted to just hike down to the ski resort’s Mountain Station, where I’m told you can buy a beer at 4080 feet. I opted for hot chili and hot chocolate, with extra hot, thank you. It’s a rare day when you can summit a mountain and have hot chili waiting for you. We quickly warmed up and reached a point where if we didn’t get going we might choose to close out the place. Onward.

Crossing a ski trail is akin to crossing a highway. You judge the oncoming traffic, decide whether your speed can overcome the approaching traffic’s speed and go. We quickly crossed over to the trail back to the summit observation deck, crowned the summit and began our descent using the Kinsman Ridge Snow Chute, er, Trail. On the map, 4/10’s of a mile of hiking, but a lot of squiggly elevation lines stacked up in a small space. We butt-slid down large sections, my snowshoes were more telemarking skis on other sections, and we all collected snowy memories that will make great tall tales someday.

On one of the butt-sliding sections I lost a water bottle. It wasn’t until we’d snowshoed across Lonesome Lake and I changed to micro spikes that I realized it. My disappointment at losing it turned to delight when we got to the trailhead and someone who’d found it and beaten us down the trail while we lingered at the lake had left it sitting on a post waiting for me. Good hiking karma right there. It was hard to come away with anything but positive vibes after hiking Cannon Mountain on a pristine winter day. A solar halo signaled goodwill to all. A very good day indeed.

Cannon Mountain from Lonesome Lake
Solar halo through the frosty trees
Lonesome Lake with Franconia Ridge beyond

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