Trip reports: Cannon Mountain (NH4k#11) and Mount Hale (NH4k#12)

I had an unheard-of 3 day weekend thanks to my dear friend Steph, and took a mini-vacation with H to go hiking! It’s been a frenetic couple of weeks and time in the woods was much needed.

Friday evening got busy and I didn’t leave work until almost 10PM…stuffed some food into myself and my gear into the car, got to H’s apartment around midnight and bed around 1AM. We got a late start on Saturday morning, but still managed to hit the road before noon. Thanks to my lead foot, we were at the Lonesome Lake trailhead by around 2PM. The trail was well packed from many feet and it was a quick ascent in microspikes despite our heavy packs. We thought at first that we might try to bag Cannon that evening, but the upper part of Lonesome Lake trail was steep and slippery and the light was starting to fade by 4:30, so we turned around and headed for the hut. Intrepid snowshoers had taken a shortcut across the frozen lake, leaving their tracks behind them. We took a more conventional route on snow covered bog bridges and admired the icy marshes. The sky was clear enough to see Franconia Ridge in the distance.

The fire was lit in the hut and inside it was bumping! A troop of boyscouts had taken over a large swathe of space both in the main building and in the bunks. George, the caretaker, kindly corralled them so that H and I had a place to put down our stuff. We seized seats by the fire and read ancient books from the hut library and watched a pair of men make dinner (complete with a salad course and plate settings) while the boyscouts rehydrated endless freeze-dried meals until it was our turn for the stove. The night got livelier still as a small crowd arrived to celebrate George’s birthday, and was still going strong when H and I went to bed. It was surprisingly quiet in the bunks, though–the only sounds were the rhythmic droning of a scoutmaster snoring next door and the giggling of the young French speaking couple who shared our room as they squashed together on the top bunk. I had worried about getting cold sleeping in the unheated huts, but my fears turned out to be unfounded. H surprised me with a lovely brand new 0F  down bag (on deep discount at EMS) and I spent the night (10F outside) lovely and warm.

We had a quick breakfast early the next morning as others started trickling in, and hit the trail around 9AM just as the mass of boyscouts were waking up. Our plan was to do a big loop that started and ended at the hut before heading back to the parking lot in the evening. We headed out on Cascade Brook.

It too was packed into a snow sidewalk that made for easy walking, quite different from when it was a raging torrent (on the trail, not just in the brook!) back in May, and reached the junction with Kinsman Pond quite easily. Kinsman Pond was slightly less traveled, but still an easy to moderate walk, and I suspect much faster on snow than on uncovered rocks. The pond itself was a gorgeous, alien ice world–and very cold. Snow piled up around the edges of the pond, blurring out the trail and sticking to any warm part of us. We eventually gave up on the trail and walked on the pond itself, passing a group that we’d chatted with earlier at the hut.

H and I had a truncated first lunch in the shelter, but it was so windy that we started to get chilled and had to start moving again. From there we found ourselves very quickly on the Kinsman Ridge trail. It was packed snow over the Cannon Balls, making for fun (if nerve-wracking) ascents and descents in the steeper sections. H tried out the fine art of butt-sliding and decided that that was his new favorite mode of locomotion for the rest of the trip. There was only one really dicey section on the 2nd Cannon Ball (I think) where ice had formed a steep chute that threatened to direct you into a chunk of rock and tree root. I (being a weenie) wanted to turn around at  first, but H gently persuaded me and I eventually slid down feet first on my belly. Very dignified. Unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures either of the chute or me sliding down it.

Finally we came to the intersection with Lonesome Lake trail and the beginning of the ascent to Cannon. I was very nervous about this section. We had come through there last May on an ill-planned dayhike, had encountered a lot of ice, and I had slipped and cracked my head. Not hard enough to do any significant damage, but hard enough to make me think about what could have happened. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the winter besides the worst, and as it turned out I wasn’t too far off. The trail was covered in densely packed snow and in some places thick ice in nearly vertical sheets or so it seems now as I’m recalling it. My microspikes gave me some grip, but I wished more than once for crampons and ice climbing axes (and the knowledge to use them, of course). Somehow we got to the intersection with Hi-Cannon where the trail started to flatten out, and took a moment to regroup and push onward to the summit tower over an easy stretch.

It was freezing on the summit (predicted wind chills -10 to -20F, colder than anywhere I’ve ever been). H’s damp mitts stuck to the railings as we climbed to the top to check out the views on a stunningly clear day. We didn’t tarry though, and beat a retreat into the ski lodge to regroup, drink hot cocoa, and plan our descent. H would have been perfectly happy to slide the whole way down on his rear, but my fear of heights and I were not going to be able to go back the way we came. We ended up taking Kinsman Ridge north down the mountain, and I’m so glad we did. The views from the Rim trail and along the descent until the paths wind into trees were spectacular. The trail itself was moderate at first, then annoyingly steep along some ski trails, but nothing like the conditions on the south side of Cannon. We arrived at the parking area sore-footed and tired, and slogged the last 2 miles back along the bike path to the Lafayette parking lot, singing old marching songs to keep our spirits lively. The car was a welcome sight and it felt wonderful to heave our weighty packs into the back seat and head north on 93 towards Bethlehem, NH, our home for the night.

Total distance: 10.5 miles.

Total elevation change: 2000+ feet.

Hours spent hating on Cannon Mountain: many (but I can check it off the list!).

Part 2 to follow (still)…but pictures below…

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