Saturday, November 13, 2010

Liberty and Flume

The high summits forecast called for sun, above average temperatures (into the mid-40s), and little wind, a rare combo for mid-November. So, yesterday we took the day off from work and headed north to Franconia Notch to hike Mt Liberty and Mt. Flume, two 4000-footers that we had not yet hiked. By 8:30 am we were on the Whitehouse Trail after parking at "Trailhead Parking" just north of the Flume Visitor's Center parking lot off Rte 3, that is accessed via Exit 34 off I-93. I mention the parking details because it is hard to figure out from the maps and guides.

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


  1. Congrats on a great hike...and two more peaks for Kodi!

    My legs can relate to yours when coming down the neverending Liberty Spring Trail. The climb seems interminable, the descent is jarring. The descent is much better in winter when the rocks are covered in a blanket of snow.

  2. Tom -- my calves are still sore! Maybe it was the 2 hours of garlic planting the day before the hike combined with climbing Mt. Liberty twice. Still, it was a great hike. I think Kodi is a lot like Atticus - he loves to be outside and yearns for a hike every day. Sitting inside while I work is not high on his list of favorite activities.

  3. What a great hike! I love the peak of Mount Liberty...such beautiful views. And you captured the Bonds great in your photo. Great post, I enjoyed it!


  4. Thanks Karl. The views from Mt. Liberty really are spectacular. And on such a beautiful day it was rare and special to have it almost to ourselves (since it was Friday and not the weekend). Happy hiking.

  5. Oh wow! I love your site! As an outdoors enthusiast living in Boston, I escape to NH every moment I get! Your site reminds me why I love the outdoors so much. This particular post is also helping me plan for my next hike since I would like to do Flume & Liberty this weekend. But I know that there's supposed to be some snow tomorrow.. we'll see. Keep writing!! Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Hi henryperc,

    Thanks for the note. You can do a loop up and around Flume and Liberty, but it involves going up the Flume Slide Trail, which we've heard is sketchy. The hike up to Liberty and Flume is nice and the views from the Ridge are fabulous. Hope you make it up. We'll be hiking somewhere up north next weekend (after Thanksgiving)....we are fortunate to have such a vast area for hiking.