As I drove North on I-91 early Saturday morning I wasn't sure of my destination. It was forecast as a lovely mountain day and I was thinking about Mt. Adam or Mt. Washington, but they both engender two extra hours of driving when coming from the West. I thought of Franconia Ridge but with the perfect weather the trail was going to get crowded. I had a yen to hike somewhere quiet and out of the way; somewhere I hadn't been for a while. As I drove over Sugar Hill, in Franconia, I looked over at Cannon Mt., the Cannon Balls and the Kinsmans and decided that Kinsman Ridge would be a perfect hike on such a perfect day. It's been at least 30 years since I've been on the Kinsmans and I have fond memories of previous forays into this little known realm.
Getting to the Kinsmans from the east is easiest via the Fishin' Jimmy Trail that starts behind Lonesome Lake Hut which, in turn, is about 1 1/2 miles from I-93 in Franconia Notch via the Lonesome Lake Trail.
It was astonishing to not see more snow. The lake ice was still thin but is smooth enough for skating later, when it gets thicker. Hopefully it will be smooth as glass and a foot thick by New Years Eve! Franconia Ridge, with Mt. Lafayette on the far left, Mt. Lincoln (center) and Little Haystack (to the right).
Cannon Mt. with Coppermine Col (deep notch to the left) at the north end of Lonesome Lake.The Fishin' Jimmy Trail starts at Lonesome Lake Hut and in 2 miles gains a saddle on Kinsman Ridge at the bottom of North Kinsman where Kinsman Pond and Kinsman Shelter are located. The trail is steep and rough in places but threads through a primeval landscape, including this dark forest where only a small amount of light reaches the floor.
The forest quickly alternates with more open areas like this birch grove where a lot of sunlight reaches the floor. Certainly one of my primary objectives in hiking the Kinsmans was to become immersed both in solitude and this rich, buttery, winter sunlight, now close to its ebb, and enjoy the colors and the stillness.
An open grove of young and old balsam firs that is flooded with sunlight. (This might be called a perfect picture of biotic succession with healthy young and old trees and lots of nutrient represented by all the detritus, e.g. dead wood, on the ground.)
A glacial erratic that looks just like half loaf of bread. It's large; about 8 feet high by 10 feet across at the face. It's mentioned in the guide book as the beginning of the steep section that extends up to the ridge. It made me want some french toast! With lots of butter and maple syrup.
In 30 years I had forgotten a lot about the Fishin' Jimmy Trail including how steep it is. This icy pitch is an example and was steep enough to require some rock climbing techniques.
Icicles on a rock face next to the trail catching the early morning sunlight.
In between steep sections there are short, level places where you can stretch out your calf muscles, but.....
quite quickly another steep section presents itself. I didn't photograph all the steep bits because I was too busy with hands and feet but this is one example of a long stretch of granite slab at about a 45 degree angle and 40 yards long. Towards the top you can see a set of steps placed magically
on the rock and tilted to one side so water can run off. In spite of the intent the steps were still icy and a little hair raising as you aren't quite sure what is holding them up.
I call sections of trails like this "escalators" and I prefer them to the wood step affairs because they're good and solid and offer better purchase in ice and snow.
Below the ridge the forest became dense and coniferous, or boreal in structure and specie, and with a light edging or rime in the December light they were jewel-like. The photos that follow are examples of the lyrical quality of the low-angled sunlight.
Photo taken in the vicinity of Kinsman Junction where the Fishin Jimmy Trail meets the Kinsman Ridge Trail. The woods were enchanted...
with rime coated scenes like this....
The ridge was a warren of shaded dells carpeted with thick sphagnum moss.A close up of the rime which is really tiny ice pellets that are formed in wind that, due to its velocity and the ambient air temperature, has become super chilled. The tiny ice pellets become glued to everything the wind brushes. Rime formations are sometimes dramatic and are icons in the areas above timberline in the White Mountains.
This is the new Kinsman Pond Shelter constructed in the summer of 2011 and it's quite spiffy. Shelters made from local materials last about 25 years in severe high mountain environments. This one was designed to last a bit longer with it wide eves and steep roof to move the water away from the logs walls.
A side view. The shelter, like the one it replaces, can comfortably hold 12 people although there will be nights when it will shelter 20, or more. In addition to the shelter there are four large tent platforms nearby.
Kinsman Pond looking towards South Kinsman (4358' asl) with North Kinsman (4293' asl) to the right. I sat on a wide ledge of granite on the shore line and spent a wonderful hour there eating lunch and basked in the surprisingly hot sun in a vast silence. The only sounds came from occasional bands of garrulous chickadees darting through the spruce and balsams near the shore and the mysterious cracking of the ice.
Just below the North Kinsman summit.The Kinsman Ridge Trail heading north has a wild, lonely appearance with its old log "bridges" that protect the bog-like ground. The Appalachian Trail (AT) descends the ridge via the Fishin Jimmy Trail so that the Kinsman Ridge Trail, of the two, is the one less traveled. It's a lovely trail with wild, roller coaster undulations as it rolls over the Cannon Balls and Cannon Mt. The clefts between these lesser, rounded summits, are steep and deep making legs groan and spirits flag.
There are rare glimpses of surrounding mountains like this one from the second Cannon Ball of towards Franconia Ridge in the distance and Cannon Mt. on the left where you can see the top of the summit building.
This is what I meant by primeval landscape. The only logging that has ever been done along this part of the ridge is by the fierce winds that come down out of the northwest and first strike this ridge before plowing across the successive ranges and only Mt. Lafayette gets the full bore of the wind that the Kinsman Ridge experiences.
This may be close to what the northern boreal forest looked like until the 1880s when the methodical butchering of the forest began in central and northern New Hampshire (all of northern New England is more accurate) as mechanized logging was introduced and continued into the early 1920s. If you enlarge this photo and the one below and just look at them for a moment and consider the beauty that's there, and wonderful sense of wildness and timelessness evoked by the interplay of light in the trees, the forest floor, the roots and the stones along the beckoning path.
Looking back and the Kinsmans from the second Cannon Ball.On the last Cannon Ball I found this wild scene (above photo and below), also primeval, of a wind devastated forest coated with rime.
It was hard to tell when this damage occurred but it was from a storm that approached the ridge from the north, possibly from the northeast, but the repairs to the trail were minimal.
The Lonesome Lake Trail joins the Kinsman Ridge Trail at the bottom of the last cleft, or notch, between the Cannon Balls and Cannon Mt. I was happy to see see it. With all of my rejoicing about the winter light I had also been a little on edge because, judging only by the sunlight, it felt like it was quite late, almost evening, when it reality it was only 2 pm, or so.
As fair warning, two of these notches, this one between the last (or first going south on the ridge) and Cannon Mt. itself in particular), are very steep and require extra time in trip planning. They can be run quickly using hands and feet but with packs they require extra care. On my traverse there was some ice on the steep sections but navigable without traction. In winter you should expect a good bit of ice on the trail throughout.
The descent from Coppermine Col to Lonesome Lake is rapid. The trail is basically a brook wending its way under and around these large felsenmeer like blocks of granite. The geology of this region is fascinating and well worth perusing. There are a number of texts available. Charles R. Williams, a student of Marland Billings at Harvard, published Geology In the Franconia Region, and edited version of his doctoral thesis, in the June 1934 Appalachia. It sounds technical but it's a good place to start if you're interested in the glacial history of the Kinsmans and Lonesome Lake area as well as the local geology.
Speaking of glacial history this is an extensive area of muskeg that's in slow succession and may be reminiscent of the landscape here at the close of the last glacial period 11,000 years ago. I timed my hike to return to Lonesome Lake as the sun completed its arc here and descended behind the Kinsmans to enjoy the sunset from the lake shore.
Looking east across Lonesome Lake towards Mt. Liberty in the distance.
Looking back up at Coppermine Col and the steep, southwest side of Cannon Mt.
The "Round the Lake" Trail utilizes these board walks for much of its circling around Lonesome Lake and particularly the west side.
Looking down towards the south end of Lonesome Lake from the lake trail.
Franconia Ridge at sunset from the west side of Lonesome Lake.
The Kinsmans at sunset.
The fast ebbing of the lovely, last bits of light (reflected from the lake) along the trail down.I had the great pleasure of hiking back down to the highway with Beth and Mack who were at Lonesome Lake Hut on some official business. Beth has the highly coveted position of Hut Checker for the winter which translates into being a 'professional hiker' as she makes regular, unscheduled visits to all the huts that are aimed, hopefully, at reducing vandalism. Mack has worked in the huts for several summers and is on his way West for the winter, possibly Colorado or California, looking for snow.
Bib: Charles Williams, Geology In the Franconia Region, June 1934 Appalachia. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy.
Paul Jenks, The Fishin' Jimmy Trail, December 1930 Appalachia