Our fall packs were full of warm clothing in case the weather turned suddenly cold, which often happens above 4,000 feet in the White Mountains. Not today. One hiker passed us wearing shorts and on top of the ridge you could be in a t-shirt, it felt that warm.
Me, atop Mt. Liberty with Mt. Lincoln directly behind me
The first leg of our hike followed Whitehouse Trail over a small ridge for 0.6 miles, then two-tenths of a mile along a bike path that crossed the Pemigewasset River on a large, sturdy bridge, to the junction with Liberty Spring Trail. We turned right onto Liberty Spring and started up a modest grade through a beautiful northern hardwood forest with huge yellow birch trees. It wasn't long before we paused to shed our hats and heavy fleece. The trail was a little muddy and crossed a few small streams and one larger brook. We stepped carefully, but easily, across a set of logs that someone had placed securely for such a purpose.
Srini crossing the brook on Liberty Spring Trail
Hiking in late fall, after the hardwood trees have shed most of their leaves, is a beautiful time. You can see so far in the woods and the peaks are visible through the trees.
Only the beech trees retain a few leaves
Somewhere around 2.0 miles on the Liberty Spring Trail we entered the spruce-fir-white birch zone and the trail also changed. It got steeper and rockier. At about 2.3 miles, somewhere over 3,000 feet, we encountered the first small patches of ice and snow. The rock strewn trail made stepping over the ice patches easier. As the trail got steeper and higher, though, we finally stopped to put on microspikes, perhaps one of the best inventions for hikers to move confidently across thin layers of ice or packed snow. Kodi will not let us clip his toenails - he gets squirmy every time we try -- but the benefit is that he retains his own built-in set of microspikes. For him, scaling icy trails is easy.
Kodi races up the icy Liberty Spring Trail
After reaching the Franconia Ridge Trail we turned south and hiked 0.3 miles to the summit of Mt. Liberty at 4,459'. What a view from the top. We looked north along Franconia Ridge to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Garfield, northwest into Franconia Notch and across to Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans. We could see clear across Vermont to Camel's Hump, and spread out to our east a spectacular view into the Pemi Wilderness and the Bonds and Bondcliff. And the big one -- Mt. Washington -- was clearly visible to the northeast.
The Bonds and Bondcliff with Mt. Washington in the distance
We reached the top of Mt. Liberty by 11:30 (3 hours from the parking lot). After a quick sandwich we continued south on Franconia Ridge, dropping down and then back up after 1.2 miles to the summit of Mt. Flume (4,328'). A lone boreal chickadee cheered us on as we hiked up the last stretch to the summit. After soaking up more views -- from here we could see Mt. Lafayette -- and enjoying some hot turkey soup from our thermos and a handful of mixed nuts, we retraced our steps back to Mt. Liberty and on down the Liberty Spring Trail. So we actually climbed three 4,000-footers, since we climbed Mt. Liberty twice!
Mt. Flume, as seen from the Franconia Ridge Trail below the summit of Mt. Liberty
What seemed like an asset on the way up -- the exposed rocks helped avoid ice patches on the upper reaches of the Liberty Spring Trail -- was a bit of a curse on the way down. Every step was a little jarring on the knees and legs as we navigated through a mini boulder field that is the trail. I kept wishing the softwoods would give way to the hardwoods, as I knew only then would the trail ease and the rocks would thin out. But the rocks and the evergreens went on and on.
Looking down from Mt. Liberty at the transition zone from softwoods to hardwoods
Finally we emerged out of the softwoods and suddenly the woods were brighter with all the bare hardwoods letting in so much more light, despite a setting sun. The sun finally dipped below the Kinsman Ridge at 3:55 pm as we continued our descent. Kodi glowed like a black torch amid the grays of the tree trunks and large boulders in the surrounding woods.
At last we arrived back on the bike path and followed this all the way back to our car, arriving there at 4:30. Along the way we got a glimpse of the last rays of sun illuminating the top of Mt. Liberty.
The setting sun illuminates the top of Mt. Liberty
We hiked the 10.5 miles in 8 hours, taking our time along the way. The hike to the ridge was well worth the effort and the views from the top were awesome. My calves though are still smarting from the descent on the rock-strewn Liberty Spring Trail. Kodi as usual was a great hiking companion and loved every minute of the day.
Kodi on Franconia Ridge