Article by Fred Shirley reproduced from the Summer 2006 issue of Heart of New Hampshire magazine. Back to: NH Mountain Hiking
Mt. Lafayette looms above AMC's Greenleaf Hut.
A mountain may seem immutable, but nature is forever changing its appearance: clear or stormy, day or night, and a progression of seasons. The photos here -- all of Mt. Lafayette -- reveal one mountain's varying face: awesome, sometimes scary, always interesting.
At 5260 feet, Mt. Lafayette is the 6th tallest mountain in New Hampshire, the pinnacle of Franconia Ridge which forms the eastern wall of Franconia Notch. Except for the Presidential Range there is no other area in the White Mountains with more above-treeline exposure. In summer you can stay overnight on Lafayette's shoulder in AMC's Greenleaf Hut; or, in winter, you can swing by just for the great panoramic view.
When summer mellows Lafayette's face, crowds of people come to hike the mountain and perhaps take an on-top-of-the-world walk along Franconia Ridge. Several times I have tried to capture in a two-dimensional photo the three-dimensional thrill of standing on a mountain precipice. The photo of Nancy on the edge is about as close as I have ever gotten. Not a good place for someone afraid of heights!
Fall is my favorite time to hike: cool temperature, few bugs and few crowds. But it is also a time of uncertain weather. In the photo of hikers headed up Skookumchuck Trail, you want to ask, "Is this fall or winter?"
Colorful foliage speaks "fall" but snow cover argues "winter." As we neared Mt. Lafayette's summit, it seemed as though winter had won out: the photo of Dave emerging through snow-covered trees was taken on this same October day.
The silhouetted hiker scene occurred during a Franconia Ridge moonlight hike and was as close as I ever hope to get to Mt. Lafayette's angry face. Ten minutes before moonrise the sky was clear and the vista beautiful. Then -- BLAM! -- a cloud rolled over us like a freight train: wild, unpredictable, uncivilized; and no view at all! The sun struggled to shine for an instant through a thin section of incoming darkness, which was when I took the photo.
Half an hour later the cloud released us (whew!) to continue our hike across the ridge and descend Falling Waters Trail by headlamp. Once, when I was in the lead and looked back, it seemed as if a line of religious pilgrims was snaking down the mountain by torchlight. And, after the mini-storm experience, it kind of felt that way, too.
We live in a land of four-season beauty. Hiking year round is a great way to enjoy it!
For more information about hiking Mt. Lafayette and other NH mountains, visit my NH Mountain Hiking website at www.nhmountainhiking.com.