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Backpacking Kinsman and The Cannon Balls

South Kinsman (4358)
South Kinsman (4358)

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. Kinsman and the Cannon BallsDue 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.

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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.

Kinsman Ridge Trail Up Mt Cannon (4100)
Kinsman Ridge Trail Up Mt Cannon (4100)

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.

Hiking through Krumholz to the Cannon Tower
Hiking through Krumholz to the Cannon Tower

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.

Northeast Cannonball overlooking Lonesome Lake
Northeast Cannonball overlooking Lonesome Lake

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.

Winter Training

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.

Red Hot MSR Whisperlite Stove and Reactor Pot
Red Hot MSR Whisperlite Stove and Reactor Pot

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.

Platform Camping at the Kinsman Pond Junction
Platform Camping at the Kinsman Pond Junction

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 of us has awoken in the early morning hours wondering if 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.

Scott takes in Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman
Scott takes in Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman (4293)

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 the smaller of the two peaks.

North Kinsman from South Kinsman Mountain
North Kinsman from South Kinsman Mountain

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!

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  1. What a timely post. In just over a week I’ll be taking my nine year old hiking int he same area. I plan on hiking up to the Lonesome Lake Huts by way of the Basin-Cascade trail. I have a specific question, the trail description refers to a missing bridge near where the Basin-Cascade trail meets the Cascade Brook trail, can a nine year old ford this without getting soaked?

    • I haven’t been on that trail for a few years and don’t have any idea. I suggest you ask on some of the local hiking boards like New England Trail Conditions.
      The online White Mountain Guide also purports to have up to date trail info.
      In general, the Cascade Trail is quite wet, so your 9 year old is bound to get wet at some point.

  2. I wouldn’t worry to much about a red hot whisperlite. At least with mine, that’s a sign its running well.

    • I appreciate the reassurance! Seemed like a very efficient stove. I carried up a big bottle of fuel and it hardly made a dent. Not like melting snow, but the Whisperlite appears to put my old Simmerlite to shame.

  3. Yup, I’ll second the red hot nature of that stove. Burns hot and loud! Got mine soon after they first came out. Do you have the wind shield/reflector as well? Guessing you just removed it to take the photo.

    The only issue I have with it is that the little hole/gas exit gets clogged pretty frequently on mine and I have a teeny tiny little wire tool that I stick down in it to unclog it. Hopefully they’ve improved that.

    Looks like a really nice trip.

    • I forgot to pack the reflector – big Doh there! I don’t usually carry one with a canister stove and just plain forgot. I realized it just as I was setting it on fire.

      This Whisperlite has a shaker pin built into the jet to make it self-cleaning, or at least more so.

      “Clean the jet with an easy shake—a weighted pin inside the jet pushes away any debris or soot to reduce maintenance”

      I’m not sure if that’s new to this stove or not, but I remember it being part of some MSR stoves. It looks like MSR now has a universal version of the Whisperlite which is compatible with liquid fuel and a canister, as well as a multi-fuel international version. Anyway, so far, so good. I really like the integrated pot stand, and that reactor pot is a sight to behold with the built in flux ring heat exchanger coil.

      This was a very good trip, and on the back of another great hike I took the day before.

      • Yup, the shaker pin is new. Nice! I often had to use the cleaner wire/pin while the stove was on; had to stick it in and remove it quickly so it didn’t go out. :^) This should make that maneuver simpler.

        I like the look of that pot. That’s my favorite feature of my jetboil, the flux ring on the pot.

        I need to get back on the trail!

        • At 2.5 liters that pot gives me a lot more capacity to melt snow and reduce fuel use.The trick, which I have yet to figure out, is how to pack it when mixed in with my winter gear so that it doesn’t require a larger backpack. This is less dependent on the size of the pot and more on the way I configure the stuff around it.

          Just one of those little things I obsess over.

          Taking it on a trip seems to accelerate figuring this kind of stuff out.

          And yes, you do need to go take a hike!

        • Just some info on the stove.
          The shaker pin is also in my 6-7 year old one, not something new.
          but it looks like you got hold on the “old version”. Last year (or winter season) MSR released two new ones. As Earlylite mentioned, one “universal” that burns both whitegas and propane (guess also kerostene) but also one that just burns whitegas/kerostene. The are supposed to have better simmering than the old one. Thats the only cons i have about it.
          It works very well, and if not, easy to fix. Shake, or change some rubber rings.

          Very nice to see some winter hiking coming up, and nice article!


  4. I should clarify; *new compared with my over 20 yo stove*. :^)

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