Mount Lafayette Winter Dayhike

By AlpineZone News |
Jan 01 2001 - 11:43 AM

Date: Monday, January 1, 2001

View images from this Hike! –>

So … snowboarding … well, it is the second day of it and my ass and some other parts of my dear anatomy are telling me that I am an idiot and that they are calling a general strike if I intend to keep it up. So I have decided to give peace a chance and do something different. Tomorrow I will bag a peak

In the morning I am looking at the long chain formed by the big peaks of Franconia Ridge. In between cloud covers that come and go, that is, because the mist in Franconia Notch this morning is heavy. After dropping off Leila and Keith at the base of Cannon Mountain slopes I head to the park headquarters in the tram area and get a map with the trails around the area. The woman in the office tells me: “It’s going to be very windy up there”, when I announce my intention of hiking the ridge. “I am prepared for that and will turn back if it is too horrid”, I say. Famous last words? Don’t think so.

The little topo map has Mount Lafayette at 5249 ft of elevation and the road I am standing on at 2000 ft, the Green leaf trail goes up to 4000 ft to the AMC hut which is closed in winter. So, my objective is clear now, to climb Lafayette or at least get to the Hut. The hut is almost 3 miles away and I am thinking I should be able to do that in 2 or 3 hrs, but when I get to the trail head at 10:30 am, the snow is really deep and the going is difficult. Even following the steps that another lonely soul has left, maybe just hours before, is not of much help. It has being snowing heavily and they are filled almost to the rim.

I have being hiking for one hour, and still can hear the noise from the road and the idiots in their little snowmobiles. I begin to think of heat-guided missiles and other similar wonderful devices but that just makes me mad and decide concentrate in not falling down to my waist in the snow. The wind gusts filter through the snow-covered trees and now my glasses are thick with ice. Well, that operation is beginning to sound very good. At least I will try new contact lenses.

At around noon, the trail has gone behind Eagle Peak and the only sound is my heavy breathing and the wind. I have come now to the south-facing rock escarpment of this peak and it is covered with thin ice. My crampons and ice tools are in my pack and the temptation is great, but if I stop now to try to climb this miserable looking ice I will never make the summit. At around one in the afternoon the size reduction on the trees is noticeable and the wind more strong, I am really tired and beginning to think the there will be no summit today, I have spent two and a half hours and not even the hut is in sight. Minutes later I see a guy coming down very fast, I say hello and he can just manage to utter a low noise. Hmmm! I guess he wants to go home fast, maybe I should do the same, but now I see a shadow, the hut! All boarded up, the sound of the wind now is really incredible, the snow has stopped falling, but the spindrift and the mist afford about 20 metres of visibility, I stop to catch my breath and look around. Here there is a barrier made of ice blocks; some hardman has being camping here! It is around 1:30 p.m. and there are still more than a thousand vertical feet between me and the summit. I don’t know what to do; I walk a little into the trail and see this guy breaking camp. He is folding down his tent. We stop and talk a little; He camped here last night and says the summit should be a little over an hour away, so I think I can still give it a shot.

It must be at around that time that I realize that Guy Waterman committed suicide in Lafayette last February. The guy was a climber and writer, I read about him in a note on Climbing and then read his book “Yankee Rock and Ice”. Waterman grew up in New Haven; his father was a Yale professor. Seemed like I knew the guy. This was eerie. Did they remove the body? Or is it still there, greeting the nuts like me on crazy climbs? Maybe this Mountain eats climbers from New Haven.

I have decided I’ll give the summit a try, I hike about 100 metres and then have to put on crampons, the snow has turned into ice with a little dusting on top, and even if it’s not that steep, loosing your footing here is not a good idea. This is the summit crest, it is wind swept, the trees have disappeared and all I have to guide me is the cairns. I can see them when they are within about 10 metres but I have to stop and look for the next every time I reach one. This is the life! The mountain wants to kick you off and you just keep trying. It is now 2:30, really late and my designated return time, so I start down. But about 10 metres into the down climb I decide I’ll turn back and climb until 3 p.m. So here I come again, enjoying the cold, the icicles hanging from my mustache and the rim of my Peruvian hat. The wind must be pushing at 50 or 60 km/h. Every step has to be well planted, I can feel the force of the wind as if someone is pushing my leg, at every step I have being using one of my ice tools and really miss my ice axe, next time I will carry her also.

I try to take a picture of the surroundings, and me but Leila’s camera makes a pitiful sound every time it tries to work. It sounds like it snaps pictures, but it’s batteries are dying.

Finally around 3pm I can see the pile of large rocks that marks the summit. I take a direct approach to it and actually have to front-point and use the pick of the tool on a large slab of ice! How cool is this?!! I have been on the summit for about a minute. Now, I can see the cairn that marks the descent into Franconia notch and the next peak, but then I realize the sun has gone behind Cannon Mountain and it is suddenly much darker and the wind much colder, my shell is encrusted in thick and hard ice and I am beginning to feel cold. It is time to go down. I start to follow my footsteps. Well, they kind of have been partially erased by the wind. I have removed my glasses because they gather ice and distinguishing the fine detail of the crampon’s marks is not easy. The cairns from above can be confused with just another rock and this bit takes a lot of attention if I don’t want to lose my way. But pretty soon I am past the hut and into tree line, with long strides, almost sliding down the fluffy snow. The descent is going to be fast. I am thinking; even if I have to finish with the headlamp, this has been a memorable day.

Submitted by Leon Islas
New Haven, CT
Wed, 03 Jan 2001