Mon, Nov 23, 2020
In spite of the lack of substantial snowfall this winter, we decided that this was the year we would extend our hiking to all four seasons. So, with new snowshoes in hand during December, we waited patiently for a big storm. And waited, and waited, and waited. As most of you know, this year it never came. The closest we got was when the North Country picked up about18 - 24 inches during a couple of small storms in January. So on the third weekend we decided that we couldn't wait anymore and we would pack the packs and head north for a good day-hike to evaluate our new shoes and to check our tolerance for the cold weather. And, also to test some new gear for the gear page.
The criteria for this hike were fairly simple: it should be relatively flat so we could get used to the new snowshoes, it should be relatively short so that if something went terribly horribly wrong we could still get out safely, and yet it should provide a worthwhile destination, otherwise we could satisfy the first two by simply walking in a circle in our backyard.
In the end, we narrowed the choices down to either Black Pond or Sawyer Pond. After some thought we decided on the Black Pond hike, hoping for some good scenery around Franconia Falls which is located just beyond Black Pond.
Early Saturday morning we got all of our gear together (well most of it anyway -- ask Chris), jumped in the car, and headed north. Since Chris was familiar with the hike, he assured me that the round trip was do-able in 4 or so hours, including lunch. As we left home, the thermometer was showing a cool 12° F. The weather forecast was for a clear, cold day dominated by high pressure.
We arrived at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center at about 10:30 AM. The first thing that struck us was the number of cars in the parking lot. Wow, what a crowd. Not quite as bad as summer, but bad nonetheless. The second thing that struck us was the fact that the trail is such a popular cross-country ski track that it is packed and groomed for most of its length -- at least up to the Wilderness boundary. This was not shaping up to be the off-trail snowshoeing experience that we were hoping for. But -- too late to turn back, we decided to make the best of it anyway.
After securing a new Parking Permit ($20) for the year, we geared up. Each of us carried a day-pack with extra clothes, food, water, and other gear. We had decided that hot food for lunch would be important in this kind of cold, so we also brought a stove and a cooking pot. After stuffing everything into and lashing the rest onto our packs, we headed off in our boots, the beginning of the trail being so well packed that snowshoes weren't necessary. By this time the thermometer in the visitor's center showed a comfy 16° F.
The Lincoln Woods trail (formerly the Wilderness Trail) runs for about 4 miles in the bed of an old logging railroad. Therefore it is essentially flat. And wide. This is one of the reasons that it makes such a perfect cross-country ski track. The sun was shining brightly and so we felt warm in spite of the sub 20° temperatures; in fact, we soon began to sweat -- not a good thing in the cold of winter. This set the tone of the day as one of constant rearranging of layers to keep temperature regulated. In fact, the only time we felt cold was when we stopped after a period of activity and realized that we had let sweat build up. It's easy to stay warm when you're not moving much, but another problem altogether when you try to balance periods of high exertion with periods of inactivity. See our sidebar for some tips and tricks.
After about ½ a mile, we found ourselves putting on our snowshoes and stripping down to our fleece layers. Although not absolutely necessary, the snowshoes did make walking on this packed section of trail easier, and we kept them on for the rest of the day. We followed the trail at a medium pace alongside the river for a few miles, taking short detours here and there for good photo opportunities. Eventually we came to the turn-off for Franconia Falls and we headed the .3 miles up the trail to get there.
Franconia Falls is actually a series of little pools and cascades popular with swimmers in the summer. There are no serious falls here, but the spot was nice enough anyway. There were only one set of old ski tracks leading down the trail to the falls; most people on skis don't make it more than .1 miles or so into the trail. By the time we reached the falls themselves, there was no one around. We decided to take some photos and set up the stove for a hot meal in a little ravine sheltered by a rock and the roots of a fallen tree.
We ate and rested for about 45 minutes and then headed back out. Once we rejoined the main trail we swapped snowshoes so that we could give you a better, more thorough review by each trying both brands (Chris has Tubbs and Rob had MSR). The hike out was totally uneventful -- flat and steady. After another 2 hours we found ourselves back in the parking lot and ready for the Yankee Smokehouse.
This is a great winter dayhike due to its non-challenging terrain and proximity to incredible scenery. If you're a skier or at least willing to put up with them, we recommend this hike highly.
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy