I had thought that Roy's Peak in New Zealand would close out as my toughest hike of the year. As I was hobbling down that mountain after my knee gave out, I thought I'd never have to feel that pain again while on a trail. Wrong.
Franconia Ridge summits Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette in New Hampshire's White Mountains. It is one of the hardest sub-ten mile hikes on the East Coast, but so very rewarding! Start your day early, as this eight-miler surely takes some time! When my brother first told me it'd be eight miles, we thought nothing of it - that's a relatively average length for a day hike, right? Right. No problem.
We realized pretty early on that this would be one very steep, very rocky ascent. It was beautiful though, as it was lined with rivers and waterfalls. I think it's safe to say that we genuinely enjoyed our trek up the mountain. It's no joke about the elevation though - we gained 3,100 feet in under three hours!
Upon reaching our first peak, Little Haystack, we were feeling great. The wind had picked up at this point, as we were on an open ridge, and I was happy we were prepared for alpine weather. Despite it being an absolutely perfect day weather-wise, it was freezing atop the mountain. Thankfully, we each had four layers of outerwear on that fully protected us from the wind.Once atop Little Haystack, there's only about an 800 foot elevation gain across the ridge and it was a relatively easy climb. The views alone made us all happy that we trudged up the mountain - they were spectacular, and we could even see Mt. Washington in the distance!
It was a lot of fun looking back along the ridge to see how far we had climbed. We stopped briefly on Mt. Lincoln before continuing our journey to Mt. Lafayette.Summiting Mt. Lafayette was something else! It was our third summit of the day. It appeared to be the one place along the trail where the Appalachian Trail Hikers and the Day Hikers converged, and there were many stories to be heard from atop the mountain. The views went on forever, and I was just so grateful that we had such a sunny, clear day for it! It took us about four hours to arrive on the peak of Mt. Lafayette, including breaks both along the trail and at the summits of Little Haystack and Mt. Lincoln.
It was time for the descent. Knowing how steep the trail was going up, I expected it to be equally as steep going down...and, sadly, it was. I've had weak knees for as long as I can remember, but can usually manage on long hikes with no problems. Well, not on the Franconia Ridge Trail. About an hour into our descent, my knee gave out yet again. We hadn't even made it to the first Mountain Hut. Hobbling along, we stopped at the Mountain Hut to escape the wind, grab some food, and let my very sore knee rest. Luckily, they had delicious lentil and vegetable soup to distract us! For those that didn't pack enough water, there's also a free water fill-up station at the Hut.
After about 45 minutes, I acknowledged that there was no way to make it to the bottom unless we kept moving. So, we made moves. The trail, rated (incorrectly) as mellow on AllTrails, never got easier. As my knee got worse and worse with each downward step, the trail just continued along, smirking in my face. To make a long story short, I did make it to the bottom and successfully completed the Franconia Ridge without having been carried down the mountain! It only took nine hours instead of the guesstimated seven and a half...