Friday, August 2, 2013


A fine summer day for a traverse over Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln. Sunny skies with puffy clouds, low humidity, temp in the upper 70s. I started around 8:15 am on the Skookumchuck Trail off Route 3, the nicest and quietest approach to the upper Franconia Range. This trail, opened about 1937, has moderate grades, good footing, and very attractive woods. Its name originates from the Chinook Indian language from the Northwest and means "dashing water" or "rapids." The photo below, taken on the initial mile-long traverse through hardwoods, shows the only two hikers I met on the 4.3 mile length of the Skook.

The section of trail that runs along Skookumchuck Brook is especially nice.

At 1.8 mi. the trail climbs up, up and away from the brook on a rock staircase.

It then eases off in a fine birch forest, legacy of a 1903 fire.

Higher up, there are endless open "salt-and-pepper" woods of birch and conifer.

A fern glade where the trail reaches the crest of the ridge at 3380 ft.

Open fir forest on a shoulder at 4200 ft.

Nearing treeline, there are views back over the scrub to the ridge the trail follows, with Big Bickford Mountain down to the R.

There's one tricky little ledge scramble near the top.

Winding up through the scrub.

From the junction with Garfield Ridge Trail, I wandered a little ways north on that trail to a ledge perch overlooking the wild upper basin of Franconia Brook in the NW corner of the Pemi Wilderness. The Twin-Bond Range is in the background.

Mt. Garfield and its great south cliff.

Once on a hot day I bushwhacked from Mt. Garfield down to the ledge spot seen on the ridge above the inaccessible cliffs. It was a great viewpoint, but a miserable whack, especially since I then had to wrestle the thick conifers all the way back up the ridge to Garfield. Another time we were searching for a lost hiker out in the valley below the cliffs. We traversed along their base with some awesome looks up at the rock face.

An unusual perspective on Owl's Head.

After an hour loafing on the ledge, I wandered back to the Skook junction, where by chance I met friends Steven Martin and Candace Morrison. They were doing the normal Franconia Ridge loop and dropped down here for some extra elevation gain. I hiked up to the summit of Lafayette with them.

Heading up to Lafayette's North Peak.

Summit of Lafayette from North Peak. This spur is a neat spot, but we didn't stay long because a large group was occupying it.

Nice sedgy col on south side of North Peak.

Looking back at North Peak.

Greenleaf Hut and a bit of Eagle Lake.

View down the Lafayette Brook valley.

Though it was midweek, the fine weather had brought out the crowds to the summit of Lafayette.

The summit rocks. Highest point appears to be the outcrop in the center.

Three-way junction just north of the summit. From here Steven and Candace headed down Greenleaf Trail and Old Bridle Path.

Hikers take in the view into the Pemi.

Benchmark between two outcrops at the summit.

Looking back at the north ridge.

A photographer lines up his Pemi shot.

Foundation of old Lafayette summit house, built around 1855 and used for only ten years or so.

Classic vista south down the ridge to Mt. Lincoln.

Descending south off Mt. Lafayette, I got this neat view looking into Walker Ravine with Cannon and the Kinsmans beyond. Agony Ridge - the route of the Old Bridle Path - curves around the lower ravine.

Mt. Lafayette from Truman Peak (or North Lincoln), a minor peak between Lafayette and Lincoln, and a great viewpoint in its own right.

Hikers heading north from Mt. Truman.

Lincoln Brook valley and Owl's Head.

View of Mt. Lincoln from the north showing its eastern and western aretes. The one on the R was called Carpenter's Ridge, after Frank O. Carpenter, who opened a short-lived trail up it in 1897.

Interesting crag along the trail.

The Lincoln Slide - once the recommended route for approaching Owl's Head in the Pemi.

South down the ridge from Mt. Lincoln.

Peering into the lower Lincoln Brook valley from a fine ledge perch on the east side of Mt. Lincoln.

Good place for a boot shot. Since it was late in the afternoon, I had the summit to myself for the better part of an hour.

The southern of the two cirques at the head of Redrock Brook: talus, slides and cliffs.

The "knife-edge" portion of Franconia Ridge south of Mt. Lincoln.

This gendarme is a prominent feature of the "knife-edge." I took a closer look from the top, but didn't brave the leap across the gap.

Looking down into the Dry Brook valley.

Mt. Lincoln from the south.

Mt. Liberty shows its wild side with a long, trailless eastern ridge.

Mt. Lincoln from Little Haystack.

Junction with Falling Waters Trail. After 6:00 pm, time to head down, having spent 6 1/2 hours above treeline.

Upper part of Falling Waters Trail.

The upper half-mile below treeline is relentlessly steep and rocky. Not one of my favorite trails to descend.

The lower half of Falling Waters, where it lives up to its name, is scenic, but still rough on the feet..

Looking down from the top of Cloudland Falls.

Evening at Cloudland Falls. I got out to the trailhead at dusk and called Carol for a ride, after a full twelve hours on the trail. Great day on the Franconias!


  1. Very jealous of this one Steve. One, I've only hiked the Skookumchuck for a mile or so and have been wanting to do the whole trail for years. That section at 4200' is gorgeous. And, I haven't been on the ridge without snow in few years.

    You sure picked the perfect hike for such a day. Stunning photos.

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. Thanks, Joe!I hadn't been up Skook for a few years and had sort of forgotten how nice of a trail it was. I assume you went a mile up it to head for Big Bickford. Great open woods in there. It looks like there might even be some views on Big B. now from a blowdown area.

      I couldn't have asked for a better summer day up on the ridge.


  2. Hi Steve,

    Totally agree with you about the Skookumchuck Trail being the nicest and quietest approach to the upper Franconia Range.

    As always, I learned new things from your report. For example, I was unaware of the short-lived trail up Carpenter's Ridge that was opened in the late 1800s. And, I never knew that the Lincoln Slide was once the recommended route for approaching Owl's Head. Is it correct to assume that hikers used the Lincoln Slide for both the outbound and inbound leg of the trek??

    Also, thanks for captioning the photo of the foundation for the old Lafayette summit house. I recall someone telling me that it was the ruins of a horse corral. It's difficult for me to image that horses could negotiate that rocky terrain!

    Excellent report! You certainly got a abundance of classic vistas from along the Franconia Ridge.


    1. Thanks, John! Frank O. Carpenter opened the trail up the west ridge of Lincoln. He described it briefly in his 1898 guidebook to Franconia Notch and the Pemi Valley (viewable at Google Books: Of the trail, he said, "The new path cut in 1897 makes this splendid peak accessible to climbers with strong muscles and cool heads." I went on a whack up this spectacular ridge in 1989 with a group led by Guy Waterman. There were a couple of tricky scrambles near the top.

      For Owl's Head, folks used to go down the Lincoln Slide, up Owl's Head, then back up and over Franconia Ridge via Lincoln Slide again. This was before there were trails up Lincoln Brook and Franconia Brook. I don't think OH was too popular in those days!


  3. Nice outing and a fun read, thank you. Skookumchuck is favorite trail for hiking and cross country skiing. We often bushwhack from the bike path following the brook up instead of from the new trailhead. Your photos are wonderful and count me as one of the jealous people.
    Amy P.

    1. Thanks, Amy! I've thought about following the brook up from the bike path like you guys do. And thank you for the awesome blackberries - I ate half a pint at one sitting!


  4. Thanks, John and thank you for reading.


  5. Awesome pics Mr.Smith. I feel like coming there right now. The place is really mind-blowing.

  6. My family and I are coming to New Hampshire for the first time next week, and I'm looking for some of the less traveled/popular (read: not so many tourists like myself) hikes. this one above looks awesome - how long is the actual hike? you mentioned 12 hours start to finish, not quite what we're up to...
    What is the name of this particular trail, so I can look for a map/trail head location?

  7. Dell,

    The trails I used to climb Mt. Lafayette were the Skookumchuck Trail (trailhead on Route 3) and Garfield Ridge Trail. It's 10.2 miles round trip to do Lafayette this way and has much less traffic than the Old Bridle Path/Greenleaf Trail route. This would be more like a 7 to 8 hour trip. Mine took 12 hours because I lingered a long time on the summits. Be sure to save it for a nice day!