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North and South Kinsman Mountains in January

View of Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman, courtesy Pam Wilmot
View of Franconia Ridge from North Kinsman, courtesy Pam Wilmot

Try as I might, I can’t put my finger on the one reason I enjoy winter hiking and mountaineering so much. While the views from the high peaks can be exhilarating, there’s also the satisfaction of intense physical exertion, using the technical skills required for winter hiking, and the cameraderie that develops between you and your companions. I don’t know of any other experience quite like it in everyday life.

Such was the case on our hike to North (4293′) and South Kinsman (4358′) Mountains this weekend which I co-led with my friend Julie. The Kinsmans are located west of Franconia Ridge, just on the other side of Franconia Notch, a deep mountain pass on the western most side of the White Mountains. Climbing these peaks requires 3100 feet of ascent past two alpine lakes, with a total round trip distance of 10.2 miles.

Route to North and South Kinsman Mountains
Route to North and South Kinsman Mountains

Our route for this hike was the Lonesome Lake Trail, the Fishin Jimmy Trail, and the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Snow conditions were pretty good with about of foot of packed snow, although we had unseasonably high temperatures in the 40’s which made the snow quite soft and slushy to hike on. On top of that, the snow on the trees started melting off, raining huge drops onto us as we climbed in the unseasonably warm temperatures. I perspired a huge amount, wringing the sweat out of my soaking wet fleece hat during water breaks, much to the horror of my companions. No use changing to a dry hat in such temperatures, just to wet out another one.

I was also feeling a bit poorly, having just recovered from a bad cold. Luckily I have avoided the flu epidemic that was swept New England, but my lungs were still not operating at full capacity on this climb. Hopefully, my lingering cough will clear up before next weekend’s hike.

Despite feeling a bit out of sorts, we made still made incredible time on this hike finishing the entire round trip route in 7:56, including breaks. One of the challenges of this hike is that you need to climb three 4,000 footers instead of two:  South Kinsman can only be reached by climbing over North Kinsman, requiring one to re-climb the Northern peak on the hike out.

South Kinsman Summit
South Kinsman Summit

We started our hike at 8 am from the Lafayette campground and ascended up the steep Lonesome Lake trail to the hut which is open in winter and a good place to stop to get out of the weather. Although Lonesome Lake was frozen over, none of us were too keen to hike across it with the warmer temperature. We stopped briefly at the hut for a snack and then headed up the Fishin Jimmy Trail up to Kinsman Pond.

This was a much steeper climb, something we’d anticipated having hiked this trail before, given the warm temperatures. I was forced to switch out of microspikes to full crampons because the snow was balling under my boots: my crampons have ABS (anti-balling) plates, but my microspikes don’t. But switching to crampons is not that big a deal for me since I use very lightweight aluminum step-ins, and I got to practice some of my advanced mountaineering footwork during the day including french technique and the international step.

After another food break at the Kinsman Pond Shelter, we started our climb up to North Kinsman in fog and mist, although it was starting to burn off and we caught glimpses of Cannon Mountain to the north and Franconia Ridge to the east. The ridge up to North Kinsman seen from Kinsman Pond, always looks a lot more daunting than than it is on foot. Still every time I look at that ridgeline, I can’t help wonder whether I’ll make it to the top.

South Kinsman and Mount Moosilauke, beyond
South Kinsman and Mount Moosilauke, beyond

There’s an excellent viewpoint of Franconia Ridge from the summit of North Kinsman, but when we summitted it was fogged in so we continued to South Kinsman, another 0.9 miles to the south. I arrived at the false summit of South Kinsman a few minutes after the other 4 hikers in my group, who had their maps out trying to figure out if they’d reached the cairn, and urged them to continue on a few hundred yards to the official summit. I’d done this same hike a few months prior and knew about the second larger cairn up ahead.

After another short break, we about-faced and hoofed it back to North Kinsman. By then the mist had lifted partially and we were treated to views of Franconia Ridge with undercast cloud filling the notch below the peaks: well worth the wait. Re-energized, we finished re-climbing North Kinsman and then made very good time back to the hut and our cars at the base of Lonesome Lake.

This was very fun hike and hopefully the beginning of a good winter series in the coming weeks. We have snow!

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  1. I am envious. For me it sounds like a good summer route to bag the Kinsman’s which I have not yet climbed in my quest for the 4,000 foot list. Looks like it was a a great day out!! thanks so much for sharing the experience. Just got my new snowshoes…. And now the snow up and left. But winter’s not over yet.

  2. A very enjoyable write-up and great pictures. I actually crossed paths with your group on Saturday. A nice a day as days go this time of year, but I got to my car soaked to the skin, literally. No worries though, with full power blowers going in my car was dry by … Nashua.

  3. Am sure the mountains look awesome and challenging being encrusted in ice and all. But I have yet to try winter hiking. I guess it’s the cold that puts me off.

    • It’s an acquired taste. Similar to regular hiking and backpacking, but with some major differences when you get to more challenging terrain. You usually only get cold when you stand still. :-)

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