Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter Hike of Cannon Mountain and Northeast Cannonball

Winter Hiking on Cannon Mountain
Cannon Mountain is certainly one of the more beautiful summits in New Hampshire and the Northeast. Its dramatic rise over Franconia Notch, the previous site of "The Old Man of the Mountain" and the outstanding climbing opportunities on Cannon Cliff have earned its name into the natural and human history of New Hampshire. Cannon Cliff is more famous than the summit itself as it is the only "big wall" in the Northeast and has been called "El Capitan of the East". I'd hiked this summit in the summer but I was back this year for a pleasant winter climb. The conditions, trail and views were phenomenal, of course. 

Cannon Mountain was actually one of the first mountains I hiked in New England. In 2010, I came to New England for the first time and actually worked a whole summer out in Maine. Even though I was used to those "big mountains" out west, I found the rugged forests and wilderness of the Northern Appalachians captivating. After hiking Mt Washington, Mt Katahdin and Acadia National Park, I couldn't leave the Northeast without seeing Cannon Cliff and Franconia Notch. I suppose this is part of what drove me to move up here and why I continue to love living in New England. 

Franconia Notch, even more spectacular in the winter
The only parking lot which doesn't fill up very early in the day (even in winter) is the parking lot by the ski resort and cable car just at the northern end of Franconia State Park. I actually like this trail up Cannon Mountain- it offers an incredible vista just above Cannon Cliff and is much less crowded than the Lonesome Lake/Hi Cannon Trail

Here is a great map of hiking trails.

I elected to hike up the ridge trail which is about 2 miles up to the summit of Cannon Mountain. It is steep but straight forward and without any particularly hairy sections. About 3/4 of the way up there is the excellent vantage point above Cannon Cliff-
Looking towards Mt Lafayette, the second highest mountain range in New Hampshire
It didn't take more than an hour and a half of mid-paced hiking to get to the summit of Cannon Mountain. A lot of hardcore wilderness types don't particularly care for the summit of Cannon because it has ski lifts and a summit hut at the top. However the views from the weather center are excellent. Sure there are lonelier summits in the state, but I do enjoy hiking Cannon.

I decided I wanted to continue onward because the weather was perfect and I might not have another opportunity for such great winter hiking for a while. Northeast Cannonball was just another mile away. 
Northeast Cannonball in the winter
The trail from the Cannon Mountain Summit to Northeast Cannonball was actually quite difficult in some sections. In particular, the 0.4 miles between the Hi Cannon Trail and the col which separates the Cannonballs from Cannon Mountain was steep, icy and difficult to navigate. I wished I had brought an ice axe and crampons for a few sections! However the microspikes did work well; just a little harrowing in some sections. 

The Northeast Cannonball was just 0.4 miles and a few hundred vertical feet above the col between the two summits which was somewhat strenuous but not by White Mountain Standards. There were some directional views from the summit of the Kinsman Ridgeline-
The Kinsman Ridgeline as seen from the summit of Northeast Cannonball
The extra hike out to Northeast Cannonball was worth it. The trails were pretty clear of people but also well marked and cut. Seeing the Kinsman Ridge from afar also was excellent. NE Cannonball was a nice little detour!

Turning back the way I came, I stopped to appreciate all the views once again on the way down-
Last Look on Cannon Mountain
Cannon Mountain seems to be one of the better options for a relatively short but still pleasantly strenuous winter hike that can be done by more novice hikers. You're never too far from a good view or a nice place to stop and grab a snack. The winter time was just as enjoyable.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Hike of the Tripyramids: New Hampshire 4,000 Footers

The Tripyramids are a famous bunch of 4kers in New Hampshire with more than one epic route for ascents. After having hiked the Tripyramids from both the South Slide and the North Slide, I decided to come back to hike the comparatively gentle Pine Bend Brook Trail. 
The summit of North Tripyramid, looking towards the Presidentials
A long, cold, snowy winter is a terrible thing to the general public but a wonderful thing for us hardcore hikers, is it not? I've only spent three winters here in the Northeast but everyone tells me that this is a winter to remember. It seems like every other day has had a snowstorm and I don't think I've hiked in lower temperatures in either the Cascades, Rockies or Sierras... even winter hikes in those ranges!

This winter has had some success so far with a great hike of Moat Mountain, Belknap and Red Hill. Very deep powder turned me back on a hike of the Baldfaces. Come to think of it, this hike was my only 4,000-footer of the winter! That's too bad.

View Tripyramids Hike, New Hampshire in a larger map

The highest summit, North Tripyramid, is 4,175ft and Middle Tripyramid is 4,139ft with a saddle 240ft below the summit between the two. South Tripyramid is a subsidiary peak with not enough prominence to make the 48 4kers but its a nice summit none-the-less. For those compulsive AMC peakbaggers, East Sleeper is just to the southwest of South Tripyramid. It can be easily hiked along with the others but there is little reason to hike it other than simply bagging the AMC 100 Highest. Its a silly endeavor, to be sure... but then again is climbing the New Hampshire 48!

Here are some photos from my summer hike of the North Slide and South Slide:
Looking down the South Slide, Tripyramids
North Slide, Tripyramids
View from the summit of Middle Tripyramid
While the North and South Slide could be fun in the winter, I didn't want to tackle these alone. Pine Bend Brook it was!

Pine Bend Brook begins right off the Kancamagus Highway and starts at 1,373'. This is probably the most popular winter ascent of the Tripyramids but there is very little parking at the trailhead (essentially, just a small pullover on the Kanc). Its a gentle start which weaves around the woods while crossing a few creeks. At about 2,200', the trail enters the Sandwich Range Wilderness which is my favorite wilderness of the White Mountain Range. The entire wilderness is very well preserved and there's a lot of older-growth trees which given the forest a more primitive feeling. It was no less beautiful in the winter
Hiking through the Sandwich Range
Higher up in the Sandwich Range
I brought snowshoes but I happened to come late enough so that the trail was sufficiently broken (the second mouse gets the cheese!). As I climbed up the steep side of North Tripyramid, I did put on the micro-spikes which have been an invaluable addition to my permutation of winter footwear. I might never use my mountaineering crampons again for anything short of glaciers!

In classic fashion, the trail looks almost as if it is just upon the summit but really this is just a saddle. At about 3.2 miles in, I hit the saddle between Scaur Peak and North Tripyramid. Its another 0.8 miles and about another 700' of gain. This trail is enjoyable though because it runs along the ridge between the saddle and summit. The summit itself only has directional views but the wilderness is perfect.
View of Waterville Valley from the Tripyramids
North Tripyramid is the tallest summit of the bunch and the tallest summit of the entire Sandwich Range at 4,175'. Hiking to Middle Tripyramid is a short jaunt but you dip down about 300' between the two summits. Its enough to make the hike that much more challenging but if you've come this far, you might as well tag the summit of Middle. It has a better view anyways. Its about another additional 0.9 miles, one way.

Of course, you could continue on to South Tripyramid but this summit holds little prominence and almost no view.
Looking towards Mt Passaconaway
Well the hike was just as gorgeous in the summer as it was in the winter. I often try and only hike "new things" but I'm glad I came back and tried this one again. Even over President's day weekend, the hike was almost completely clear of people. I am sure that the very cold weather probably had something to do with this but White Mountain Hikers are not easily deterred. I wouldn't call 9.6 miles an easy hike, even by White Mountain Standards, but it wasn't quite as crazy and difficult as other winter hikes in the Whites. I suppose this means I'll have to come back and hike the Tripyramid slides in the winter...

Read. Plan. Get Out There!