I have a history with the Franconia Ridge and Lafayette. It's over 5,000 feet and a good days hike up the (old Bridle to) Greenleaf trail. The summit is exposed for the last section of the trail and then the ridge itself is completely exposed until you summit Little Haystack and crawl back down below treeline.
Both Adam and I have hiked this peak before and we have hiked it together, but there was something about starting this list completely fresh that sounded enticing.
The last time I climbed this mountain I was with a group for a local hiking club. It was winter and conditions were very harsh. When we reached treeline the wind kicked up to some of the fiercest I have ever encountered. Enough to blow me down regularly and completely change our gait as we summited Lafayette.
Visibility had dropped as well and before we new it we had taken a wrong turn. Rather than going back down the Greenleaf Trail as we had intended we had turned and continued on to Garfield.
Conditions were so harsh that the wind and low temperatures found any exposed skin. I had a band around my waist for two weeks from the hike. Another had a white nose event. And a third had a white patch near her eye after finishing the hike.
We realized our error and trooped back down the way we had come, but it was the first time I had ever gotten turned around and slightly disoriented on a hike. I felt slightly better that I had screamed above the thundering wind to the trip leader that I though we were going the wrong way. He looked at me like I was entering shock and disagreed. I don't need to be right in an argument, but I do like being alive to have it. I realized after the hike that I should have followed my own knowledge and my own gut and said that we needed to turn around. If things had gotten any worse, we may have truly paid for me staying quiet.
The day Adam and I hiked Lafayette this July was a stark contrast to my past memories. The temperatures were hot and humid and I only needed a tank top and shorts the entire ridgeline. Water was an issue for many hikers that we came across that day. I had carried a 100 oz. camelbak and Adam carried three full water bottles (32 oz each). When we had reached Greenleaf hut we didn't refill because we felt like we still had plenty. Later I wished we had.
Overall the trail conditions were great. It was very very very crowded the whole hike. Many times I felt like my pace was definitely being slowed down because of all the avoiding and stepping to the side we had to do to let large groups go by.
The whole hike was around 8 ish miles. We were feeling it by the end of the hike mainly due to the hot temps, humidity, and dehydration (even though we pumped a TON of water on this hike). Definitely bring sunscreen and hat if you try this peak in the summer.
We saw Owl's Head nearly the whole hike. Owl's Head is considered the "death march" of the 4,000 footer club as it is an isolated peak down an 18 mile trail that doesn't officially have a trail to the summit. We literally can't wait to hike it.