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North Kinsman in Winter

I didn't get a chance to get out on an overnighter during the winter of 2000/2001, so it was with particular anticipation that I was looking forward to the ritual winter backpacking trip with Phil, my trail hiking partner. As we went through the usual dance of scheduling a weekend, having one or the other of us cancel because of conflicting schedule, only to reschedule, cancel, and reschedule again, we felt the weight of winter's end bearing down upon us.

We were originally planning on booking accommodations at Zealand Hut and trying to bag some of the 4,000 footers in that immediate area, but the Hut was booked solid and I spent two long, wait-listed weeks to no avail. So we set our sites on the Kinsmans, packed up all the gear we figured we could carry, and headed north in the early morning hours of March 9th.

Saturday, March 9, 2002 (3.5 miles) We parked our car at Lafayette Campground and struck out on the Lonesome Lake Trail at about 11:00 am. Our goal for the day was relatively conservative--we just wanted to get to Lonesome Lake, grab some lunch, and then continue on to the shelter/campsites at Kinsman Pond. The trail begins ascending at a relatively brisk pace almost immediately, and consists of three large switchbacks that obtain most of the elevation gain on the way to Lonesome Lake, and finishes off with a steeper section up to the top of the first ridgeline that forms the land on the eastern edge of Lonesome Lake. We left Lonesome Lake Trail at the 1.2 mile point, choosing to walk across the frozen lake to the beach in front of the AMC hut rather than taking Cascade Brook Trail, which skirts around the southern shoreline of the lake. We had the somewhat unfortunate luck of sharing the trail with approximately 40-50 members of the New Hampshire Outing Club who were on some sort of leadership training. The leadership training, as far as we could tell, consisted primarily of carrying various kinds of sledding devices up the trail, traveling in noisy packs of eight to ten hikers, and then regrouping along the frozen shoreline of Lonesome Lake beneath the shuttered AMC hut and proceeding to make as much noise as possible for as long as possible.

We lunched on salami and trail mix while chatting with another middle-aged hiker named Jack. When three old-farts like us get together, the subject matter could be none other than complaining about the nonstop rumble of conversation that wafted up to us from the shoreline.

Our lunch complete, we began our journey from Lonesome Lake to Kinsman Pond via Fishin' Jimmy Trail, which seemed to get steeper and nastier as we went along. At one point we passed through a hollow between two ridges; there were several streams which we crossed on snow-covered ice. Our return the following day would not be so easy.

By the time we arrived at Kinsman Pond the shelter there was more-or-less full, so we found a tent platform and I put up my tent while Phil set up his bivy bag. I was pretty spent at this point and Phil did most of the meal preparation. By 8:00 pm we were buried in our sleeping bags trying to fall asleep. By 9:00 pm, the rains came.

Sunday, March 10, 2002 (4.9 miles) After a night of howling winds, torrential rain, and the occasional hail storm, daybreak arrived with a break in the precipitation and what seemed like a promise of periodic sunshine.

We crawled out of our shelters and began to break camp so we wouldn't have to deal with it later when we returned from North Kinsman on our way back down to Phil's car. Here's a photo of Phil breaking down his bivy bag. We had both run low on water by this point, so we attempted to filter some of the slushy water that was floating on Kinsman Pond's melting ice, but Phil's water filter promptly froze. With precious little water (or anything else) along for the climb, we followed the Kinsman Ridge Trail southward as it climbed steadily to the summit of North Kinsman. from Kinsman Junction. Along the way we passed the junction with Mt. Kinsman trail, which we had used to arrive at Kinsman Pond several winters ago on an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to summit one or both of the Kinsmans. We were both surprised about how close this point was to the summit of North Kinsman, and dismayed that we hadn't reached the top on our earlier attempt. I'm sure the wooden snowshoes without crampons that we had been using had something to do with our decision to turn back.

Here's a shot of me with Franconia Ridge in the background, taken along the Kinsman Ridge Trail on the way to the summit of North Kinsman. This part, the hike to the summit and back down to Kinsman Pond where our heavy packs were patiently waiting, was, for me, the best part of the hike. The decision to pick a route that required carrying our gear up to such a high point (3750 ft), had taken its toll the day before, and it was truly a pleasure to be out from under all the weight of a loaded pack. But tucked away in the back of my mind was the knowledge that I'd soon be picking up that pack on the way back to Lafayette Campground.

This photo, taken from the summit of North Kinsman, shows Lonesome Lake in the foreground, frozen and covered with snow, against the spectacular backdrop of Franconia Ridge. We reached the top a little after 11:00 am, which did not leave us enough time to continue south along Kinsman Ridge Trail in order to summit South Kinsman as well, something that we had tentatively included as a possibility in our original trip-planning session. While we were on the summit we marvelled at the ever-changing weather conditions; relatively clear one minute followed by severely restricted visibility the next.

After about half an hour, we began the return trip down to Kinsman Pond. As we descended, the temperatures began to drop, and winds began to increase, the patches of blue sky we had been lucky enough to experience were no where to be found, in other words, it was getting pretty crappy outside. Back at Kinsman Pond we shouldered our packs and headed back down Fishin' Jimmy Trail towards Lonesome Lake. When we reached the hollow that I mentioned earlier, Phil, who was hiking ahead of me, post-holed through some ice that had been weakened by the combination of Saturday's high temperatures and the torrential rainfall of late Saturday night/early Sunday morning.

Both his feet soaked, Phil left me behind, moving as quickly as possible towards the AMC hut at Lonesome Lake, where he planned to change into some dry socks. By this point, I was pretty gassed, and in no way capable of keeping up with Phil's pace. When I reached the hut, he was still working on getting out of his plastic mountaineering boots; the laces had been frozen by the stream water that he had fallen into. Finally he got both his boots off, put on dry socks, and then encased his feet in one-gallon ziplock bags so his socks would not absorb the water that his bootliners were already soaked in (the ziplock bags were my idea).

By the time I had slowly made my way down to the parking lot, Phil was safely into a dry pair of shoes and the car was toasty warm for the return drive home.

Total trip mileage, 8.4 miles.

Copyright © 2002, David Lister

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Document last modified on Friday, 19-Jan-2007 07:25:16 MST.