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February 7, 2010

On July 28th, 2002, with Lexi and my folks, I climbed Snow Mountain (Chain of Ponds) in western Maine, the final peak on the New England Hundred Highest list.  I distinctly remember the wildly rickety firetower, and views of seemingly endless tracts of northern forest now known as “the land formerly 0wned by the such and such paper company”.

My focus on peakbagging has waned since then, but I still have as a long term goal to bag winter ascents of the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers.  Perhaps sometime I’ll work my way down to chugging through winter climbs of the New England Hundred Highest as well, but it would be a formidable expedition to nail Boundary Peak, and that’s just one!  It is perched on the Maine-Quebec border, about 30 miles north of Rangely, and in the summer its a helluva long drive on bad dirt roads, and a pile of tricky navigating on unsigned logging roads.  And that’s just where the bushwhacking begins.

Today’s goal was to bag Lincoln and Lafayette, the highest peaks on the Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains.  Frequent collaborators in such crime Phil Hazen and Walter Lepuschenko joined me for the day.  Lexi and I had done the Fallingwater Trail-Old Bridle Path loop several times at Thanksgiving time back in the early 90s with Harvard Outing Club folks.  Temperatures were somewhere in the single digits when we piled out of the car at Lafayette Place, but there was a pretty good breeze blowing through the Notch.  We hoped that wouldn’t be a sign of things to come.

We headed up the trail at the same time as a foursome from Quebec and a pair of women with two Golden-mix dogs.  As we’ve had more rain than snow in the last two weeks, I left the snowshoes in the car and barebooted it most of the way.  Phil sported some Kahtoola micro-spikes, which seemed to do the trick very nicely.  At the spur to Shining Rock we put on our battle layers and I sucked down two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a half liter of salted lemonade.  Travel above treeline here is an all-or-nothing proposition.  We’d best be well fed before making an attempt.

In just a couple of minutes the trees shrank away and we were ready to discover the “real” conditions du jour.  It wasn’t super cold, but there was definitely a strong wind, making careful use of the trekking poles necessary to make forward progress.  The top of Little Haystack was about 100 yards above treeline.  We clambered our way over rimed rock and ice sheets to hunker down behind a couch sized rock.   The wind came consistently from the northwest.  If we were going to proceed along the ridge .6 to Lincoln and another .9 to Lafayette, the bitter breeze would be in our faces the entire time.  As Phil and Walter are looking forward to a December 2011 Aconcagua climb, they’re no slouches.  I didn’t find the wind conditions prohibitive, but my face protection was a far cry from the goggles/fleecy neoprene/no-skin-exposed armor truly required to exist up here for more than a couple of minutes.

We enjoyed the view and made the wise decision to walk back down.

On the descent we stopped at Shining Rock, covered in thick ice.  In summer its probably a slippery slab.  Boot skiing all the way down was fun, and we made it back to Montpelier in time to sample some homebrewed hard cider and strong scotch ale, and to get nerdy about the technical details of our wood pellet furnace and bulk wood pellet feed auger system.  We’ll never know exactly what the wind speed up on Franconia Ridge was, but the Mount Washington Observatory reported that while we were up there that the wind was generally 60-70 mph with gusts up to 78.  That’s actually milder than average conditions for Mt. Washington in the winter.

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