Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Back in early November Chris and I did an overnight in the White Mountains.  Our initial plan was to go above tree line but the weather had different plans for us.  We changed our game plan and headed for Lonesome Lake instead.  The following is a trip report written by Chris.

With my work travels and Angelo’s fatherly duties, our backpacking adventures haven’t been as common as we might like. But this past week we made it back into the woods for another two-man slumber party in the cold outdoors. Back in March, our first hike took us to Connecticut’s highest summit, Bear Mountain (not to be confused with Connecticut’s highest point which you’ll find at the border with Massachusetts on your way up Mt. Frissell). This time—despite ambitious plans to summit at least a couple peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains—we didn’t make it to the highest point of anywhere. Unless, that is, you count as somewhere the good graces that called us down from what nearly became our coldest night ever.

The clustered 4,000+ foot summits and alpine lakes of Franconia Notch State Park, along with the opportunity to drive the scenic Kancamangus stretch of Route 112, collectively summoned us to the Lafayette trailhead along I-93 in the western Whites. We had spent the better part of the previous day at the Kittery Trading Post building my collection of winter camping gear and we were prepared to spend the night at either the Kinsman Pond Shelter or in my recently acquired Eureka Timberline two-man somewhere along the trail. Or, I should say, we thought we were prepared.

We made it onto the trail at 11 on Sunday morning. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the gray clouds started not far above the trailhead. As always, I started out wearing more than would be necessary once we got moving. At the start, there was 1.8 miles of trail between us and Lonesome Lake. A steady climb with good footing, Lonesome Lake Trail allowed us to work up a sweat and make good progress quickly. Early on, a pack of early teens panted anxiously back toward the asphalt. One coming particularly apart at the straps pleaded, “How much farther?” Not far, bud. You’re almost there. Taking their time a couple hundred yards behind them, a pair of fathers was much less eager to get back to whatever they’d left behind when they took their sons and their sons’ friends into the woods for the weekend.

By Noon, we made it to the icy shores of Lonesome Lake where we found the recently-renovated Lonesome Lake Hut. Some large family, or group of families, was making lunch in the kitchen and playing cards when we arrived. Angelo and I took the opportunity to enjoy our packed sandwiches (one pb&j and one hummus, cheese and green pepper sandwich each) before resuming our hike. This is where Angelo (the perennially wiser of the two of us) began expressing concerns about the looseness of our sleeping plans. Let’s just make it up to the Kinsman Shelter and assess from there, I insisted. Even with the 4:30 sunset (the clocks had been set back at 2am that morning), we’d have plenty of time to get there and back if necessary.

Fishin’ Jimmy Trail took us from Lonesome Lake to Kinsman Pond (1.9 miles, 1200' elevation gain). Slowly. The occasional stretch of steady progress was routinely interrupted by one precipitous ascent or another. Without any kind of foot traction, we found ourselves carefully clambering our ways up the face of many icy boulders. More than once, Angelo’s better judgment and outstretched hand pulled me back from a less-than-advisable effort. After its many ups and downs, Fishin’ Jimmy Trail came to an intersection from which we came upon and unloaded our sacks into the Kinsman Pond Shelter. Another thirty yards past the shelter we could stand beside the not-quite-frozen pond, itself. It was 3:00 and we decided to find a tree-limb for hanging our food-sack at night and get settled in.

We found a good limb that would keep our food out of a bear’s reach and, back to the shelter, came across a lone hiker and his very happy dog, Kirby. Not having stopped moving long enough to realize how very cold it was, we explained our plans to settle in. The lone hiker shared the next day’s forecast he had read: hurricane force winds and sleet. Angelo and I looked at each other and turned to the man’s plans. He wasn’t camping; he’d be hiking out into the dark with the help of Kirby and his headlamp.

Angelo and I took out our map to assess our options. We could dig in and hope that the night’s cold and the next day’s weather were survivable. Or, we could hike back to Lonesome Lake and pay the $35 each for the relative comfort and warmth of the hut and its accommodations. In the time it took us to open the map and discuss our options, our decision was rapidly being made for us. The cold started to bring back memories of our March trip in Connecticut where we impatiently scarfed down half-cooked chick-peas for lack of warmth outside our sleeping bags. This cold night, it was looking to be even worse. Add the potential difficulties hiking out the next day and our minds were made up. Back to Lonesome Lake; but not by the crags of Fishin’ Jimmy Trail.

We would take the longer, but surely safer, route: Kinsman Pond Trail for 2.8 miles until a left turn on Cascade Brook Trail that would take us 0.8 miles to the hut. It was 3:20 and the sun would set before we made it. Nonetheless, we showed ourselves the meaning of haste. It was slow going at first along the west shore of the pond, but once the trail widened we were able to enter a light jog until the trail merged with the Cascade Brook. The trail was mostly clearly marked but snowfall and a lack of traffic made for some difficult moments. Only once we needed to split up to find the next blue trail blaze. As the trail separated from the brook again we were able to enter a full-stride run for at least a half-mile before darkness made that unwise. With the sun down and our headlamps on, we came to that intersection with less than a mile left to the hut at Lonesome Lake.

Along that last stretch we came across Kirby and his dad one more time. They must have done some running too, or just made some great time down Fishin’ Jimmy. He seemed happy to see that we were headed for a more reasonable resting spot than an hour and a half earlier. We wished each other well and continued on. By 5pm, we surprised the hut’s 23-year-old caretaker as we became her only guests for the night. Or, I should say, her only welcome guests.

Earlier that afternoon, during our lunch-break, we had learned of a neighborhood black bear that had helped itself to some of the sweets that, for some reason, had been left outside the hut. As far as we could tell, at least a jug of molasses was liberated. If the cartoons are to be believed, only honey could have made the bear happier.

All this was news to our host, Ashley, who had arrived sometime since our lunch break. She had dealt with the bear before, but she didn’t know about the bear’s dream cache left outside. She explained that a scheduled airlift of the hut’s excess food had gone uncompleted over the weekend and that the previous care-taker must have forgotten to bring the goods back inside. Whatever the case, Ashley knew, we wouldn’t be alone tonight.

We put our shoes back on and headed where the bear would surely be. It may have scurried away as we approached or it may have just been hanging out in the woods licking molasses out of its jug. We never got a good look, but when Ashley’s flashlight shone into the woods behind a row of cabins, two little scared bear eyes could be seen looking back. Ashley made a bunch of noise to keep the bear afraid of people and the hut—despite its newfound perks—and we headed back inside with some bear-mauled boxes of food left-over from the hut’s busy season.

We hung out for a couple hours, ate all of our stuffing, beans and rice, and learned some tricks for drying socks and keeping warm (not at the same time) with a bottle of hot water. Ashley’s front row seat to American hiking habits made for some good stories, particularly about the Boy Scouts.

Leaving aside the anecdote about the boy-poo left under a square of toilet paper on a cabin floor, consider the backpacking plan of the Boy Scout troupe that decided to divide the weight of its gear by some bizarre application of Taylor’s rules for efficiency. One boy carries only food, another, tents, and so forth. As if the original premise wasn’t bad enough, they put all the sleeping bags with the slow chubby kid. So when they arrived to their site, cold and tired, they couldn’t climb into their bags for another hour.

Off to our cabin, Angelo and I did some jumping jacks and stretches to get the blood flowing, jumped into our bags and placed bottles of hot water in our respective crotches. Like a sauna, our bags and our toes warmed up and we slept as well as we had hiked.

We slept in Monday morning, making our way to the kitchen at nearly 10am. We didn’t putz around long. Just enough to share some of the morning with Ashley and enjoy the last of our food (Grape Nuts) and coffee. We took some photos, bought a Lonesome Lake patch, signed the guest book, said our goodbyes and made our way back down Lonesome Lake Trail. If we had waited much longer into the day to descend we likely would have encountered deceptively thin ice and undone any gains made on the dry socks front. But we made no such missteps. By Noon we were back at the Lafayette trailhead with dry socks and yet another adventure in the bag.

I definitely learned a bunch this trip. Mostly new tips thanks to Angelo and Ashley, but also from some mistakes: There’s a reason that rule #1 to camping is check the weather ahead of time. So thanks to Kirby’s dad and the early afternoon chill that struck Kinsman Pond for driving us back to Lonesome Lake. And it might be worth investing in some of those strap-on spikes for traction on ice when hiking in New Hampshire in November. But other than that, we did pretty well. Hey. At least nobody pooped on the cabin floor.

Our (incomplete) gear lists:
  • Osprey Atmos pack
  • 15 degree down North Face sleeping bag
  • Therm-A-Rest Ridge Rest
  • Patagonia Nano-puff jacket
  • Izod raincoat/shell
  • Outdoor Research glove liners
  • Outdoor Research shell mittens
  • Eureka Timberline 2-man tent
  • Montrail boots
  • Nalgene bottle
  • Optimus Crux Lite stove
  • Wool balaclava
  • Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus pack
  • 20 degree North Face Cat's Meow sleeping bag (synthetic)
  • Jacks 'R' Better Shenandoah down quilt
  • Therm-A-Rest Z Lite
  • Feathered Friends Helios down vest
  • Wool sweater
  • EMS mid-layer
  • Smartwool baselayers (top and bottom)
  • North Face pants
  • Platypus bladder and bottle
  • Sierra Designs raincoat/shell
  • Outdoor Research mittens
  • Mountain Hardwear glove liners
  • Danner Mountain Light II boots
  • Integral Designs eVent Shortie gaiters
  • Snow Peak 700 mug
  • Snow Peak spork
  • Titanium Goat poles
  • Col d'Lizard polartec 100 balaclava


  1. Great post about a wonderful part of the country. I've been dying to get back up there especially with some snow on the ground.