Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty: Summiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire

by Sydney Kahl / Aug 03, 2013 / 0 comments

Growing up in a family of hikers, my favorite climb in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is a trail that includes the summits of Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty. Finding ourselves in the spirit of fall hiking, my family and I booked reservations to stay overnight in the Appalachian Mountain Club Greenleaf Hut in late October, when the days were getting colder and weather conditions are unpredictable. We prepared ourselves for a cold night and set off on a brisk fall morning.

As we started up the steep Bridle Path trail, the fallen leaves created a beautiful blanket of warm colors covering the forest floor. As we gained elevation, the trees became shorter, and the trail narrower. The fresh fall air of the forest changed from the scent of a damp hardwood smell to the scent of spruce and fir needles, like the mini balsam fir pillows at L.L. Bean. I felt a cool breeze blowing across my exposed skin, indicating the first signs of winter.

Bridle Path trail, White Mountains of New Hampshire

We found ourselves in a forest of mysterious, gnarly shrub-like trees that seemed best suited to gnomes. The trail beneath our feet gave way to bare rock as the soil thinned. My dad explained this environment was because of the weather— fierce wind and freeze-thaw cycles and water runoff gradually remove the soil cover. “The soil can’t support a larger root system, so therefore the trees become smaller,” he noted. The insight seemed logical, but I would have never realized these facts on my own without his explanation.

rocky soil in the White Mountains of NH

The next morning as we began hiking, there was a layer of clouds covering the summit of Lafayette. When the clouds lifted, they had left a white coating of ice. As we climbed, the wind grew stronger and we entered a zone where a thin layer of white ice covered everything.

Cairns on a rocky train in the White Mountains of NH

At the top, the cloud of fog surrounded us in a menacing way, allowing only a few yards of visibility. While this was all an exciting adventure, part of me was disappointed because there was no view of Franconia Ridge. I had heard many great things about this hike across the ridge, the second highest range of peaks in the White Mountains. It’s one of New England’s most dramatic hikes, as some of its steep-sided edges are known as the Knifes Edge. Therefore, going forward across the mountains of Liberty and Lincoln seemed like a risk; we could easily lose sight of one another and the cairns marking the way. This decreased visibility and the layer of ice covering the trail would make an easy case for a lost family on the ridge trail— it’s happened numerous times— so we reluctantly decided to head back down the trail we just had traveled up. “We have to come back another time and finish the hike!” I begged in as frustrated a tone as I could render. My parents agreed, almost as disappointed as I was.

A cold fall day atop Lafayette, White Mountains, NH

When summer arrived, I eagerly scheduled a day when the weather looked great to hike Franconia Ridge. I grabbed my hiking boots, and my family headed out the door the morning of climbing Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty. This was the first time I ever climbed a mountain more than once. I believe in exploring new places for the sense of adventure, so my enthusiasm for the return trip is rather unusual. Starting up on this June day, I could already feel the hot sun beating down on my face, and although I put on sunscreen, I knew it was inevitable that my pale skin would get burnt. The trail was familiar, but this time I was more eager to reach to the top. We stopped for water breaks, and, standing in the very spot where my Mom took a tumble backwards into some trees the previous year, we erupted into laughter as we retold the memory to each other, even though we both know very well what had happened. 

When we reached the ridge, the rocks that were covered in a layer of ice in October had a layer of people basking in the sun. Lafayette’s summit sign was legible, unlike in the previous fall when glittering ice covered it.

Summit in winter, Lafayette, White Mountains, NH

Summit in summer, Lafayette, White Mountains, NH

The sight of the ridge trail winding out in front of me across the other peaks was inviting this time. The view-blocking fog of the previous winter had been replaced with the tremendous view of miles and miles of mountain tops.

Franconia Ridge, Bridle Path Trail, White Mountains, NH

We sat perched on a rock, silently looking over the untouched landscape, taking mental pictures of the views. I wanted to stay for hours. Departing from Lafayette summit, we strolled along the trail over the three summits. The trail is unique, as it gives a 360-degree view. Crossing the expanse of rock above tree line, feeling like I was on top of the world, I realized this was not going to be another hike I would only do once. I already wanted to do it again.




Sydney Kahl is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


All photos courtesy and copyright Sydney Kahl