Taking advantage of the full moon (the second of the month), our objective was to ascend the Flume Slide by moonlight, traverse along Franconia Ridge, and arrive at Mt. Lafayette in time to enjoy the sunrise in the cool, dry December air. Only... there was no moon, no sunrise, and the December air was neither cool nor dry.|
On the drive up to the Flume, we were greeted with sheets of rain intermingled with dense patches of fog. Full moon... new moon... in these conditions, it didn't really make much of a difference. Despite the foreboding conditions, the rain lightened up just before we reached the parking area, where several of the hikers stripped down to T-shirts to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather.
In the summer, the direct route up the flume is only open to those who are willing to pay a fee to use the ladders and boardwalks. In the winter, the ladders and boardwalks are removed, and the narrow chute transforms into an ice climbing wonderland. We arrived at the awkward date after the boardwalk has been removed, but before the falls are frozen. Of course, that didn't stop us from trying to navigate the obviously impassable route directly up the waterfall, resulting in several of us becoming quite wet.
Concluding that the obviously impassible route was, indeed, impassible, we backtracked a bit until we found an easy climb up the southern cliff face and started our long bushwhack through the woods. Our intent was to cut east through the forest until we met up with the main Flume Slide Trail. After a couple hours of slogging through fresh mud, we found the main trail, which cut directly up the side of the mountain via a slick rock face. The rain made the route treacherous, so the ascent was slow and arduous.
Arriving at the summit of Mt. Flume, we stopped to admire the view of... a dense fog... before beginning the traverse along the ridge. As we headed north, we were greeted with similar views atop Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack, and Mt. Lincoln. As the sun rose, the clouds started to rise from the valleys and pour over the ridgeline. Every so often, we were teased with a brief glimpse of Mt. Cannon across the valley, before it would disappear just as quickly as it came. As we rose back up to Mt. Lafayette, the highest point of the traverse, we ascended back into the clouds for another viewless summit.
Descending via the Greenleaf Trail, we finally dipped below the clouds for a sustained view of Mt. Cannon. The sun, although still obscured by the clouds, heated the valley to make for remarkably pleasant T-shirt-and-shorts hiking conditions.
We arrived at the cars sore, wet, and utterly exhausted. It was nearly noon, and everyone was over 24 hours without sleep. But still, the need for sleep came second to the need for sustanance. We found a great little diner in Lincoln that serves all-day breakfast, and ordered a full round of the "Hungry Man Special."
All in all, a remarkable success, despite less-than-favorable conditions. But for a hike like that, once in a blue moon is often enough.