Franconia Ridge is home to the second highest mountain peaks in New Hampshire- Mt. Lafayette (5,249), Lincoln (5,089), Liberty (4,459), Flume (4,328).
Teammate: One who unites others toward a shared destiny through sharing information and ideas, empowering others and developing trust. -Denis Kinlaw.
We are a team, not just because we wear hydration packs- we are team because we choose to run up and over mountains, we choose to push ourselves more than most. We are a team because out of the 90% of the population who do not understand our lust for adventure or our willingness to push ourselves to see what we are made of, we do. So whether or not you are officially on our team, we are on yours.
When Ryan Welts from New Hampshire joined the MPF RNR trail running team I immediately thought it would be great if he led the next team adventure. I messaged him and he graciously accepted the task! We came up with a date, gear requirements, etc. and soon the trip became a reality.
Only 3 of our other teammates were able to make the long journey to New Hampshire; Iain Ridgway, Julian Vicente and Scotie Jacobs. The rest were unable to make it due to schedule conflicts and the lack of gear one needs to camp and adventure safely during the winter months.
A week or two earlier when planning the trip we decided to camp at the Hancock Campground right outside of Lincoln, New Hampshire, this proved to be the best option. Nothing like meeting people for the first time in negative temps and for some, this was their first winter camping experience.
I really like camping, it offers a true break from the rituals of day to day life, work, tv computers, stress, cell phones- everything takes a back seat along with fashion and lipstick :). We were bare in the middle of the woods at night, only with the style of headlamp or the brand of our gear could tell us apart. Just from our voices and eyes down, told our story.
I had know Idea what to expect since I have never met Scotie, Iain or Ryan for that matter, maybe Ryan briefly at a couple of races. Weeks prior we posted a mandatory gear list and I hoped everyone was prepared. Scotie and Julian had never camped in the winter and Ryan was sleeping in the comfort of his own bed since he lives only 1 ½ hours away. In the back of my mind I was thinking this had the potential of not going so well...
As we were setting up camp I began to realize how cold it really was. I was wearing 2 down coats, a fleece and 2 base layers, 2 pairs of winter pants and a way below zero rated pair of boots, and I still caught a chill, especially when pitching my tent. It took twice as long due to the fact that every time I had to take my gloves off for even 20 seconds, I would lose feeling in my fingertips. Good thing I brought along my winter tent along with a -20º and -40º Mountain Hardwear sleeping bags. I really hoped everyone else was prepared!
At camp we started to run around to loosen up our legs for the next days adventure or maybe it was just to generate some body heat... Soon after Scotie arrived after a 7 hour drive from Ithaca, NY, he was still warm and toasty in his car unaware of how brisk the temps were. We helped him set up his 3 season tent and as I went to bed, I hoped he didn’t freeze! He always had the option of bailing to his car but that may qualify as a DNF!
Iain arrived shortly after that, and chose to sleep in his car...we didn’t take any points off his hardcore license simply because he has such a cool accent and we could barely understand what he was saying, we gave him a pass.
Marching orders - Franconia Ridge - 16 miles, with 6,000 feet of gain.
The weather changes rapidly in the White Mountains, especially in the winter. You need to look at the forecast up to the minute of your adventure. NOAA national weather service will give you a recreational forecast by elevation.
On Friday the temperature read -10º below and the recreational forecast for Saturdays adventure read like this:
RECREATION FORECAST FOR ELEVATIONS BETWEEN 2500 AND 4000 FEET IN
NORTHERN NEW HAMPSHIRE AND THE WESTERN MAINE MOUNTAINS...
SNOW SHOWERS COULD DEVELOP IN THE AFTERNOON
-10 degrees. WEST WINDS AROUND 55 MPH BECOMING NORTHWEST
AND DECREASING TO AROUND 45 MPH THIS AFTERNOON. GUSTS UP TO 70 MPH.
CHANCE OF PRECIPITATION 20 PERCENT. WIND CHILL VALUES AS LOW AS
...SUMMITS OBSCURED. A CHANCE OF SNOW SHOWERS IN THE
EVENING. LOWS -5 TO 10 ABOVE. NORTHWEST WINDS 35 TO 45 MPH WITH GUSTS
UP TO 70 MPH. CHANCE OF SNOW 50 PERCENT. WIND CHILL VALUES AS LOW AS
35 BELOW ZERO.
...SUMMITS OBSCURED IN THE MORNING...THEN BECOMING MOSTLY
CLOUDY. HIGHS 14 TO 24. NORTHWEST WINDS 35 TO 45 MPH WITH GUSTS UP
TO 60 MPH. WIND CHILL VALUES AS LOW AS 48 BELOW ZERO.
Before I went to bed I wore the next days base layers as well as placed my hydration bladder, phone, gloves inside of my sleeping bag. Some keep a pee ziplock bag or bottle for when nature calls.
5:30 am came quickly- I felt like I was getting up for a race. I got a text from Ryan saying he was running late due to car trouble, I was happy to have some extra time. I stepped out of my tent happy to see everyone survived. With the negative temps you tend to move a lot slower. We boiled some water to make coffee and shortly after Ryan showed up nearly on time. We quickly introduced ourselves, got our stuff together and jumped into several cars to proceed to the start. We placed a car at a certain point along the way just in case we or one needed to bail from the traverse early.
I recently started following Ryan, his wife Kristina and their dog Jack on facebook, It was fun to finally meet them in person. They brought along one of their friends Nate and together we became a group of 8.
It was relaxing not to be in charge, yet nerve racking at the same time to trust someone else to lead you in potentially dangerous country. I knew that Ryan was very familiar with the local mountains/trail system and I was confident with his backup plan if things didn’t go as planned, which is often needed.
We started off by breaking trail for 3.5 miles until we got to Lafayette ridge, this gave us a great opportunity to get to know one another. I immediately hit it off with Kristina, we shared the same enthusiasm for adventure and have had similar experiences at races & on the trail. It was very refreshing to have another female to share the trail with.
As we approached the summit of Lafayette the views were breathtaking, at this moment I became a tourist. I placed my lightweight down jacket on prior to getting to the top in order to be warm enough to snap shots right away. Just before we popped up above tree line Ryan said that if it was extremely windy up top we would know by now. Believe me It was windy, just not gone with the wind, windy.
At this point we should have followed Ryans lead and taken off our snowshoes and switched to microspikes or Hillsounds, some of us did and some of us chose not too. The ridge was beautiful and very exposed in sections, spikes would have been useful for faster travel. The temperature was dropping well below zero but I was in no rush. If the conditions were unsafe I would have travelled faster, but I didn’t drive all this way to race back to the parking lot, maybe next time but not on this day.
We made it to the top of Lincoln and Flume with short stops to eat and make gear adjustments. I eventually took off my snowshoes to put on my Hillsounds. When I took my mitts off, my hands froze in seconds! In the winter, even the smallest task takes twice as much time and may even require a little help. Everyone was doing well, some had frozen water but for the most part we were all in good shape. Ryan was a great guide and kept a close eye on us, because just as we didn’t know him, he didn’t know much about us or our depth of experience. Our team bond was growing stronger.
We slid on our back sides down Flume like we were children at an amusement park, that was a hoot! A couple of miles of downhill travel and we were back to our car. Boo hoo, our day had come to an end :(. It was such a fun day filled of laughter and sarcasm, everyone was a blast to be around, now It was time to get some food!
Thank you so much to the Welts Family and especially Jack puppy, who showed us that he is a force to be reckoned with! This little wire fox terrier ran all the way to the finish with the grace of a champion, he didn’t show one sign of fatigue or exhibit any issues. He was a ball to watch, don’t tell Ryan but he was the real leader of the pack ;).
We got back to the campground and started to prepare for the next day of events, wondering what Ryan had up his sleeve? Looks like Mt. Osceola since we didn’t have much time Sunday morning. Ryan decided to take us up one of the steepest climbs I have been on in a long while. This story and the rest of the shenanigans I will keep to myself, because I can’t express how much fun was had. You’re going to have to go there on your own, preferably during the winter months.
We are looking forward to the 2015 MPF RNR season. Please come out to support Red Newt Racing and challenge yourself to one of their trail running events. Thank you to our sponsors Run On Hudson Valley and Finger lakes running company. Good times, great folks!