With the recent rain and warm temps I knew there would be a significant decrease in snow compared to prior weeks. This proved to be true once I entered Franconia Notch. Franconia Ridge looked just barely speckled with the white stuff and the snow on the shoulder of the road was a small hump at best. Once through the notch and off of 93 the snow completely disappeared revealing sad and soggy yellow fields. There wasn't a speck of snow at the trail head, and maybe a small patch of ice here and there at best. I got out of my car and proceeded to gear up and remove my snowshoes from my pack. One thing was for sure, they were going to sit this hike out. Soon after, everyone else pulled in and we were on trail shortly before our planned 9:30 start time (yes, very late start for me but some people [Bob] insist on getting their beauty sleep).
This would be my third time hiking the Kinsmans and the first time doing so via the Mt. Kinsman trail and I have to say, wow, what a way better approach to bag these summits! The trail has easy to moderate grades for the first couple of miles and very few stream crossings (but don't worry, I managed to find a rock covered with black ice on the first crossing...you can figure out the rest). At around the 2 mile mark there is a short side path (0.2 miles) that leads to Bald Knob. Bald Knob affords awesome open views from its flat and spacious summit and would be a great hike just by itself.
After the junction with Bald Knob the trail begins to climb more moderately. It is here that we started to encounter bigger and more consistent patches of ice which eventually turned into one long stretch of flow ice. The woods around us were completely bare of ice and snow until shortly before the junction of Kinsman Ridge. Navigating the gigantic ice flow was tricky in spots (even trickier on the way down) but thankfully warm temps that day made the ice slightly soft allowing our spikes to grip a lot better then if it were frozen solid. Once up on the ridge we had a nice reprieve from the continuous ice with a nice packed out sidewalk of hard snow. We took in the views from the two awesome ledge outlooks on North Kinsman then made our way over to the open yet shrubby summit of South Kinsman. We took a few pics here and started back on our way as this summit is much more exposed and winds were blowing steadily. After a quick snack in the col, we headed back up to North Kinsman then started our way back down to the car.
The descent was a bit tedious due to the continuous stretches of giant ice but we had fun joking around and butt sliding in places (and turtle-ing, see picture at start of post and below). Denise gave me a run for my money in the falling category (I believe she wants the title of Ms. Falls-A-Lot)! Dusty looked uncertain of some of the steep icy sections but being the super dog he is he powered through them! Kyle managed to stay on his feet the entire time despite some interesting moves (he actually hops like a rabbit while negotiating ice flows). And Bob managed to stay on his feet all but one time I believe, probably during the short time we (Denise and I) insisted on taking our microspikes off because we were positive we were past all the serious icy spots (oops, too soon?!)
All in all, another great hike though I wish there was a bit more snow to cover up all the nasty ice in the mountains right now. Its weird to hike on bare ground with winter hiking boots on! Thanks again Denise and Kyle for joining me on yet another winter peak bagging excursion, congratulations on your redlining/winter check marks! A special thanks to Bob for telling me to "take it down a notch" when I openly admitted to struggling with my pace due to breathing difficulties (it turns out I was developing a cold, yuck). I have this notion that if I am slow I am a weakling though deep down I know this is not the case, it is the competitor within me that makes me think this way. I will have to learn how to silence her while on the AT and hike my own hike so as not to get burned out. It's funny how I have always been and will probably always be, my own biggest competitor.