Franconia Ridge is the kind of place that creates a powerful feeling; a feeling that great forces beyond all comprehension are at work everywhere around us. At the height of the rugged landscape along the Ridgeline, there is an energy that makes me feel full of life, which is useful after the taxing hike up. It is at once utterly daunting, and purely captivating. Each time I go (and I’ve been known to go dozens of times per year), I feel a bit speechless, and there isn’t a single aspect of this area that I am able to take my eyes off of. I have some rather ambitious plans for this area come autumn, but something about this place draws me in at all times of the year; even during the summer when it is guaranteed to be busy, hot and humid. I set out late Saturday afternoon to enjoy a pack-lunch dinner on the ridge, and to stare into the colors of the sunset from this, my very favorite spot on Earth.
Since the weather looked like it would be in a cooperative mood until early Sunday morning, I seized the opportunity to hit the trail in the late hours of the afternoon. Hitting the trail at 3 o’clock pm is highly unusual for me, as I tend to enjoy the solitude and the sounds of more unusual hours, like 3 o’clock am. In any event, I longed for some time upon the Ridge and a summer sunset seemed a fitting way to get that time in.
My choice was, and usually is, to ascend the Ridge via the Falling Waters Trail. At three miles long with a gain of 3000 feet in elevation, this is no simple walk in the woods; and it’s just as tough of a descent. However, there is a lot to see and stay busy with along the way. The Dry Brook has carved is mark into the mountainside for thousands of years creating more than seven notable water features within the first two miles of the hike. Stairs Falls, Swiftwater Falls, and Cloudland Falls, are the most dramatic places to pause for cool mountain water and classic Pemigewasset scenery. I normally do pause at each of these features to take them in, but in an effort to find my hiker’s-rhythm (difficult given the number of other hikers on the trail), I just passed them by this time with a glance and a contented smile.
Surprisingly, I noted a great number of people still descending the Falling Waters Trail (surprising given the time of day). My hike lasted just over two hours from bottom to top, and although I lost count, I would estimate that I saw over sixty people of varying ages, abilities, and levels of preparedness. Nevertheless, once I was on top of the Ridge, I had the place nearly to myself. I made my way to my favorite spot, which is an alcove just below the summit of Mount Lincoln. Facing southward, the ridgeline to Little Haystack bends through the land in an enchanting way. I have spent entire days at this one spot simply observing and enjoying life above timberline. But for tonight’s sunset photos, I had to choose between it and another stunning view I found that faces the opposite direction about a quarter mile north. I ended up choosing the latter, which was a wonderful view of Mount Lincoln.
With the summer sun setting behind Canon and the Kinsmans, and an almost-full moon rising over Signal Ridge, the light in the sky was fairly superb. I shot until 8:30pm, packed my gear up, and headed back down. Interestingly enough, the humidity was on the uptick as the night grew darker. On my way down I heard cicada, which would never happen during a late night hike. I also got to change my headlamp batteries in the dark (the joys of solo night-hiking), and I passed two groups of gentlemen who were toiling along down the trail, each group with at least one member only carrying a small flashlight (not exactly sufficient, by my estimation). I checked in with each group to make sure they were okay and feeling good about their descent, and they said they were. I made excellent time down and was back to my car in exactly an hour and a half, which was well ahead of schedule. I guess I found that rhythm after all.
On my way out of Franconia Notch State Park, I stopped to get a glimpse of Cannon Mountain as the bright moon finally made its way over the Franconia Ridge to illuminate the cliffs. As always, my trip to the Ridge was very rewarding…and a great way to whet my appetite for the fall season! There’s always something to gaze at and get lost in at Franconia Ridge!
Thank you for taking some time to read my landscape photography blog; I’m surely glad to have you along!