October 7-12, 1926: Franconia Range trip report

OCTOBER 9th

Thick mist, and patches of crumbly snow. But, happily, the fireplace was sheltered by big old stumps which we left in it to burn out, and we soon had a hot breakfast cooking. That morning we swore to rest a little. But we walked up to the peak about a mile up, and explored about on the crags and among the little stunted balsams. We found some delicious mountain cranberries in sheltered places, and Daddy took off one of his socks to carry some in–for of course we were wearing two pair.

Each balsam had on every little green twig a row of little white crumbs of snow. Up there on the wind-swept peak I discovered the little plant mountain daisy, which I had found before on Chocorua. The blossoms are tiny and white, but very lovely. Up there we ate some chocolate and sipped water–then we frisked about in the snow some more, and went down.

Also that day we walked down the trail directly down Liberty for a little way, in the hopes of meeting Leo, our comrade whom we hoped to join that day.

That night a heavy wind came up, the mist thickened, the temperature lowered. I said that night to Daddy: “Maybe there will be frost feathers in the morning–no?”

“Not cold enough.”

OCTOBER 10th

The next morning the nearer mountains were uncovered–the mist seemed to be lifting, but clouds still hung low over the crimson flanks of Kinsman, and the great cliffs and crags of Mount Cannon were draped with it. I went out behind the cabin to see, and there, on the north side of it, were frost feathers–little ones to be sure, about one quarter of an inch long, but unmistakably frost feathers. And that meant that there would probably be much bigger ones on the exposed rock of Liberty. After breakfast we went up, loaded only with the package of raisins, dates, cheese, and chocolate. But instead of taking the trail up on the peak of Liberty, we branched off to the left on the Ridge Trail which leads over Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette.

Frost Feathers, aka soft rime

This was the beginning of one of the most beautiful walks of my whole life. Looking up a steep trail were banks of clean snow, unmarred by human feet, but often with the tracks of rabbits or small birds. The great tapering balsams in sheltered places were shaggy with snow, marvellous drooping white boughs, and banks and glades of balsams and snow. The little ones were often perfect in shape, and the little whorls of twigs below their tops were all white–like little silvery stars. And then you look down a trail into those glorious sweeping branches. Looking closely, we saw a small frost feather formation on the windward side of every twig, sometimes even smaller than the ones of the cabin, and these helped to make the twigs so completely white–only here and there the tips of fresh green needles burst through the snow.

We were on a broad saddle-back now, between Liberty and Haystack, and as we mounted higher and higher on the side of Haystack, we could see larger frost feathers on the exposed tips of taller trees, sometimes an inch long. The ridge became smaller and smaller–we were well up towards the peak when, over at the south, the clouds broke. Oh, there were the peaks of Flume and Liberty, small wisps of white mist drifting off them. LIberty was sharp as a tooth, Flume farther off, lower, more rounded, and showing the knife-edge passage along its peak. The sky was white behind them, the peaks themselves were dreamy quiet and green with half-snowed trees. Way down on their flanks the snow reached, then blended into Indian red and crimson. When we had seen Flume and Liberty from the long green field below, their colors, so sharp and clear, seemed to flaunt defiance to the sky–now they were its own pearly color, part of it, dropped down from it, and yet–clearly and dreamily outlined against the white.

To get to Haystack for lunch and back to the Liberty shelter in time to gather the evening wood supply would mean a steady plug, so we pushed on, just as we saw the clouds gather on the peaks again.

We plodded on, through the beautiful glades and paradises of the snow-balsams. Climbing up higher and higher towards the peak of Haystack, we scrambled now over difficult ledges, and the growth became scantier and scantier, also much more packed down with snow. We were near the top–now we looked down on a vast slope of stunted snowy balsams. We knew what a long steep slope it was, yet we could only see a little way down–then the balsams and the snow just blended with the mist.

Soon the trail was going nearly level again, and the balsams were much higher and shaggy. Here we could see frost feathers on their wind-tossed tops–some of them three inches long. We never knew what was coming to us, but we thought that these frost feathers were marvellously long, it was more then anything we had expected. Some of the tops of the trees were laden down with them and with snow–each little twig was blessed with them–and was moulded among its marvellous traceries and delicate patterns.

Thinking we were on the wooded top of Haystack, we spread out the old rubber blanket over a snowy log, sat down, and ate our candied luncheon, cheese, chocolate, raisins, and dates, and water so cold that it made our teeth burn in our mouths.

Again, on the way back, we went into ecstasies of delight over the snow-glades amid the balsams. Before I loved the white pine more than any other tree–now the balsam is my favorite–the balsam is the tree which Nature blesses with her mountain-ferns–frost feathers. Again we had a view of snowy Flume and Liberty even clearer than before. The sun struck Flume feebly and made it glisten, behind it the clouds lifted for a moment and showed, grape purple and russet, far-off mountains. There was a space of blue sky just over Flume, fringed with a curtain of almost gleaming mist–sky so blue it seemed to our white-blind eyes green, and then along on the horizon behind Flume were massive white cloud-banks. What a difference there was between the low russet and purple and the glistening white of the near peaks. We went on through the snow, and had a good margin of time to haul in wood.

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