July 16, 2015.
7.8 miles | 2300′ ele. gain | 4.5 hours
Lonesome Lake Trail > Dodge Cutoff > Hi-Cannon> Kinsman Ridge> Pemi Trail
This summer, I returned to the place it all began: New Hampshire. It’s where the hiking bug first bit, and changed the course of my life forever. I had one day to hang out with my brother and he wanted to go hiking. For our adventure, he chose a loop of trails that would take us on a tour of Cannon Mountain.
This was great for a couple of reasons. One: it was a loop, not a boring out-and-back. Two: HE did the planning! All I had to do was show up and start walking. I was ecstatic.
We started from the Lafayette Campground, lucky to find a parking spot. It was a weekday, and the place was crawling with hikers, campers, and who knows what else. I had forgotten how jam-packed with people it was over there. Undeterred, we crossed the creek beside my favorite “No picnics” sign and set out towards Lonesome Lake.
The trail climbed over exposed roots and rocks as it headed for the lake. It was just as I’d remembered. When I moved to the west coast, eager to climb higher mountains and find more rugged trails, I was disappointed. All I found were well-graded, well-signed, manicured trails with more switchbacks than roots. I couldn’t believe it. Over time, I learned to seek out more challenging trails, but I still longed for the days of fighting my way up the grueling east coast hiking paths.
At the lake, we scanned the signage to find the steepest route up to Cannon Mountain. The Dodge Cutoff brought us to Hi-Cannon, a no-nonsense type of trail that wasted no time gaining elevation. We stopped frequently to catch our breath and praised the tree cover for blocking out the hot, summer sun. Along the way we crossed an old, wooden ladder bolted into the side of the mountain. We also stepped out to an unmarked viewpoint located atop a rocky precipice that dropped seemingly all the way down to the highway.
Back on the main trail we began to hear voices and see tourists who didn’t look like they’d hiked all the way up here; we had made it to the top of the tram. We wandered up to the viewpoint tower and were surprised by a cold breeze. Views seen, we then went back down and over to the base of the tram stop. There, we sat at a bench overlooking the ski track and ate our lunch. A fascinating mix of humanity buzzed and swirled about at the top, all packed up for their “hiking” adventures. I doubt many of them strayed much more than a tenth of a mile from the tram.
We had other plans. From our lunch perch we headed east on the Kinsman Ridge trail to descend the rocky slabs back into the forest. From the slabs, we were treated to beautiful views of the Franconia Ridge, a place I’d hiked so many times before. But, it had been a decade or so since I’d tramped across those mountain tops. It was nice to see them again.
We followed the blue blazes back to treeline and kept descending. The trail was steep, rooty, rocky, and sometimes wet. It was quite an adventure, especially considering we were hiking on a popular trail in a state park! A family of four was headed up as we were nearly down. Not sure how much further they made it; from the sounds of their conversation, I think they believed they were almost done.
When we reached the valley floor, the Kinsman Ridge trail dropped us onto the Pemi Trail. This family-friendly footpath led us along a relatively flat strip of land paralleling the highway all the way back to the car. Along the way we passed by another lake and walked beneath the cliffy east side of Cannon Mountain. This used to be the site of the “Old Man in the Mountain,” a chunk of rock that resembled a man’s face in profile. Much to the state of New Hampshire’s dismay, this iconic rock formation sloughed off the face of the mountain in 2003. A memorial and interpretive area remain, ensuring that future visitors of the state learn about the history of their precious stone face.
I enjoyed the opportunity not only to get back into the White Mountains but also to share this experience with my brother. He had recently gotten into hiking and was going through many of the firsts that I remember as I was blundering through the learning curve many years ago. If we do one of these hikes together each time I visit, it will only take 47 more years to complete the list of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers!