Friday, November 6, 2009

Lincoln's Throat - Swallow Hard

What: Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette
Where: Franconia Notch, NH
When: Monday, October 12, 2009
Who: Sherpa John and Bryan Mazaykia

As a younger hiker I'd taken many trips up the Old Bridle Path to the Greenleaf Hut or Mount Lafayette. I'd glare out across the Walker Ravine and marvel at the scoured sides of Mount Lincoln. The peaks rise so steeply, creating the fabeled notch, that the earth has no choice but to let go of its grips, succumb to gravity and crash ever further into the valley. I specifically remember a trip just 6 years ago, where I'd stand amongst the rock outcrop where one is afforded their first views of the Fraconia Ridge. We stood atop the cliff and threw rocks down into the ravine, watching as they would explode and scatter into dust as they collided with other rocks and trees. This woman came up and scolded us, telling us "Someone could be down there." I remember laughing.. hard.. glancing down into the green abyss and thinking, "Yeah right.." Flash forward to 10.12.09 and here I was.. in the valley hoping someone else wasn't being as ignorant as I and chukcing stones below.

Bryan and I drove up from UNH early in the morning. As we watched the rising sun cast it's shadows amongst the hills, our first views of the ridge from Ashland did not look promising. A veil of clouds had encapsulated the ridge and I knew rime is was being encrusted onto every surface up there. We parked in the Lafayette Place lot, (Southbound), then walked under 93 and headed up The Old Bridle Path to where the Falling Waters Trail verges off to the right. From here, we'd walk just a little further up the trail to where it takes a hard left. We wandered off into the woods on the straight and narrow, following the river along a well trodden herd path.

What started out as an obvious fishing route soon turned into an all out logging road, or at least the appearance of being a logging road. The birch allowed us to have amazing line of sight through the forest as we followed a well established path ever higher up the river bank. Eventually, we'd be forced to cross as the terrain grew steeper and the ravine deeper. This herd path went on forever and ever all the way up until we reached a form in the river. Here we had to choose to go right or left. Left would climb Lafayette, and right climbed Lincoln's Throat. We veered off to the right and our breath was taken away.

The clouds continued to tickle the tops of the peaks on high but as they cleared, we could see the magestic white rime ice that had encassed everything up high. The contrast of white above the leaves with a mix of gray skies and clear blue made for a spectacular fall display of color. The rocks kept getting bigger and bigger the higher up we went and as water trcikled down the mountain-side, it froze upon the stones, causing us to slip and slide from time to time. Travel was growing treacherous through we continued on.

Soon we reached the true run-out of the massive slide and glared ever higher wondering how the hell we'd ever make it up there. The slide continued to grow steeper and steeper and icier and icier. Then all of sudden we went from being in a world of gold, orange and reds (Autumn) to a world of white and chilly winds (Winter). It was hard to not stop and take it all in. Just enjoy the earth for the beauty it possess's. We came upon sections of rock slab which were difficult to negotiate. It was actually rather time consuming. Every time we came upon a section of slab, we had to carefully hone our eyes in on the sections of ice, and place our feet on what little areas of bare rock existed. This practice was dangerous and nerve racking. As I was doing so, I'd look down and have an opportunity to realize just how far down I may travel if I slipped. At times, Bryan just gave up on the rock and headed into the tree's. He'd come out up high, soaked from the rime and snow he shook off the trees and carried with him.

Finally, we arrived at the Head Wall of the slide. We'd followed herd paths and man-made cairns just to get here.. and see this. It was magnificent! Ice was all ready forming thickly down it's sides, of which I am certain excites the ice climbers of New England as this is one of more talked about routes. The wall was about 45-50 feet high, straight-up, and ominous looking. Like the gates to a hidden castle, we stood in front with our jaws wide open, awe struck by it's mystery and splendor. Without ropes, crampons or any other necessary gear to climb the wall today givent he icy conditions, we search for a way around. The the right is another long wall of rock and ice, too steep to be negotiated. To the left, our only option existed, a steep climb up a rock face with about a 75-80% grade/angle. Bryan led the way...

At first we tried our best to climb the rocks, I wished I had my rock climbing shoes and a harness. It was steep, terrifying and a testament to knowing your surroundings and tuning into your senses. I tried my best to follow Bryan's lead.. he is a much better climber then I. Soon I heard him say, "turn back." "What do you mean?!" "There is no where to go up here. It's all ice, a dead end.. I'm coming down." Bryan climbed down and soon caught up to me while I tried to negotiate the rocks. We searched for a few ways of getting across the slab, and after a few failed attempts, we finally found a way, thought risky, over to the safety of the spruce. From here, we clawed and crawled our way through thick spruce, so thick that you couldn't see your feet, where you were going and was only awarded with sporadic fews to our backsides. It was crazy thick, yet, not the thickest I've seen in the whites. We shook more rime off the trees, got spruce needles down our backs and fought our way ever higher. Bryan was a tad frustrated, while I sang songs and whistled along. I was in heaven.

Finally, we topped out on top of Mount Lincoln, stood on the Franconia Ridge trail and stared down into the never ending ravine below, dumbfounded by what we had just accomplished. We made it and it was a hell of an adventure, not for everyone, but perfect for us. We sat down amongst the stones on top of Lincoln, soaked from head to toe, covered in spruce and ate our lunch. We bundled up and carried on to Lafayette before heading down the Old Bridle Path. We stopped in at Greenleaf Hut to listen to the banter of fellow hikers. I was annoyed.. and needed to leave here if I heard one more foul slur for Owls Head. I think some of these peak-baggers need to suck it up a bit, Owls Head isn't hard at all.. it's just a longer day then they are used to. Yet I digress. We enjoyed left-over desserts, some lemonade and then we took off. When we got to the rocky outcrop I spoke of at the beginning of this report, I stopped to again glance out over the ravine and we looked at what we had accomplished... and we both stood there, silently, scratching our heads wondering how the hell we did.

From here I asked Bryan if he wanted to run, "It's only a 10 minute run to the car from here." We strapped everything in and down and headed off down the trail running as comfortably as we could in boots. We made it to the car in 13 minutes, I was off. However, funny story.. on the way down we passed a small group of children and their parents. They were playing tag. As we ran passed, I got tagged as one of the kids mistooken me for one of their own. As I reached the head of the pack, I tagged them and said, "you're it." About 8 minutes later, Bryan and I reached the car when a small boy came running up to me. "Hey, you the guy that was running down the mountain?" "Yeah" He tagged me and said, "You're it." I got a HUGE kick out of this as I very much enjoyed the power and spirit of our youth.. especially in the mountains.

Lincoln's Throat... complete.