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Mt Cannon in Winter

Mount Cannon and Franconia Ridge
Mount Cannon and Franconia Ridge

I co-led a second AMC trip last weekend up Mount Cannon, another 4,000 footer in Franconia Notch. This was a Boston Chapter Winter Hiking Program Trip and we had a big turnout as usual, with about 18 hikers and 7 leaders attending.  This was the 3rd WHP hike I’ve co-led this winter and I’m really glad that I signed up to help teach this course. It’s so rewarding to see the students who took the class and have been on my prior trips come out week after week to learn new skills and practice in different terrain.

There are a number of different ways up Mt Cannon, including a ski tramway and a chair lift if you’re willing to buy a lift ticket. We took the hard way and hiked up the Kinsman Ridge Trail, a 4.4 mile round trip, with 2,200 feet of elevation gain. It’s steep and provides the most direct ascent of the mountain, reaching the top of Cannon Cliff at 1.5 miles.

Mt Cannon
Mt Cannon

We started our climb from the tramway parking lot, breaking into smaller subgroups of 7-9 hikers, with 2 leaders in each group. The trail was well packed but traction was immediately required to ascend the grade. I put on my superlight aluminum crampons, but most of the other hikers wore microspikes or snowshoes. It didn’t really matter that much for this hike, but we encouraged everyone to try all of their traction aids – microspikes, snowshoes, and crampons – to start to get a feel for them.

Mt Cannon and Cannon Cliff (foreground)
Mt Cannon and Cannon Cliff (foreground)

We paused at 1.5 miles to let the others groups catch up and changed into heavier layers to stay warm, while wandering down to the top of Cannon Cliff to take in a cloud occluded view of Franconia Notch. At 1,000 feet in height, Cannon Cliff is the biggest rock face in the east and a famous venue for rock and ice climbing. Below the cliff is a steep slope of talus, where huge boulders occasionally break off from the cliff to join the jumble below. It’s an awe-inspiring view from any angle.

From here, we continued climbing up Cannon through krumholz to the summit tower on top of the peak and its 360 degree views. The tower is often extremely windy, but we had good conditions on Sunday and lingered for a while before descending.

Much to my surprise, the leader of this trip (my friend Alex) took us all into the ski lodge pub for hot drinks and beer, just a few hundred feet below the tower. I’d known that we were going to hut at the summit, but thought we’d be going to the nearby 4 season Lonesome Lake hut run by the AMC instead. It was a little odd to walk into a room with a huge flat screen TV and watch NASCAR while sipping hot cocoa, but I went with the flow and enjoyed the experience.

After this indulgence, we slid, stomped, and sledded down Mt Cannon by the same route we’d climbed, reveling in the views and camaraderie of the day. I had fun, which isn’t a word that I usually use to describe my winter hikes, which have always been more of a physical and mental challenge for me, rather than an amusement. The students have taught the teacher, and for that I thank you all.

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  1. That does look like a lot of fun sledding between the trees down a narrow path! That is one of the things that always keeps me going back for more hiking every weekend, having fun. If I don’t make it a fun time, its hard to go back the next weekend. I’d much rather get a workout hiking than sitting inside a gym working out.

  2. We were there on Sunday too! My partner and I hiked up Cannon on Kinsman Ridge from Lonesome Lake…while the south/west side of Cannon was pretty yucky with lots of ice and only microspikes, the Cannon Balls were a lot of fun to slide down, and the views from the summit and descent to the tramway were amazing! We saw the marks of all the sliders in your group on the way down.

  3. Not many 4000 footers let you take in some beer and NASCAR at the summit in the winter! Since these lodges are closed in the summer, this is one peak that is probably more hospitable in the winter then it is in the summer!

  4. That’s true. I suppose one just needs to stagger to the tram to get down. I was amazed to see skiers drinking beer at the top of the mountain. You’d think that was a bad combination. Heck, i fall fat on my face when I’m sober!

  5. I took 5 scouts up to Hale that day (from Zealand Hut). We had a blast sliding down several steep secktions of trail. I used to slide back down the trail from Tuckerman’s Ravine to Joe Dodge Lodge every February. Oh the days :)

  6. I’m thinking of hiking, carrying backcountry skis, up this route – start by buying a 1/2 day ticket, hike up, and then ski the ski trails for the afternoon.

    Should be an exhausting but fun day. Good fitness training and good experience with AT gear on groomed slopes.

    I love Cannon Mt. I’ve experienced sun, hail, fog, all in one day. I heard two seasons ago that Cannon will not allow skinning up their trails. Too bad. Magic Mt. offers free skiing to all self-propelled skiers.

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