3 Summits, 9 Miles, 4,000 Feet: Running The Franconia Ridge Loop Trail

Keith: “I want to go hiking again.”
Me: “Come run the Lafayette Loop with me!”

…No easy undertaking for the second hike of Keith’s life…

The Lafayette Loop, or Franconia Ridge Loop Trail, is one of New Hampshire’s White Mountains most classic hikes and encompasses the Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, Greenleaf, and Old Bridle Path trails. It’s a nearly 9 miles loop trek covering relentlessly steep, rocky, and root-ridden terrain, gaining 4,000 feet in elevation. Across the rocky summit ridge, you touch the tops of Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln, and 5,261ft Mount Lafayette.

Keith, my good friend and old college roommate, had only been hiking once before. I brought him up to Mount Chocorua, another classic NH hike, last Fall. But we didn’t push it on that one. I brought my dog, and the day was pretty relaxed. For Keith’s second hike, he was game for a challenge, and I had some new gear to test out—the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15.

The plan:

For our route, you can go either direction around the loop, but we decided to head up the Falling Waters trail, across the Franconia Ridge trail, and down the Old Bridle Path trail. Most importantly though, was move fast. We were going to run this as much as possible. I’ve hiked this loop countless times over the past decade, it’s one of my favorites, but I had never tried to run it.

Daren Worcester of NortheastHikes.com has this to say about people who run this loop:

In fair weather, assuming you’ve brought enough water (I drank roughly 70 ounces on the trip), trail runners pose the biggest threat. There’s something inherently out of place with anyone who willingly runs up a 5,000+ -foot mountain, and I encourage you to exercise caution around these individuals, especially if they’re foaming at the mouth. The mere sight of them can instantly dissolve your self-esteem.

And with that in mind, as always, we embrace the crazy. And we went for the run and Keith learned all about what “Type 2 fun” is!

 

The gear:

Weather in the White Mountains is anything but predictable. This was August, and we expected some hot and sweaty hiking. But I’ve been in these mountains enough to know you should always be prepared, and it’s a good thing we were.

The temperatures above the tree line were easily hovering in the 40’s, or possibly even close to 30 degrees with the windchill right atop Mount Lafayette. It’s a good thing we went up with pants, wind/rain shells, hats, and well, one of us had gloves. Keith resorted to sock puppets…

For a long trail run in the past, I would typically opt for the Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0. I’ve ran trails, mountains, Spartan Races, and Tough Mudders with that vest and love it.

It’s light, has room enough for what I’d carry in a race, fits slim enough against my back to not give me any trouble while rolling under barbed wire, and I absolutely love the Body Bottle 500‘s that came with it. But I’ve found that when I’m taking on bigger mountains, longer days out, needing to bring more layers for variable weather, or want to bring my DSLR and other larger camera gear along for the run, the AK Mountain Vest was just not the perfect pack.

And that’s why I was so excited to try out the new Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15, which for all the reasons I just listed that the AK Mountain Vest wasn’t perfect, the Fastpack 15, was.

Fastpack 15 Pros

  • Fits snug and very comfortably and moves with you without bounce.
  • Plenty of space for a 2-3L hydration pack, extra clothes, cameras, and snacks.
  • The outer stretch pockets bring this pack closer to 20 or even 30 liters of carrying capacity!
  • Smartly designed front pack strap pockets fit anything you’d need to grab without taking the pack off (water, phone, GPS, camera, gels or bars).
  • The two way zipper to access main compartment, and the velcro top opening fold, both work amazing and allow for easier access to gear than ever! You don’t have to take everything out of the pack to grab what’s on the bottom.

Fastpack 15 Con… (only one!)

  • The new buckles only work one way, so when rolling down the top of the pack, you have to be mindful of how the buckle is sitting for proper clipping. In no way does this make me not love this pack!

Watch the review and see what the Fastpack 15 held on this adventure:

 

GET THE UD FASTPACK 15

 

The stats:

At 4 hours and 35 minutes, we shaved two hours off the average pace on the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail, and that was with stops for photos and videos! Without stops, I’m confident we can get that number closer to 3 hours. A goal for another day!

More impressive than any fast time though, is that despite blisters, cramps, near-freezing (mid-August) temps, high winds, and exhaustion, Keith pushed through the pain to accomplish something amazing for his second hike ever. You can tell from the video that he definitely brought the right attitude for this type of adventure! And look at that view…

If it’s not hard, and it doesn’t hurt, it’s probably not worth doing.

Jonathan Ronzio
Jonathan Ronzio

Adventure filmmaker/photographer, outdoor athlete, & speaker. Director, Between The Peaks. Founder & Chief Editor, Explore Inspired

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