Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Icy Hike to Cannon Mountain

With a mixed bag of weather in the forecast for today I wasn't sure what to expect. This was the pick day of the weekend as tomorrow's forecast is for mid-winter conditions with dangerous windchills. My hike today would take me up to the summit of Cannon Mountain. The route I planned was the Lonesome Lake Trail to Hi-Cannon onto the Kinsman Ridge Trail to the summit and back down the same trails. I've hiked this route to the summit a couple of times before but never under the trail conditions I would find today. There would be a slight change to my route due to the conditions.

 My hiking destination today

 The hike starts here

 Passing through the Lafayette Campground

Upon waking and looking outside this morning the dark sky looked very ominous. It was cool and damp outside while I was packing the car. As I drove to the trailhead it was nice to see the summits were in the clear although there was a very thick high cloud cover therefore no colorful sunrise this morning. Passing Cannon Mountain ski area the groomer was working on the steep trails. The snow is quickly disappearing and there was a lot of bare areas on the slopes.

 Hi-Cannon Trail starts with bare ground

 Minor water crossing but still slippery

I pulled into the trailhead parking area and found plenty of available spots. It was cold and I started with a couple of thin layers under a fleece. I also had a thin layer under my Endo pants. I knew I was probably a little overdressed but I could always remove a layer and with the weather reports being so fickle I wasn't sure what conditions I would find at the summit.

 Ice begins

 Crampons go on just in time for some steep ice

 Icy climb

 Ice continues

My hike started off with similar condtions as my last three hikes over the past month. There was bare ground to start with ever increasing amounts of ice. First there were easy to walk around patches of ice to eventually becoming difficult to navigate around. The Lonesome Lake Trail was no problem and I was on my way up the Hi-Cannon Trail before running into problems. I initially was able to rock hop and go around the increasing ice but by walking around I was getting into slippery sliding mud. My pace was slowing down and I put on the micropsikes.

 Easy ladder climb

 Lonesome Lake

 Lonesome Lake Hut from the Hi-Cannon Trail

The microspikes were great until the trail got steeper and the ice smoother with an added bonus of water running down over it. I swapped the microspikes for crampons. There were a couple of places along this stretch of the trail that I seriously thought about turning around. If it were not for the trees and branches that I used for handholds I would have had no choice but to turn back. I had to keep in mind that I would be coming down this same icy trail. Slipping and falling was not an option so it was a slow and careful ascent.

 More steep ice

 A tower climb then it's all downhill from here

I made it to the ladders and considered this a temporary relief from the ice. Once I got to the top and continued up the trail it was more of the same relentless ice. As I got to the upper part of the trail it leveled out. When I reached the Kinsman Ridge Trail I ran into the ice again but it was not as steep and there were no problems for the rest of the way to the summit.

 View to Lafayette and Lincoln

 Looking down Franconia Notch

The crampons stayed on right up to the summit tower where the ice finally ended. I took them off and climbed the tower. There was a stiff breeze blowing and it was cold. I took my usual summit videos and photos but didn't linger long. The summits were still in the clear but there was still a high cloud cover. I could look down and see the skiers and snowboarders getting off the chairlift.

 Still skiing and riding

Last weekend's hike...Mount Garfield

 On the summit tower

 Crampons go on for the descent

I walked down the opposite side of the tower and was able to put my crampons back on while sitting on the steps. There was an icy trail right at the bottom of the steps and I took the Rim Trail back around to the Kinsman Ridge Trail. The Rim Trail took me briefly out onto the ski trail before going back into the woods. The ski trail was very icy. Skiers and snowboarders were having a tough time getting down over the ice. The other times I have been on the Rim Trail it was crowded with tourists. Today I had the place to myself!

 Icy Rim Trail

 Summit lodge and tram terminal

 A very icy ski trail

 Icy descent

I made my way around to the Kinsman Trail and then down to the Hi-Cannon Trail. It was just as difficult and I had to use the same if not more caution as I began the descent on the icy trail. I got down over the ladders without any problem and a little further down the trail I met my first hikers of the day. There was a couple standing on the icy trail with microspikes. I was surprised they had made it that far with microspikes and not crampons. They asked me if the icy trail continued and I told them it did. This is where they decided to turn around and go back down.

 Going down the ladders

 More difficult ice requiring slow and careful footing

I was able to make faster progress with my crampons and they were soon out of sight. When I got to the Dodge Cut-Off to Lonesome Lake I made the decision to take this route. I never change my hiking plans but I knew it would be easier and safer then continuing on the Hi-Cannon Trail. Sure enough I soon changed back to micropsikes and it was a short hike across to Lonesome Lake with light snow starting to fall.

 Steep icy descent

Not sure why this was stapled onto this sign

 Standing on a frozen Lonesome Lake

The lake is still frozen but I don't think I'd feel comfortable walking across it. I took a few photos then continued my hike down the Lonesome Lake Trail. With the microspikes it was a very easy descent. There were hikers without traction that were having a very difficult time. I watched one hiker take a bad fall but he was alright. I got back down to bare ground again and removed the microspikes. I was soon back to the parking lot and it was now full.

 A less steep but still icy Lonesome Lake Trail

 A look back up to the summit of Cannon Mountain

Zooming in on the summit tower where I was standing this morning

I have been on much longer and steeper hikes but I found today's hike one of my toughest yet. Trail ice is a factor that cannot be ignored and requires careful attention to foot placement. I completed this hike unscathed and without any falls. Despite the cloud cover the weather proved to be nice and it was a great day to be out on the trail.

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!


  1. Don do you do any skydiving? It seems the risks would be equal to hiking on those icy trails! We are heading north tomorrow morning from Key West. You don't have to save any ice for us!

    1. No skydiving, Lucien. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground, or the ice in this case. While you won't find any ice or snow around town the mid-winter temps are still here, bring back some of that warm Key West sunshine!