Saturday 18 March 2017

Billed as "Lincoln on Saturday, try to find WWII bomber wreckage on Sunday" Jim Gagne our guide from last year was on-board. We are also classed (and priced) as "beginners" and quite right too. But one of Jim's many many great features is his desire to push you as far as he can go, which ideally means somewhat further than you thought you could go, no matter what your experience level. This trip was no exception. Once we got to the top, and without discussion, instead of turning around we pressed on for Lafayette. We had never attempted the whole loop in one day in any weather conditions, never mind in the middle of winter. He should have had us back in the pub long before dark, but instead we were still on the trail, coming home by headlamp. We were so tired we cancelled the following day's outing. But of course Jim had calculated correctly, and in doing so had far exceeded our expectations for the trip, and for ourselves. Absolutely outstanding.

Left to right: Brian Gourlie, RT, Ryan Grimard, Steve Ippolito, John Jagger. Snowshoed-up, ready to roll. By the way, in another example of Jim's leadership, I'm not even carrying my big winter coat, let alone wearing it. Jim made me leave it behind. I never needed it, and would have carried it for 10 hours.

So far so good. Just a regular winter stroll through the woods. But soon enough (below) the gradient increased dramatically.

RT tries to help John switch show-shoes. Jim has lent him a fancy-schmancy pair with a spring-loaded bar that can be released to provide heel support, a welcome relief for calf muscles on this multi-hour stretch with your feet horizontal trying to dig in, but the shoes pointing up the mountain.

A rare glimpse of Jim Gagne who is normally either taking the picture, or doing his level best to stay out of "ours".

One has to admit Falling Waters trail kicks one's butt each time one does it, regardless of which season one is talking about. When we finally emerged from the tree line and know we are close to the top, even I had to smile. Several of us had had to be assisted one way or another, but Jim wasn't even close to being done with us. The exhilaration of being at the top, the always enticing view of Lafayette just up the street, the stunningly beautiful day, and perhaps most importantly a universal feeling of "we are NOT bailing on my account!" seemed to give the entire team a new lease on life. So when Jim announced that he expected us to saddle up and take Lafayette it was almost a relief: how could we possibly just turn around and head home? What were we thinking?

Well we were definitely thinking of the beer already, but obviously it could, and would, wait, and oh boy would it taste better after completing the whole loop than it would after completing just half of it.

Besides, that first top when you break tree cover is Little Haystack, so by the time you get to Lincoln you feel like you are half way along the ridge already, at which point it makes even less sense to turn back. Instead this was the point where we switched to crampons.

Top: The big one is Mt Lafayette. In front of it is a lump you have to go over. Then just to the right of center is Mt Lincoln. Barely visible at this range, right on the horizon and just to the right of Lincoln is Mt Washington all dressed up in white. Below: Pretty much the same view, but not-panorama, with Layfayette and the lump much more visible, but the top of Lincoln just out of shot on the right.

Left to Right: John Jagger, RT, BG, Steve Ippolito. Behind us, the ridge dropping from right to center is the way home. Towards the right edge right on the ridgeline you can just about make out Greenleaf hut.

Looking back at the ridge, from the "way home" ridgeline I pointed out earlier. Lafayette on the left, then the lump, then Lincoln.

Soon after we began the descent, we came to an open spot that was just a solid sheet of ice with about a 40 degree slant on it. There was nothing to grab hold of on the way down, and nothing to stop you are the bottom. Yikes. I stood paralyzed at the top. "Thomson!" It was Jim, of course. "Don't be such a chicken!" He didn't use the word chicken but you catch his drift. "Point your feet straight down the mountain, and stomp! Now, move out!" One had no choice. And as in so many other things, timidity is the enemy. Confident in mind if not in spirit, I stomped off, expecting the worst, and achieving the best: the crampons didn't give an inch.

I can't believe how well these two hail mary shots came out. Such a memorable way to finish such a memorable trip, and with this evidence I will actually be able to remember it. As the sign in BG's kitchen says "of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most". Thanks for being there with me boys. I could not, and would not do it without you.