OLD BRIDLE PATH: 2/9/10
For various reasons I hadn't been on a hike for a week and a half, so today's sunny forecast was a gift. After deciding against a Lafayette Brook area bushwhack due to freshly snow-coated trees, I opted for a hike up the Old Bridle Path - a familiar favorite but always rewarding on a clear day with its succession of views near and far from Agony Ridge, the long, curving SW spur of Lafayette.
There were 2-3 inches of recent snow atop the hardpacked track, so I put on the MSRs for traction and stability. After morning clouds cleared, the sun was bright and the sky a-blue in the hardwoods on the lower mile.
There are nice birch woods about a mile up the trail, along a traverse where you pass from the state park into the National Forest.
About a mile and a half up I ran into friend and fellow 4000-Footer Committee member Mohamed Ellozy, who had hiked up to the first outlooks. At age 72, Mohamed is an inspiration, the more so after his coming back from spinal surgery in March 2009 to resume his regular hiking in the high peaks by July. He had promised his surgeon to send a photo of himself from Mt. Washington, and he did just that on 9/26/09 after ascending via Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and Crawford Path. There is a great thread about Mohamed's recovery on Views from the Top:
Mohamed's own website is a great resource for White Mountain and New England Peakbagging:
A little farther up the trail was a (probably winter-only) view back to the Kinsmans, with a morning undercast just burning off.
The woods get scrubby as you approach the first open ledges.
The first outlook to the Franconia Range across the ravine of Walker Brook is a jaw-dropper on a clear day, no matter how many times you've seen it. This is at about 3400 ft., 1.9 miles up the trail.
The rocky nubble of Mt. Liberty is seen to the south.
There are several more outlooks a short distance above, with views also back to the SW.
Looking ahead, you see the steep humps of The Agonies, named by AMC crew members hauling heavy pack loads up to Greenleaf Hut.
The first Agony is the hardest part of the climb.
Each outlook gives a slightly different perspective on Lafayette and Lincoln.
Lafayette rises above the upper Walker Ravine.
Partway up the first Agony is a rocky gully, an eroded dike of basalt known as "redrocks" for the color of its slippery ledges. The throat of this was icy with just a veneer of snow on top. I couldn't quite negotiate this with the MSRs, so I switched to Microspikes. (Meanwhile, a solo hiker passed me and managed to get up along the edge in bare boots.) Full crampons would have been better for this short stretch. I wore the 'spikes for a while, but they were clumping up with sun-warmed new snow, leading to slipping and sliding. I switched back to the MSRs, which also clumped but provided better overall traction with occasional ski pole whacking to clear the snow clumps.
At the top of the gully there's a terrific outlook south and west on the right side of the trail.
There's a fine perspective on the Kinsmans here. Lonesome Lake can be seen below them.
The Bridle Path outlooks offer a good look at the long, massive SE ridge of South Kinsman, which starts at the far left of this picture and rises over several wooded humps. Guy Waterman ascended this during his incredible peakbagging tour in the 1980s, when he climbed all the 4000-footers from each of the four points of the compass, in winter. He accounted this one of his ten most difficult routes - and that's saying something! - recalling it as very dense near the top. A few years ago bushwhacking enthusiast J.R. Stockwell also ascended this route and echoed that assessment.
The Cannon Cliffs loom across the notch.
Mt. Moosilauke, with the long Blue Ridge trailing off to the L, can be seen to the SW. Carr Mountain (R) and Mt. Kineo (L) are seen on the far left of the picture. A sliver of Mud Pond can be seen in a saddle at the base of the SE ridge of South Kinsman, above the lower Agony Ridge in the foreground.
Mt. Lincoln, seen from another viewpoint, looking impressively alpine.
At mid-afternoon I topped out at Greenleaf Hut, with the sloping crest of Lafayette caked in white. The morning winds had died down, and it was warm and nearly windless here. It was tempting to continue up to the summit, but it was late in the day for that and I did not have crampons with me. Beside the hut is the hiker who passed me at the gully. Later another hiker, in crampons, came down off Lafayette, having traversed over to Little Haystack and then come back to maximize above-treeline time on this glorious day.
"Mt. Truman" (the unofficial name applied to the bump between Lafayette and Lincoln) and Mt. Lincoln.
Eagle Lake, very boggy in summer, nestles in the saddle below the hut.
The impressive North Peak of Lafayette.
Zoom on Mt. Lincoln.
My late afternoon descent featured long SW views heading down Agony Ridge.
I made a careful descent of the gully, walking down to the throat in the MSRs, then butt-walking with a short controlled slide over the icy spot. Dignified? No, but it worked!
Late afternoon sun on Lafayette and Walker Ravine. The sun had melted some of the new snow up on the ridge.
The open ridge walk along the outlook section was great.
To cap off the day, I snowshoed down through the open woods to short-cut the long lower switchback. There was maybe six inches of powder atop a reasonably firm foot-deep base.
The Kinsmans could be seen through the trees in the fading light - the end to a beautiful day in the hills.