High Above the Notch Eagle Cliff & Cannon Mountain
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
We met in the Cannon Mountain Tramway parking lot after Becca spent the morning snowboarding on Cannon’s slopes. I didn’t get my act together to go skiing along with her but I was game to meet her for a mid-day strong snowshoe. She said the snowboarding was good and did her best to make me jealous that I certainly should have met her when the lifts opened.
Becca put on her hiking boots and sometime around 11 am we were walking down the snowmobile trail (snow covered bicycle path) towards The Old Man Viewing. The snow was packed hard and we carried our snowshoes. We followed the trail under the Parkway to the pull-off on the northbound side of the Parkway. There used to be a good view of the Old Man from this small parking area. One of the reasons we didn’t drive and park here was because parking is limited to one hour.
We put on our snowshoes and went straight up through the woods for a just couple minutes before we hit the Greenleaf Trail. We could see tracks in the snow that a couple of people had walked up the trail without snowshoes. When we saw their deep postholes we were extra glad we were wearing our snowshoes.
The snow conditions were perfect for snowshoes. Our snowshoes settled a few inches into the snow but underneath it was firm so that the crampons bit and gripped well. We flicked up our snowshoe’s televators when the trail got steep. Televators are a piece of metal that snaps up from the snowshoe to elevate the heel to make it easier to climb steeps.
We caught up to a couple bare booting their way up the trail. Funny thing was they had snowshoes tied onto their backpacks. They weren’t using them? We exchanged greetings and we continued on our way.
Traversing Eagle Pass was tricky. There was much more ice than snow between the bare ledges. Once through the pass we left the trail and headed north into the woods.
Becca has been up here a couple more times than me and she had summited it once in deep spring snow. This was our first time in winter.
I led the way weaving through open woods and sometimes pushing through a couple of tight spruce. I like bushwhacking in the winter on good firm snow because it is much easier than tripping over all the stuff that is lying underneath the snow. Plus our snowshoes were solid! I didn’t use my compass really because from here it was just up, any way we could get up.
We popped out on the shelf, an open area above Eagle Pass. We enjoyed looking at the slides across the way and the view south down the Notch.
From here we scrambled up several short but near vertical short sections before the final steep push through some tight trees to reach the ridge.
The ridge was open and it was icy between the bare ledges. High above the Notch we could look down on the cars driving up the parkway. We could see mountains far to the south. Cannon Cliff and the ski slopes on big Cannon Mountain were right in straight in front of us. We ventured out closer to the face of the cliff to get a peek north up the Notch too.
Certainly if there were a trail to the top of this cliff it would be a popular destination but it is a rugged bushwhack. The highpoint of the mountain is a short distance north on the ridge.
We followed our tracks back down the best we could sometimes losing them under the thick spruce branches. Getting down the short steep sections wasn’t easy. We both did some sliding and grabbing onto trees to keep from descending too quickly with gravity’s help.
I’m always happy when I find my way back to the trail. We had a good bushwhack, neither one of us got too scratched up. Back on the Greenleaf Trail we saw another set of snowshoe tracks had come up the trail and there were no bare-boot tracks. The people we had met earlier on the trail had put their snowshoes on their feet shortly after we passed by them.
We again did the short bushwhacked down to the snowmobile trail, a couple of snowmobilers drove by us slowly and waved at us. We waved back.
At our cars we dumped our packs and changed into some dryer clothes. Did we have time? It would be close and since we had season passes we hustled up to the Tramway and caught a ride. On the ride up in the Tram we had a good view of Franconia Notch and of where we just were on top of Eagle Cliff.
We entered the warm summit building and headed right to the bar. We ordered our beers and then the bar tender yelled, “Last Call”. It was 3 o’clock.
We sat on bar stools right next to the window and looked out at the mountains and above the bar there is a sign that reads “Welcome to the Highest Taps in NH”! This was a fun way to end our adventure. We noticed that the skiers and snowboarders had all left by around 3:30 and the building was now nearly empty.
The last Tram descends at 3:45 and we made sure we were on it.