I had the opportunity to hike the Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire recently. The 8.8 mile trail that we tackled started in the Lafayette Place parking lot in the Franconia Notch. It took us up from the valley to the ridge and the mountain tops and back in a loop. If you do this loop in a counter-clockwise direction, you climb up to the ridge using the aptly named Falling Waters trail. You break out of the forest near the end of this trail at Little Haystack Mountain. You then take the Appalachian Trail (AT) along the ridge for a while, proceeding to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette. This part of the hike is completely above the tree level and feels very different from the climb and the descent which are through the woods. At Mt. Lafayette, you descend the mountain to the Greenleaf Hut following the Greenleaf Hut trail. At this point one takes the Old Bridle Path trail back to the parking lot.
This is an amazing hike. It is quite challenging with the steep slopes and the rough terrain, and it takes a good part of the day to complete the hike. You have to be well prepared, and the hiking conditions also change with the seasons. We did encounter a little bit of snow on the trail even in May. If the weather is bad, and I have heard that it can turn bad in a hurry even on a good day, you will be completely exposed to the elements as you walk along the ridge.
I took at lot of pictures during the hike, but the ones I have been coming back to look at most often on my computer are the ones taken along the ridge. Because it is quite open out there above the treeline, you get a good lesson on visual perspectives. I have pictures of certain sections of the trail taken at different times and from different distances. When you look at something from a certain distance you get a certain picture in your mind of how the terrain might be and of the distances you will be covering, but as you get closer you may realize that the picture did not accurately represent reality. Often times, you do not even realize the size of what you are up against until to get close to the object. Here are a series of pictures focusing on the slope leading up to the top of Mt. Lafayette. (In viewing these pictures I found that I could use the size of the patch of snow on the side of Mt. Lafayette as a reference of some sort.)
The first three pictures were taken from Mt. Lincoln by zooming in with the camera.
The next three pictures were most likely taken from the small crest in the ridge closest to Mt. Lafayette. You can see this crest in the first and second pictures in the series of the three pictures above.
Here are a couple of pictures that I think help with providing a better perspective of the vastness of the space that one is dealing with, especially because people are present in the pictures.
The first picture below may make you think you are actually walking along a narrow edge for this section of the trail, but the picture below it clarifies that the edge is really not that narrow after all. In fact, as you walk along the ridge you do not get the sense of this being a risky endeavor, a perspective that could prove to be incorrect and quite dangerous on a windy day.
When you get up to the ridge at Little Haystack and look north along the trail you see Mt. Lincoln in front of you. Mt. Lafayette is hidden behind Mt. Lincoln even though it is the taller of the two mountains. If you were unfamiliar with the territory you would not know which mountain you were looking at and heading towards. Some people may not realize until they get to the top of Mt. Lincoln that there was still more ground to be covered to get to the last stop along the ridge. It is all a matter of the visual perspective. Here is a picture that provides a little bit of that perspective.
I think it is actually quite difficult for a person who is only looking at pictures to truly grasp what one is dealing with in reality. You will appreciate the real challenge you are up against only while you are in that space. You might try to capture the nature of that space with a series of pictures, but that is not the same thing as being in that space.
Here is a picture of the Franconia Ridge taken on the way down the mountain. (Click through to see the picture in its full size.) At this point we still had a long way to go to get back to the parking lot from where we had started the hike. The Old Bridle Path trail from the Greenleaf hut descends along the ridges of the hills to the left of the picture. The three peaks that dominate the picture are Mt. Lafayette (5249 ft), Mt. Lincoln (5089 ft), and Little Haystack (4760 ft). We walked the ridge from Little Haystack to Lafayette, a distance of about 1.7 miles.
If you are interested in viewing more pictures of the hike, follow this link.