Liberty and Flume – 12/6/2015

Approaching the summit of Mt. Liberty, New Hampshire
Approaching the summit of Mt. Liberty

I’ve been enjoying hiking solo quite a bit lately.

On Sunday I left my apartment in Newburyport at 6 am, heading for “somewhere on Franconia Ridge”.  But, as I came up on exit 32 on Rt. 93 for the Kanc, I heard the call of the Moose and made a quick right.  I hadn’t been on Mt. Moosilauke since February of 2013, so I thought it would be good to go see how she was doing.

The weather was unseasonably warm and totally clear, not a cloud in the sky.  That’s why I had planned for Franconia Ridge, with its exposed skywalk and views in all directions.  But Moosilauke has a nice alpine summit as well, and I had been to Franconia Ridge more recently than the Moose.

So I took the Kancamagus west to 118, and then kept an eye out for Ravine Lodge Rd. on my right.  Well, after my recent experience with road closures in Vermont, you might think I was enraged when I found the road closed.  And you’d be right!  But, it was momentary.  This was my fault… I hadn’t checked the road closure status before I left, as I wasn’t planning on this route anyway (funny, it’s still listed as open a day later.  Hmm).

So I calmed down, turned my music up, and headed back to 93.  As I got back on the Kanc, there was Liberty through a break in the trees, staring me in the face – beckoning.

It was a quick drive to the Flume Gorge parking lot, with only a couple cars there at 9.  Excellent.

I threw on my (winter) boots, and off I went.  Seeing as I just told you how warm it was, you might be surprised to read that I was rocking the old Kofflach’s today.  I’ve been itching for winter hiking, and had basically decided the night before that I just felt like wearing them.  A better workout, if nothing else.

The trail was wet and muddy, and my leather boots have seen better days in terms of their water resistance, so the boot decision turned out to be a good choice for me.  Forget the last paragraph – that’s why I wore them.

Start of the wet and muddy Liberty Spring Trail, New Hampshire
Low on the wet, warm and wild Liberty Spring Trail

Liberty Spring is one of my favorite trails in the Whites.  This would be my fourth time on it.  The way it progresses from stupid flat to very steep is nice, like a built in extended warmup.  The mellow switchbacks through the woods between the bike path and the steeps are relaxing and enjoyable.  Sometimes I take my time here, but it’s also a good place for a fast pace – and that’s what I did today to ensure plenty of time on the summit.

You’ll pass the junction with Flume Slide Trail .6 miles from the bike path – handy if you’re monitoring your pace.  I was doing a little over 4 miles per hour at this point today, in case you’re interested.

When you reach the first significant set of rock steps, things are starting to get steep, and will get steeper until you hit Franconia Ridge Trail at 2.3 miles from the bike path.

The trail becomes steep when you reach the rock steps on Liberty Spring Trail, New Hampshire
Upon reaching the rock steps, it’s time to climb

This stretch of trail provides a few views of the sky ahead over the ridge, making you think you’re about to step onto it – you aren’t.  That’s ok, more time in the woods is a good thing, right?  When you’re really there you’ll see the sign for Franconia Ridge Trail coming from several yards away.

Someone had scribbled a very lame little “zombies ahead” note on the sign, along with some truly helpful (that’s sarcasm) Appalachian Trail notes.  Cute.  Don’t do this – I’m up here partly to forget people like you exist.

"Zombies ahead" written on a trail sign, Franconia Ridge Trail, New Hampshire
Zombies on the trail? Apparently at least one

From here, you’re pretty much done, at .3 miles from the summit of Mt. Liberty.  It’s an enjoyable .3, with a nice mix of views and scrambling.  I always love seeing the vertical wall of rock on the north side of Liberty’s summit nub.  This is a feature you can spot from the highway or many other White Mountain summits to help you pick out Liberty.

The recognizable wall on the north side of Mt. Liberty's summit
The recognizable wall on the north side of Mt. Liberty’s summit

I spent a fair amount of time on the summit, as usual with this one.  The undercast to the north and west was a pleasant surprise.  Liberty has a perfect track record going for me – I’ve never been up there without clear skies, low wind and relatively warm temps.  You can see a huge number of peaks from here and it’s fun to pick them out.

Cannon mountain and its cliffs over a sea of clouds from Mt. Liberty, New Hampshire
Cannon and its eastern cliffs before a sea of clouds

I had a great look at some peaks I’ve visited recently.  The Scar to the south…

Scar Ridge seen from Mt. Liberty, New Hampshire
Scar Ridge rises above Black Mountain – why do they call it Scar?

Southeast to Mt. Nancy

Mt. Nancy as seen from Mt. Liberty, New Hampshire
Mt. Nancy

And north to Garfield.

Mt. Garfield seen from Mt. Liberty, New Hampshire
Mt. Garfield

You can’t look at Mt. Flume from here on a day like this without wanting to visit, so off I went, 1.2 miles farther south on Franconia Ridge Trail.

Franconia Ridge Trail and Mt. Flume from the summit of Mt. Liberty, New Hampshire
Franconia Ridge Trail and Mt. Flume from the summit of Liberty

The section of Franconia Ridge Trail between Liberty and Flume was great this day.  The 3 – 6 inches of snow smoothed things out but didn’t hinder a fast pace.  With a break for water, I made it to Flume’s summit in 30 minutes.

Snow on the Franconia Ridge Trail between Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume, New Hampshire
Franconia Ridge Trail between Liberty and Flume

I had Flume all to myself, with the same great weather I had on Liberty.  Some of the same people who were on Liberty with me half an hour ago were still visible there, enjoying the day.

People on the summit of Mt. Liberty from Mt. Flume, New Hampshire
People on the summit of Mt. Liberty
Mt. Liberty and Franconia Ridge from Mt. Flume
Looking back to Liberty and Franconia Ridge from Flume

I went a bit more slowly on the way back to Liberty from Flume, it was peaceful and quiet and I wanted to enjoy it.  Back on Liberty, I took another 10 minutes to relax and take it all in.  I watched a pair of crows soaring below the summit, but high above the floor of the notch.

The trip down the mountain was uneventful enough.  I wanted to get home early but also wanted to enjoy this day outside… I opted for the latter, reaching the car at 3:30 pm.  It would have been 3, but I left my MICROspikes on the rock where I stopped to take them off at the head of Liberty Spring Trail, and jogged .4 miles back down the paved bike path in mountaineering boots to get them, then jogged back almost to the car.  Good times.

Mt. Liberty is one of the best around.  It’s always there, waiting with the right combination of relaxation and workout to make for a great day.  If you’re able to head over to Flume as well, all the better.  Many make a loop out of it, taking the Flume Slide Trail down and meeting back up with Liberty Spring Trail .6 miles from the bike path, but once wasn’t enough for me and Mt. Liberty this day.

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