Updated: Nov 19, 2020
It is not always easy to get a hike in, especially in these times. The best method I have found to date while the children are too young to accompany me, is to abscond in the middle of the night and hike while everyone is sleeping. So that is what I did at midnight in June, driving for over three hours to arrive at Franconia Notch. The highest points in the Franconia Ridge, sixth and seventh highest peaks in New Hampshire, ascends over 3,000 feet through, and I am about to tackle them in the dark. I am en route to summit Mt Lafayette and Mt Lincoln, and I am doing it alone.
The Plan: Start at 3:30am, hike 9 miles, maintain 1mph speed, refill water before leaving waterfalls and again at the Greenleaf Hut. Complete trail by 1pm.
This was my first solo hike, so I had things to consider that were not obvious for me before.
I am alone. Any mistakes would require me to get myself back to my vehicle or wait for someone to find me. Since I am hiking in the night during a weekday, the odds of someone finding me are very low.
There is no one to share supplies with. Occasionally someone has too little water, food or supplies and friends share what they have. Whatever I bring is all I have.
Going off trail is a deal breaker. Getting lost or losing my direction would delay the end time and force me to turn around. This was unacceptable
I have a "healed" muscle that was torn, I need to maintain 1mph to ensure I do not strain the muscle preventing the ability to walk.
A headlamp is a necessity while hiking. You never know when you will be in nature longer than intended and need to hike in the night, but this time it was intentional. I was not familiar with this trail, this mountain, or even this part of the state. But I had purchased a map in advance, and had studied it so many times, the trail was almost familiar. I would follow this stream and repeatedly check for trail markers. Every so often I would make loud noises to alert the local wildlife that I was in the area. I do not need to startle a bear or dear to instigate a fight.
As I hiked, the sounds of water became deafening. I no longer felt the need to make random noises since they would most likely not be heard. I noticed the path became more narrow at points, and found ledges that led almost straight down to the waterfalls below. The focus on safety was paramount, no time for mistakes. Before I had left, Agent K had told me that the path may be a river depending on the time that I go. Friends joke that he intentionally leads hikes through wet and unruly terrain, I thought it was part of his humor. It was not until I was on the path, that I knew what he meant.
As the sun came up, I saw that I had been walking along and sometimes in cascades. Waterfall after glorious waterfall where at times you need to cross. Along the way I spotted tracks of deer and bear, in one spot I could see where a momma bear and baby bear left the river. I came across baby bear and this was the only time I was terrified. I stopped in my tracks and made noises until baby bear had left, then waited a few minutes. If an adult bear sees you in the woods with enough advance notice, they will leave as they do not want to fight for their food. If you come between a bear and their cub, they will most likely try to kill you to protect their young. Once I was sure that I was alone again, I continued the hike.
Eventually the river and the path parted ways. I was feeling strong, maintaining a good 1mph pace, plenty of energy, and my confidence is starting to boost. With no substantial break to slow me down, I continue toward the summits. After two hours and some elevation gain, I stop for breakfast. A protein bar, some water, and a listen to the NOAA broadcast to make sure storms were not in my forecast. Now that the sun is up, I can see my progress.
I start getting all the tell tale signs I am nearing the tree line. Trees are getting shorter, Gray Jays are darting around me to see if food is available, cool air wicking moisture from my body. Checking the time and my hear rate, I am in good shape to maintain pace and take a break at Lafayette. I slowly sip my water and press forward, within the hour I receive my reward. Miles of mountains, all to myself.
Blue skies and mountain peaks as far as the eye can see, simply epic. I crossed Little Haystack mountain, over Mt. Lincoln, and on to Lafayette where I would stop for an official well-deserved break. Another protein bar, some honey, and a little more water brought back what energy I had lost. I am just about ready to press forward.
I came across another person before I continued my journey who was working on completing a Pemi Loop, which was a hike on my to-do list. As we parted ways, I had another sip of water, and realized it was my last. I did NOT stick to my plan on refilling before I left the waterfalls. Plan B was to conserve water and increase my salt intake, this would increase how much water my body would retain in case it was not available. I knew I could refill at the next hut, but if no water was available there, I would have to go to Plan C which would be to bush whack to the nearest water source to refill. I brought water filtration with me, so I just need to find some. A puddle would do in dire need.
On my way down the mountain, I turned for a few final glimpses of what I had done that morning. Two miles later I arrived at the hut, refilled my water and carried onward. I completed my goal on schedule, leaving the parking lot at 1:06pm. I plan on returning to the Falling Waters trail in daylight to see the waterfalls I had climbed through, whether you want to summit some peaks or cool off in the exquisite New Hampshire summer, this destination is worth making a Project Outbound.