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.
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.
We paused at 1.5 miles to let the other 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 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 amusement. The students have taught the teacher, and for that, I thank you all.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 31st ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine