Franconia undercast

I awoke early Sunday morning to an uneven dripping sound on the roof, with the steady burble of Eliza Brook reminding me that we were spending this cool October night in a beautiful new AMC shelter high on the shoulder of the Kinsman Range.  The peaks of North and South Kinsman, and Cannon Mountain, form the western wall of Franconia Notch, whose valley would later today be filled bumper-to-bumper with leaf-peeping visitors this Columbus Day weekend. It turns out they would see nothing, while we would spend the day facing spectacular views over their heads.

At lower elevations, the fall colors were at peak.
At lower elevations, the fall colors were at peak.

The dripping continued, initially leading me to believe we were in for a rainy day. In preparing for the trip, I had great hopes for the sweeping views one gets from the Kinsmans, looking east across the notch to the stunning peaks along Franconia Ridge. I lay in my sleeping bag as daylight slowly arrived, and I realized we were simply locked into a dense fog; no rain, just dripping trees.  Still, a day walking through in summit clouds would not be much of a payoff for carrying my big SLR camera. At least we’d spent yesterday climbing through glorious fall colors on the Reel Brook trail.

As I prepared breakfast and roused John, we were joined by the other group staying overnight. My first impression last night was that they were some sort of walking EMS store or maybe preparing an advertisement for JetBoil, given the array of newfangled gear on display.  Actually they were a “meetup” group of six hikers and a dog, a really fun group of folks from the Boston area (see their web page for more information). We ended up sharing three meals with them, and I hope to cross paths with them again someday.

Morning fog slips between  the firs along the Kinsman Ridge trail.
Morning fog slips between the firs along the Kinsman Ridge trail.

John and I debated whether it would be better to hang out in camp and hope the sun would burn off the fog, giving us sunny summits in late afternoon. We decided to push on ahead and see what the day would bring. It was a steep climb along Eliza Brook to the marshy Harrington Pond nestled on the shoulder of South Kinsman. The dense fog made for an ethereal hike, as the forest shifted from hardwoods to balsam fir. Soon after the pond, climbing steeply up over huge boulders, we began to see blue sky above. I turned around to look at John, and was stunned by the view south.

Photo of a hiker with an undercast sky in the background, Mount Moosilauke looming above.
John climbs above the undercast, with Moosilauke in the background.

Mount Moosilauke was a prominent island in a sea of clouds. I began to realize that, rather than being a photographically disappointing summit day, we were in for a fantastic treat. The cloud deck was solidly capped at about 3600′, and looked like a vast sea with only a few islands poking out here and there. This ocean was pouring over the ridgeline behind John, with Harrington Pond deep inside that flow. My pace quickened, as I wanted to reach the South Kinsman summit and see what the view east to Franconia Ridge might bring. Instead of hoping the sun would burn off the fog, I wanted it to stay put, lest it engulf the 4,358′ summit of South Kinsman.

We soon reached the summit, and Franconia Ridge was gloriously visible in the sunshine and blue sky, with Franconia Notch bathed in fog only a few hundred feet below us. A few day-hikers arrived, glad they had kept faith in climbing up from the fog-bound notch to reach a summit above the clouds.

The best was yet to come. We scurried on toward North Kinsman, slightly lower at 4,293′ elevation. There, I knew, we would have an unobstructed view of the Franconia Ridge. When we arrived, the fog rose and covered our view. A few patient minutes later, the fog settled and we were treated to a spectacular view of Franconia Ridge with an undercast, the clouds pouring over Cannon Mountain just to our left. What a glorious day!

Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman, with undercast.
Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman, with undercast.

We soon left the ridge and headed down the Mount Kinsman Trail to the west.  Oddly, there was no fog on this side of the ridge: Franconia Notch was deeply ensconced in fog, but the Kinsman Ridge was like a dam holding back the sea… everything to the west was sunny and clear.  A steep descent, but the walk through the golden trees, with the sun low in the west behind them, was magical.  I snapped nearly 300 photos in one and a half days, but post just my favorites on SmugMug for you to enjoy.

Fall colors along the Mount Kinsman Trail.
Fall colors along the Mount Kinsman Trail.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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