October 7-12, 1926: Franconia Range trip report

The Franconia Range, New Hampshire. Photo taken from the Kinsman Range looking east.

 

At Liberty Shelter: Franconia Range
October 7–12, 1926

OCTOBER 7th

On the seventh we started out from Little Sunapee, cobalt blue and fringed with scarlet wind-tossed maples and dark pines and spruces–on a curving road over gold-prinked hills, among the draping boughs and fiery leaves. It was up beyond Plymouth when sunset overtook us, a marvellous and bewitching sunset, which we caught glimpses of from time to time. First we saw it over Newfound Lake with its two green islets–there we saw a long low bank of yellow-russet clouds, edged on top with a brilliant gold cloud of sharp mountain-peaks. The sky had a rosy glow above the clouds, and in the north and south were high narrow tiers of pink. We longed for it, but we could not wait–it vanished behind dark trees. Suddenly they broke for a moment–we saw another and an entirely different sunset. Now the west was a maze of fire, and nearer us, partly covering it, were dark purple clouds–drifting about and changing. Again we saw it–there were brilliant russet tiers in the north–but the west was almost concealed by those same violet clouds, much thicker now, and breaking open sometimes and showing through arching windows the fire and glow and rosiness. Now gone again–and for a long time we had no more glimpses, but at last, when we thought it must be over, the trees broke, and lo! all was changed–the deep violet clouds had vanished–now there were long narrow tiers of dark yellow in the west, blended with tiers of dusky blue shadow.

We passed the glorious green field from where the Franconia Ridge looms up, and we could feel dimly the presence of those sometimes terrible and awesome mountains–or smiling–sparkling–but always proud.

The Dartmouth Outing Club cabin is near the Moosilauke Brook–a rushing river which thunders over slippery boulders. In places it seems glassy black, ruffled with the white of eddies–sometimes they are strange foam-yellow–sometimes the whole great brook comes rushing through a deep crack a foot wide, with a mysterious crash and whirling foam. Sometimes a black glassy pool surges out from high crags and swings down a green cascade.

There are marvellous rocks to explore on, rocks full of mysterious pools with sheer walls. Often these pools carry several big stones–strange mottled mineral effects, sparkling with mica–all the stones smooth and oval or round. I discovered a tiny cave above a large rock pool, a cave set with stunted spruces and other shrubs. Just below there the stream ran silver and blue with sunlight, through a dark grove of solemn green hemlocks touching their foreheads to the cloud-fringed sky.

OCTOBER 8th

If only I had waked Daddy up I should have prevented a disaster. Why didn’t I? There is no adequate reason. I wasn’t in the habit of waking people up–and I wanted to explore the brook. If I had only thought one minute longer than I did!

We broke camp as quickly as possible, and started for The Flume–from there we were to proceed up the Flume Trail, and up the slide, and on over the peak of Flume, down into the col between Flume and Liberty, then up and over Liberty’s shark-tooth peak, and down to the little shelter on its flanks just below the summit.

The long stretch of green field was fresh and sparkling, and there above it were the mountains we were going to climb–here many hands have failed–here is an invincible challenge–for me mountain-fever is not an illness–but an indescribable longing.

First, way off to the right of the range, was Osseo, that low long mountain, and its sudden deep blue peak with sheer crags was seen behind the shoulder of a flaming hill; then Flume, gashed with its stupendous slide, the peak showing to the left of the same hill; then the green-flanked Liberty, with its summit wavering with sharpness, prinked with great brown crags; then dark-peaked Haystack, not showing far above its ridge; then far-off dreaming Lincoln; and Lafayette in its fringey mantle of white mist.

When I had been on my first northern mountains it was hard to believe where I was. I had heard Chocorua and Moosilauke spoken of, and I knew that I was going to climb them, but when I was really there I could hardly believe it. I have overcome that–all I feel now is an indescribable sublime isolation–I feel the character and spirit of each mountain upon me like a strange dark-eyed thought.

We pushed on through the crimson-draped roads–and often we saw Liberty before us, dull green, with bubbles of rock near the peak–Liberty with its arch of blue sky. Clouds were well down on Lafayette–now Lincoln was among them, too. We reached the Flume House, parked our car, and struggled into our packs, then strode into the driveway that leads to the Flume gorge. All during that trip my pack seemed to grow lighter, not heavier, but at first I wondered whether, going up the great white slide, it wouldn’t really pull me over backwards. I was worried about Daddy, too. His load seemed tremendous–I could barely lift it; it crumpled him up somewhat–and, well, could he carry it up the slide?

The first spectacular thing in the Flume was a long, undulating, but very smooth rock or rocks, over which the Flume brook runs in flood-time. Oh, it was slippery, even though dry! Our hob-nails slipped disgracefully on it, with no more hold than wet rubber soles could have given. If the slide was going to be as slippery as that–well, never mind what I was thinking!

The board walk began to grow steeper, foot-braces about a foot apart appeared–it was wet and the foot-braces were needed very much. Then I saw where I was. The echo of the brook beneath filled the air, leaped about and roared and thundered. My voice was feeble, and my thoughts could not hear themselves. The sky had narrowed to a small slit of blue, and on both sides of me were high dark walls of rock, covered in places with moss and little climbing ferns. It seemed to be raining slightly–the air was full of wetness from the lashing captive brook and dripping precipices.

“What is this famous Flume?” I had said before to Daddy.

“Oh, just a little gorge where the Flume brook comes through.”

“Well, then, what are all these people crazy to see?”

“They get wild and excited about almost anything, because other people do, that’s all.”

I had to be content–naturally I didn’t expect much. In fact, when we had come to the long smooth rock I had thought it was the climax.

“Are there any falls in this gorge?” said I.

“Oh, I think there’s a nice little cascade there.”

When we came to that long rock, I had said: “Is this it?” I was amazed even at that.

He was looking mischievous. “Part of it.” I was excited.

At the head of those great walls were two dazzling, thundering silver cascades.

The Flume Cascade postcard

 

We left the grim rock walls a-whirl with their water echoes. We filled our canteens at a whirling pool of the same brook, where so many canteens have before been filled. Again a strange feeling–the anticipation of mountainous isolation was upon us, we felt it drawing tighter like a shadow as we strode up the beginning of the leafy trail towards purple-gleaming Flume and green Liberty. Sometimes we saw the slide ahead, steep–oh, steep! After quite a little walk, when we were near the foot of the slide, we sat down on a mossy rock and ate soft bread and butter and cheese–the bread left over from supper at the Agassiz Basins cabin. Then we had chocolate and small sips of icy cold water. A royal dinner could have tasted no better.

Travels Without a Donkey

In the summer of 1932, eighteen year-old Barbara Follett and her “semi-platonic” friend Nickerson Rogers quit New York City and headed to Maine with the plan of following (or semi-following) the nascent Appalachian Trail from its northern terminus at Katahdin as far south as they could get before winter set in. To make matters tricky, the AT had not yet been cut in Maine, so bush-whacking and guesswork were in order. Travels Without a Donkey recounts their adventures from Katahdin to Lake Umbagog on the New Hampshire border. They then continued their walk over the White Mountains and down Vermont’s Long Trail to western Massachusetts. They had been planning to hitch-hike to Tennessee to continue their journey along the AT, but something changed their minds and they sailed to Majorca instead, spending the winter of 1932 and most of 1933 exploring southern Europe.

Barbara camping on the Appalachian Trail, summer of 1932, photo by Nickerson Rogers

“It’s spring,” Nick said.

In the very shadow of New York’s skyline, one solitary white crocus had blossomed in a scrawny patch of grass.

“What shall we do about it?” he demanded.

“What does anybody in New York do about it? Grin and bear it.”

“Come on, Bar–show a spark of life, old gal. I’m getting out of here this summer.”

“But — ”

“Getting out. Leaving the office. Going into the north woods. Mountains. It’s spring, child!”

I looked at him to make sure he was serious. In these depressed times, one didn’t leave good jobs in order to run away to the north woods. His brown eyes sparkled. But then, they always did. He was the one person in New York whose eyes always sparkled.

“All right — I wish you joy.”

He fished in various pockets and finally produced a little square of white metal, with a monogram and the words: “Appalachian Trail – Maine to Georgia.”

“That’s what I’m going to do,” he explained. “I haven’t had a walk for ages. Well, I’m going to have a real one now.”

“Not from Maine to Georgia!”

“Why not? It’s only two thousand miles or so.”

“It’ll take all summer.”

“Can you think of a pleasanter way to spend the summer?”

I looked at the solitary white crocus in the scrawny patch of grass. “No,” I said. “I can’t.”

Over lunch that day, he told me about this Appalachian Trail. It is a footpath, starting at Katahdin, that grand old mountain in Maine, and ending at Mount Oglethorpe way down in Georgia, after having crossed the highest and handsomest country of all the states between. Now, owing to the diligence and energy of walking clubs in various parts of the country, only a few miles of trail remains to be broken. But two years ago, when Nick told me about it over our luncheon, a large part of the trail, especially in Maine, was still theory–a dream, an ambition. Where it had become an actuality, it was marked with metal squares like the one he had shown me.

Quite a grand project, it sounded. I just sat staring and smiling, while he talked.

“Bar,” he began again, “I think I’d like you in shorts.”

“Shorts!”

“With your hair cut, flying in the wind–your swell red hair.”

“Cut my hair!”

“Your freckles are out-of-doorsy. You belong out-doors.”

“I haven’t got freckles,” I protested.

“Yes you have–very swell ones.”

“I know I belong out-doors,” I agreed. “I get mountain-fever. Got it now–something awful. I want to climb Wildcat.”

“We will,” he said happily. “I didn’t want to walk all the way to Georgia alone, anyway.”

“Are you asking me to come with you?”

“Of course! What else?”

“But I can’t — ”

“Nonsense. We start up north the first of July. You give ’em notice.”

“But, Nicky — ”

“‘But’ isn’t worthy of you, Bar. Not in spring.”

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Some friends had a camp on a New Hampshire lake. It was there that Nick met me, promptly on the first of July. He was sunburned and smiling, comfortable in old clothes. Without stopping a minute, he deposited me and my pack in a borrowed canoe.

We paddled vigorously into the sunlit late–magic to someone parched from too much New York. After a while I saw white beach ahead of us, and the green canoe scraped sand gently.

A small green island. A pine dipping graceful branches over a flat boulder that stood half in the rippling lake, half on land. A tiny stone fireplace on top of the boulder. Golden rippled reflections wavered on the sand at the lake’s edge; silver ones shimmered on the under sides of the pine branches. The world smelt of sun, and bay leaves, and pine-needles. The brightness was almost unreal. The sun wrapped us in gleaming shawls of warmth.

We drew the canoe up. Nick parted the bay-bushes and revealed a little path, hardly more than would be made by a rabbit. Five or six yards back, on a knoll screened with bushes, was our house–a brown tent, not more than six feet square.

“This is it,” Nick announced. “This is home.”

I wanted nothing so much as to swim, although I soon found that muscles that had been in the city for two years had forgotten some of their rhythms. Then I sat, dripping, on the big boulder, long hair cascading down my back. I felt very white in this summer-time world where the human body ought to be brown.

Nick brandished a pair of scissors. “Off with it!”

I put up my arms in self-defense. “No — no!”

“Yes! Absolutely! You can’t walk two thousand miles with that yard of hair, child. It’ll get wound up in the blackberries. It’ll collect whole hay-ricks. Bats will nest in it.”

“But, Nicky, I like my hair. And I don’t object to bats.”

“I like it, too. But I don’t like what you do to it–tying your face to the back of your neck with it. I want to see it wave in the wind. That’s really why I married you. And anyway, you can grow it again.”

I wavered. “It would be more comfortable, of course …”

Snip!

“Don’t, Nicky — !”

“Too late now. Got to go on with it.”

Snip! Snip!

The air was full of flying fragments. Reddish fluff covered the boulder. A great weight was vanishing from my head. What hair I had left began to stand on end in the joy of its freedom. For the first time in years, it was waving in the wind.

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