A couple Fridays ago, my friend Josh and I decided to head out into the New Hampshire wilderness for an afternoon winter hike up to Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch. This was my first time out since the beginning of November and I was more than ready to get back out on the trails, especially with the start date of my thru-hike fast approaching – the pressure to get back in hiking-shape is on!
We made it to the trailhead around 11:30 and got ourselves all geared up. According to the weather app on my phone, it was only in the high teens (though it felt warmer to us) and it was supposed to drop to 7 degrees at the lake, so I layered myself up in all of my cold-weather gear, complete with hat, scarf, and winter gloves, fully knowing that within a couple of minutes of hiking most of those layers were going to be stripped off. (Once my heart rate picked up, I hiked in only my base layers.)
We started on the Lonesome Lake Trail, which gains 950 feet in elevation over 1.6 miles, making it a very pleasurable and gradual climb to the lake that takes a little more than an hour to reach. I had hiked this trail over the summer when my friend and I decided to bag the Kinsmans and have been wanting to return since then. Some other mountains that are reachable from the lake are Cannon Mountain and the Cannonballs.
I had my Microspikes on during the entirety of the hike, which came in handy when we encountered some areas of the trail that were covered in a layer of ice (especially since I tend to lose my balance and fall in the best of conditions!). Josh, however, didn’t have any extra traction and was able to tackle the snowy trail just fine. This trail is a popular one and it was obvious that it’d been used recently – the snow was packed down making it easy to walk on and there were snowshoe prints. Despite the footprints, we had the trail to ourselves during most of our hike, which is exactly how I like it. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy meeting new people on the trail, but I hate hiking on crowded paths where everyone ends up playing leapfrog with each other. One of the really great things about winter hiking is that the cold tends to eliminate this problem and the trails are never very crowded.) 🙂
At the beginning of our hike, most of the trees were barren and their limbs were clear of snow. But once we got closer to the lake, the trees surrounding the trail were covered in a layer of white and it felt like I had just walked out of a wardrobe straight into a wintery-Narnia. When we finally made it to the lake, we saw a trail of footprints leading across the surface over to Lonesome Lake Hut (a backcountry hut maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club [AMC]) that we decided to follow. Despite growing up in New Hampshire and taking ice skating lessons until I was 14, I had never actually set foot on a frozen pond before (the thought of falling through the ice was always enough to keep me skating on indoor rinks instead – I know, totally lame!), so I was a bit hesitant to walk across Lonesome Lake, but Josh assured me that the water was completely frozen and gave me his word that he’d save me if I fell through, so I threw caution to the wind and wandered out onto the lake (turned out it was pretty solid after all 😉 ). When we made it to the opposite side, we were rewarded with a magnificent view of Franconia Ridge (Mts. Haystack, Lincoln, and Layfayette).
After taking a couple pictures, we decided to venture to the hut for lunch before beginning our trek back down the mountain. Lonesome Lake Hut is one of the few AMC huts that’s open during the winter on a caretaker basis, but the caretaker wasn’t around when we got there, nor was anyone else.
On our descent, we ran into a couple of men who were out snowshoeing, but mostly had the trail to ourselves again as our hike came to an end. We got back to the car a little after 3:00 and settled in for a 2-hour drive back home. We made one pit-stop on the way to visit a little hidden gem 😉
I was a little concerned when I began this hike that I was going to be terribly out of shape since I hadn’t been hiking in a couple of months and had stopped running due to a stress fracture I developed around Thanksgiving. Thankfully, my stress fracture seems to have healed since it didn’t hurt me at all while I was hiking, and I felt absolutely great the entire time. So great, in fact, that I decided to go hiking again the next day! Once I start, I just can’t stop!
When I woke up the next morning, it was about 40 degrees out, which was just way too great an opportunity to pass up, so I called my friend Ryan and we decided to go for a nice short hike up a popular 2.4-mile trail in Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, NH, that leads to a fire tower on the top of South Mountain. I wore my Microspikes on this hike, too, even though the snow coverage was much more sparse than what was on the Lonesome Lake Trail (Ryan tackled the trail in just his hiking boots).
We had the trail mostly to ourselves except when a few men on snowmobiles passed us, and then again at the summit where a group of 10 to 15 hikers gathered around the tower. Pawtuckaway is only about 30 minutes from my house, which makes it a popular destination for me and my friends.
For those of you that have never hiked in the winter, you should (with the appropriate gear, of course!)! Hiking in the winter is nice because the trail is usually completely covered in snow, which evens out the trail and makes it easier to navigate (you don’t have to worry about walking around rocks or tree roots), the air is always crisp, and the scenery is always beautiful. Now that I’ve ventured out twice, I can’t wait to hit the trails again and am already in the process of planning some future hikes!
Ta-ta for now 🙂