Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trail Report: Mount Lafayette Traverse/Loop

My friend Kellie has been bugging me for two months about doing Mount Lafayette, I have been against it only because I am fat, out of shape and a very inexperienced hiker.  Mount Lafayette is the highest peak in New Hampshire outside of the Presidential Range at 5,260'.  I've got a number of hikes under my belt now with a couple of them, I feel, were difficult for my experience level.  So I said why not, let's give it a go and see what happens.  What's the worst that can happen?  I don't make it and have to turn around?

I start to read other trail reports and blogs from people that have done this mountain and I realize that most people do the traverse across the ridge to Mount Lincoln (5,089') and Little Haystack (4,760').  A typical hike up Mount Lafayette via Old Bridle Path is about 3 hours one way.  This would typically be a normal hike that we have done, but adding the two other peaks into the mix turns the hike into 9-10 hours round trip and about doubles the distance.  Needless to say I was a little worried about this.  A 9 mile hike?  No way is my fat ass going to make that!  But I did make it, and it was a wonderful experience!

We arrive at the parking lot about 9am and we started to get our gear together.  The parking lot and trail head is the next exit past the sign that says "The Basin" on I-93 North.  The sign does not say anything about Mount Lafayette or Lincoln, it just says "Trail Head Parking".  You can also park in a lot off of I-93 South and take a tunnel under the highway over to the trail head.  The lot off of 93 North was about half full when we arrived, I had read this was a popular hike and it was, the trails and the summits were very busy.  At 9:26am we started our walk over to the trail head and at 9:32am we started our ascent.

Trail Information Sign

We decided to do the reverse loop which starts with a very, very short walk on Old Bridle Path until you reach a fork in the path and we then took a right turn onto Falling Waters Trail.  This trail leads to the summit of Little Haystack.  Little Haystack is not "little" by any means.  The peak sits at 4,760' but unfortunately is not recognized by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) as one of the "four-thousand footers" because it stands less than 200 ft above the col on the ridge from Mount Lincoln.

Trail Head Sign

Falling Waters Trail is just that, you're basically following a brook for a good portion of the climb up and there are some beautiful waterfalls along this trail along with "Shining Rock" which is a 200 by 800 yard granite rock, when covered by running water from the woods above, it often shines like a mirror in the sun and can be easily seen from I-93. This side trip is well worth the effort.

We made our way to the start of Falling Waters Trail which starts by crossing a wooden bridge over Walker Brook.

This blue blazed trail starts off fairly easy with only moderate elevation gains and quite a few rock/water crossings.

 Blue Blazed

Not long into the hike we reached our first waterfall, Stairs Falls.

Stairs Falls

A few hundred feet past Stairs Falls you come to 60' Swiftwater Falls.

Swiftwater Falls

The third and final waterfall, the main attraction of this trail is 80' Cloudland Falls.  This water fall was just absolutely beautiful!

80' Cloudland Falls

After a short break at the falls with all of the picture taking, it was time to press on.  The trail at this point starts to get steep, especially to the left of Cloudland Falls where you are pretty much rock climbing at this point.

It doesn't look all that steep, but trust me, it is!

After a few more brook crossings we started to get further away from the water and noise and the forest started to get quiet around us.  We hit a few switchbacks on the way up and at one point it even leveled out nicely for a short while.

 Nice level ground
After a nice (but short) break of switchbacks and level ground the elevation started to get steeper with a lot of rock stairs.

More rock stairs to climb

At about the 3 mile marker you will see a sign for the Shining Rock Spur trail.  This spur trail is very short, but it is also pretty steep going down from the sign.

Shining Rock Spur Trail Sign

You'll know when you're at Shining Rock, you can't miss it.

Yes that is ice cold water running down the rock

A panoramic shot of Shining Rock

After a short break at Shining Rock we started to head back up the spur trail to Falling Waters Trail.

Shining Rock Spur Trail looking up the trail from the rock

Not very long after we started heading back up Falling Waters Trail we started to get our first views of Franconia Notch & Cannon Mountain.

Cannon Mountain Ski Area

Once past the Shining Rock Spur trail, you are not very far from the summit of Little Haystack.  And once you get above treeline you get some really spectacular views.

Above treeline view of Cannon Mountain

A view of Mount Lincoln from the summit of Little Haystack

Almost to the top of Little Haystack!

Once we hit the summit of Little Haystack we decided to sit down for some lunch and a nice long break.  Although not to long as it's an hour hike along the ridge to the summit of Mount Lincoln and then another hour to the summit of Mount Lafayette.  Once on the ridge it is pretty much impossible to get lost, the ridge trail is pretty obvious and there are plenty of people and signs, just follow the crowds.

Franconia Ridge Trail Sign

Ridge Trail Leading to Mount Lincoln

At this point the wind started to pickup and my sweat started to get cold, but I dried off fairly quick and Kellie had changed into a long sleeve shirt, yes, even when it is 88 degrees and humid at the base, the weather can change very quickly up at the higher elevations.
Walking along the ridge trail to Mount Lincoln

Looking back down the ridge trail towards Little Haystack
We made it to the summit of Mount Lincoln (5,089) in about one hour.  We stopped for a quick break before heading along the ridge trail to Mount Lafayette.

Looking at Mount Lafayette from Mount Lincoln

View from the summit of Mount Lincoln

Ridge trail to Mount Lafayette

Mount Lafayette from the ridge trail
You can see the ridge trail cut through the trees in the middle of the picture

AMC Greenleaf Hut in the distance

Me standing near the edge on the ridge trail
That is Cannon Mountain in the background

Looking back towards Mount Lincoln from the Ridge Trail

Getting closer to the summit of Mount Lafayette

Just about there!

Made it!  Summit of Mount Lafayette 5,260'

After about five hours we made it to the summit of Mount Lafayette!  It was a long journey for someone as out of shape as me, but it was well worth the effort!  The only problem now was getting down from Lafayette which is another four hour hike.  About one hour to the Greenleaf Hut and then another two hours or so from the hut to the parking lot.

Looking back towards Mount Lincoln from the summit of Mount Lafayette

Summit trail sign

Two happy hikers at the summit of Lafayette

Foundation for an old building that used to be here

USGS Marker for Mount Lafayette

I don't recall how long we stayed at the top of Lafayette, but I'm thinking it was 30-45 minutes.  And then we started our hike down the Greenleaf Trail to the AMC Greenleaf Hut.  I was told this is about a 30 minute hike but it took us an hour.  After hiking for 5 hours my knees really started to get sore.  The hike down was awful on my knees and for the first time ever while hiking, Kellie actually was breathing heavy and towards the end she started to complain about her knees hurting.  This was a very long and tiring hike for the both of us.

Heading down the Greenleaf Trail

Looking up towards Mount Lafayette from the Greenleaf Trail

Back below the treeline, Greenleaf Trail

Shining Rock that we visited earlier in the day!

A closeup shot of the AMC Greenleaf Hut

We stopped at the Greenleaf Hut for about 15-20 minutes.  This was my first time seeing and using an AMC hut.  These huts are pretty neat, Greenleaf sits at 4200', there you can refill your water and they also have cookies, lemonade and I assume whatever kinds of pastries they feel like making (I had carrot cake).  To refill your water is free, the other items do have a cost but is very cheap and well worth it.  Make sure to bring $5 with you on the hike, you'll want to eat some sugar while you're here.  You can also rent rooms and sleep on the mountain.  After this long hike I can see why people would want to stay, rest and then hike down the next day.

Eagle Lake by Greenleaf Hut with Mount Lafayette in the background

Trail head sign for Old Bridle Path down to the parking lot

The people working at Greenleaf hut said the hike down Old Bridle Path is 2-3 hours and is steep for the first mile.  I need to seriously consider the use of trekking poles or at least bring my old ski poles.  These hikes down are doing a job on my knees.  During this trip I could have used them, the first mile was not only steep but lots of sharp edges along the rocks.

Going down Old Bridle Path

You don't want to fall on these rocks!

We hiked the entire ridge line you see here
Shining Rock is to the far right near the top of the peak

One final look before we get into the trees

The Mount Lafayette Loop & Traverse was a long but enjoyable hike.  I would definitely like to do this hike again during the Fall season when all the trees are bright orange and yellow and the temperature is in the 60's.  Today was very hot and humid.  I drank 3.5 liters of water, 2x 20oz Vitamin Waters, 1x Little kids juice box and 2x cups of lemonade at the hut.

My GPS track over Google Earth

Summit of Little Haystack: 4760'
Summit of Mount Lincoln: 5089'
Summit of Mount Lafayette: 5260'
Total hike time: 9.5h
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3900'
Trails:  Falling Waters Trail, Shining Rock Spur Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path


  1. Awesome hike - I can't look at the ridge enough. Thanks for the photos.

    1. You're welcome! Thank you for reading. It really was an incredible hike!

  2. Replies
    1. Yeah, I loved it, I'll being doing this again next summer for sure.