Trailhead: Old Bridle Path Trailhead
Starting elevation: 1,850 ft
Ending elevation: 5,250 ft
Elevation gain: 4,050 ft
Mileage: 9 mi
After hiking in Colorado and Montana, I wasn’t expecting to find much challenge in the Northeast. Those Appalachians are just “hills”, right? Nope, the White Mountains know how to bring it.
Big numbers are involved when hiking in Colorado since most of my hikes started well above 5,000 feet. To get to the 14,000 range, most hikes start around 10,000 feet. After becoming accustomed to these kinds of numbers, Mt. Lafayette in the White Mountains with a peak of 5,250 ft seemed a little underwhelming. However, the hike starts at a measly 1,800 feet, so the elevation gain is significant.
The mountains I’ve seen east of the Mississippi hold their own challenges. While I haven’t fought for air like I did in Colorado, I have had to battle steep inclines and lots of boulders. Way too many boulders.
Also, trail designers here don’t believe in things like switchbacks. Why waste time when you can just go straight up? Due to the combined steepness and steps created by the boulders, my knees are feeling it after long hikes in both the Adirondacks and the Whites.
For my White Mountain excursion, I chose to do the “Franconia Ridge” trail, a loop that offers three peak summits, the highest of which is Mt. Lafayette. The trail stays on the ridge-line for a mile and a half, offering great views and that alpine experience I love so much.
The trail up was great, with lung burning climb right off the bat. Dogs are allowed to go off leash in the Whites as long as they are under voice control, which made both Zeus and I very happy. Climbing over rocky trails is not easy for either one of us when we have to be tied together.
Unlike other short hikes we’ve done lately, this trail actually broke through the trees and offered some views. We paid with steep scrambles to get those views, but they were definitely worth it. Granted, walking among the trees has it’s own appeal, but after a while it gets a bit monotonous!
We continued on for about 3 miles until we came upon the Greenleaf Hut. Built and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club, the hut offers a safe haven for thru-hikers (the ridge section of this hike is the Appalachian Trail) with water, snacks, and bathrooms. All hikers can use it, and beds can be reserved during the peak season. After sleeping outside, I’m sure many thru-hikers find this a welcome respite!
After the hut, a quick mile remained until the top of Mt. Lafayette. As usual, the conditions on the top were windy and a bit chilly, another trade off if one wants views.
The trail continues rolling gently along the ridge line to the next two peaks, Lincoln and Little Haystack. Some bouldering was involved and a few sections were tricky, but overall the trail was great.
We could’ve stayed on the ridge-line and followed the Appalachian Trail, but we had places to go, so we headed back down. The descent was rough with a steep decline, many steps over boulders, and finishing along a creek bank. The trail is called “Falling Water Trail”, and they weren’t kidding. About three quarters of the way down, we hiked right alongside this waterfall:
When we got back to the leafy trees, our hiking efforts were rewarded with some great color, sealing the day as another great one spent on the trail.
The only war wound was a reddened, windburned face after spending so much time along the ridge.
The Whites offered it all: great views, strenuous trail, variety, and ample water sources for Zeus. The west isn’t the only place with mountains worth exploring!