29.09.2012 - 29.09.2012 45 °F
Last night we checked into Mt Coolidge Motel and spent a long time considering the many hiking trails in the area. We gave serious consideration to the 9-plus-mile R/T Franconia Ridge Trail so we could bag a couple summits including Mt Lafayette, but the forecast of 70% chance of rain and the known elevation gain of 3,400 feet combined to help us make the rational decision to take an easier trail.
We started with Artist Bluff. Since it was only 10 minutes from the motel and we were up early we were there before anyone. We began in the Echo Lake Beach parking lot at the base of Echo Lake Ski Village just off the Franconia Notch Parkway (I-93 exit 34-C). The Artist Bluff Hike made a gradual climb through the forest where we saw several brightly colored trees.
We continued down the path that we had all to our selves until we came upon the first major viewpoint.
We completed the journey to the top where the Artist Bluff has 180 degree north and south views as you face east. This first picture here is a postcard view into Franconia Notch with Mt Lafayette, Cannon Mtn and Echo Lake with the parkway bisecting the view. The second picture is the barren slopes of Cannon Mtn ski area.
Still at Artist Bluff, the view north of the slopes of Mt Layfayette and the parkway with the foliage turning to yellow and red.
Here is Michelle navigating the steep half-mile path down from Artist Bluff to the parking lot of the trailhead, reciting her thankfulness that we took the gradual route up!!
The next stop on the day's travels was about 5 minutes away, just across the parkway and down old route 3 to Hugh Gallen Wayside. Here the bike path crosses the Lafayette Brook Bridge with magnificent views in all directions. This is an excellent bike path.
We exited the parkway at exit 35 headed toward the town of Twin Mountain on US-3, Daniel Webster Highway, when we came upon an irresistible FS road, the Gale River Loop Road where I tried to recreate the scene from one of those car commercials where the brightly-colored trees cover the road. The is the best we could do on this road.
Then we posed for these lovely pictures along the banks of the Gale River with plenty nice color on the trees in the background. As we got back into the car, the first raindrops began to fall. Little did we know that 4 full days of rainy conditions would follow.
Somewhere after we left the Gale River but before the junction at Twin Mountain, we saw this mountainside with plenty of red leaves on the trees.
We fueled up at a very interesting outpost in Twin Mountain and then left US-3 and veered onto US-302 and back into the boundaries of White Mountains National Forest. This route is very scenic as it follows the Zealand River southbound. We decided that the next trail would be to Middle Sugarloaf Mtn, elevation 2,500 feet, via the Trestle Trail. This is a 2.8 mile round trip with 1,100 feet gain in elevation. Some twenty-something year-old writer had the nerve to call this trail easy. Any time you gain 1,100 feet in 1.4 miles, the going will not be easy. Since a steady light rain had begun and it was still only 45 degrees, it was a test of man and gear.
Along the trail we ran across a spot where a lone tree had dropped many of the vividly colored red leaves onto the wet ground and into other trees.
We trudged over gnarly roots and across giant rocks crossing small creeks until we reached a steep staircase. This meant we were 20 giants steps from the summit of Middle Sugarloaf.
I felt like an early explorer as I was first to take the summit and behold the endless views. Briefly, the rain stopped but the next storm was brewing in the valley just in front of us.
I ran around the summit, which afforded 270 degree views and snapped shots in every direction. The hike really has some expansive views and the trees that we could see were in near peak color.
As the next storm arrived the wind picked up into the 30's and the temps dropped into the 30's. We still felt like great explorers and worked hard to stage a summit photo in the brisk conditions.
There was not enough time left in the day for another major hike. Even if we would have had the time and energy the pitiful conditions in the higher altitudes precluded any attempt to venture onto any high mountain peaks. We used the opportunity to continue down US-302- south toward Crawford Notch. Somewhere along the way The Mount Washington Hotel appeared out of the mist. Owned by Omni Hotels & Resorts, and located in Breton Woods, NH, it looked so inviting. The hotel took two years to build. It opened in July of 1902. It was the grandest hotel of the day. It was constructed by Italian Craftsmen of the finest materials. It was equipped with the most modern amenities available at the time. The Mount Washington catered to wealthy guests from Boston, New York and Philadelphia. As many as fifty trains a day stopped at Bretton Woods' three railroad stations. All we could manage was this drive-by picture. Next time .... it's only $259/night and up.
We continue to follow US-302 through the towns of Bartlett, Glen, Intervale ... each town with a handful of lodging choices and eateries, a gas station and such. Then a little further down the road you come into North Conway. This is the place to see and be seen, complete with all the big chain establishments your average city slicker would be so familiar with. There was bunches of red lights and traffic was snarled. It was like the New York City of the White Mountains. We vowed to stay away from this place for the rest of the trip. Just a couple miles further south the town of Conway wasn't half as congested as North Conway. It was in this small town that we turned on to NH-112, known as The Kancamagus Highway locally. This is another very scenic stretch of highway. We could only imagine how it would look under bright sunshine.
About half-way between Conway and Lincoln was Lily Pond. It was nearly dark, misty and eerily still. We pulled out and looked really hard for a moose. Darn it, none to be seen. Note to self: remember the binoculars next time. Here is Lily Pond in the dim evening light.