My friend Yorghos and I co-led an Appalachian Mountain Club backpacking trip up to Kinsman ridge last weekend just before the landfall of Hurricane Sandy. For this trip, we climbed Cannon Mountain, The Cannon Balls, and North and South Kinsman before getting hiking out on the Fishin Jimmy Trail past Lonesome Lake and back to Franconia Notch. This turned out to be a surprisingly challenging route over some steep and rugged terrain, but equally rewarding with great autumn weather and fantastic views. Due to the storm, we altered our original intended route to eliminate the backcountry part of the trip and stay closer to civilization just in case we ran into difficulties such as an injury along the way. We were also concerned about getting participants out of the mountains and on their way back home by early afternoon Sunday to avoid any travel complications. Our original route had been to start at Kinsman Notch and hike along the Appalachian Trail past Mount Wolf over South and North Kinsman Mountains to Kinsman Pond, before exiting over the Cannon Balls and Mt Cannon.
To save time we started and ended at the Cannon Tramway trail head, climbed Mount Cannon directly, looping over the Cannon Balls to Kinsman Pond for the night. The next day, we climbed North and South Kinsman on an in and out, before exiting over the Fishin Jimmy Trail past Lonesome Lake and down to Franconia Notch, with a short hike under Cannon Cliff back to our cars. This still turned out to be a quite challenging route but it gave us a lot more bail out options without extra car spots.
New Respect for Mount Cannon
We started our trip by climbing Cannon Mountain up the Kinsman Ridge Trail from the tramway parking lot. This a very strenuous climb just north of Cannon Cliff gaining 2,100 feet in just 2 miles, up an unrelenting rocky trail with tricky footing. Yorghos led and I hiked sweep, pausing frequently on the climb up to let the group catch their breath and establish a sustainable climbing pace. We were soon all streaming perspiration and as we huffed and puffed up the slope, struggling for secure footing on the wet streaming rock. Not an easy start at all, but one that matched much of the rest of the day’s hike.
At the top of this climb, we paused for a long break on top of impressive Cannon Cliff, to take in the view of Franconia Ridge just on the other side of Franconia Notch. None of the people on our hike had ever been on top of Cannon Cliff or seen Franconia Ridge from this close, so Yorghos and I pointed out its features including Mounts Lafayette and Lincoln, Mount Truman and Northwest Lafayette, the Skookumchuck Trail, Agony Ridge, and Little Haystack.
We resumed hiking and summitted Cannon, lingering on the viewing platform while we inspected our next destination The Cannon Balls. These are a series of three 3,000 footers located along the Kinsman Ridge Trail between Cannon Mountain and Kinsman Pond. All of these hills are round and kettle shaped, hence the name The Cannon Balls. Yorghos and I were particularly interested in climbing Northeast Cannon Ball (3769) which is on the New Hampshire Hundred Highest peak list. I don’t do much hiking on this side of Franconia Ridge, so this was probably going to be my best chance to bag it in the next 12 months.
While climbing The Cannon Balls is not particularly difficult, the hard part is getting to them in the first place since they’re protected on all sides by major ascents. Once on location, the only real difficulty is navigating the cols between the peaks which are quite steep and require good scrambling skills. This was somewhat challenging for our group since we were heavily laden with overnight packs, but it would be less of a problem for day hikers hiking in on a long summer day with more daylight.
After The Cannon Balls, we arrived at Kinsman Pond, a large glacial pond situated beneath North Kinsman by about 3:45 pm in the afternoon. We decided to call it a day and camp at the tent platforms located here. Sunset was at 5:47 pm, so this gave us time to pitch our tents, resupply our water and start dinner before darkness. I was fairly beat myself and looked forward to turning in early and sleeping a full 8 hours – I love sleeping outdoors and sleep well, especially when I’m tired and tucked away in my 20 degree down bag.
In addition to a long rest, I was also looking forward to playing with my new stove and pot for the winter, a MSR Whisperlite liquid fuel stove and a 2.5 Reactor Pot with heat exchange ring built-in, which I hope to use on winter backpacking trips to melt snow. It boils a quart of water in 3.5 minutes, which seems pretty damn fast, though I’m not sure the stove and the pot are a perfect match, since the stove gets red hot when running under this pot. Maybe that’s just a reflection on the stove’s steel burner ring, but it sure looks pretty ominous! More testing is obviously required.
You read that correctly. I was using a liquid fuel stove on this trip, as well as carrying other winter gear list items in order to train up to carry a heavier winter backpacking load. In addition to bringing my Black Diamond Firstlight Tent, a Western Mountaineering sleeping bag, and an nPower PEG, I also used was using a Granite Gear Crown VC 60 backpack which I may try to use this winter as a bushwhacking pack or possibly an overnight pack. I don’t leave much to chance in winter and these test runs are useful for seeing the strengths and weakness of gear in the field instead of on paper.
Climbing North and South Kinsman
We woke the next morning at 6 am in order to climb North and South Kinsman early before hiking out. It had been a chilly night, but the moon had been nearly full casting a bright light over our tents under starry skies. Several us has awoken in the early morning hours wondering if the the sun has already risen, only to discover that it was just 1 am and we had plenty of time for more sleep.
The group had a quick breakfast and finished packing early, so we got an earlier than expected start at 7:45 am. Although the temperature was 50, the wind was quite brisk and we layered up with fleece and hats as we climbed the slick wet rocks leading to the North Kinsman summit. I will be back at these same rocks in January and expect to use crampons and an ice axe to make this climb.
The summit of North Kinsman was only 0.5 miles from our campsite so this was a fast climb. We paused to take a few photos of the Franconia Notch from a ledge near the summit and then hurried another 0.9 miles to the South Kinsman summit, which is more exposed to the wind. This was a much more strenuous leg with more scrambling, but still a nice walk through high level forest. We paused for a few photos, and to look back at North Kinsman, which is smaller of the two peaks.
From here, we hightailed it back to Kinsman Junction, and down the very rough and steep Fishin’ Jimmy Trail to the Lonesome Lake Hut and a long lunch break, where I munched on dark chocolate from Yorghos and Cheddar Cheese from Scott. Mmmmm! From the hut we hiked down to Franconia Notch via the Lonesome Lake Trail and along the Pemi trail back to our cars at the Tramway lot, arriving at 2 pm, with time to spare before the beginnings of Sandy arrived in New England.
Despite the revised trip plan, we’d bagged all of the peaks we’d originally planned to climb, and had a challenging and rewarding overnight hike. This was a great group and I met a bunch of new hikers who I hope to hike with again. Thanks for a great trip!