Mount Flume, Mount Liberty, Mount Lincoln, Mount Lafayette
June 24, 2015
Weather: sunny and gorgeous
Well, having completed the Adirondack 46 over a year and a half ago, we decided we were overdue for sampling the New Hampshire 48. It’s a longer drive for us, but we had heard such great things that we simply had to check it out. And thus, we set our sights on the Franconia Range. We pulled into the hiker parking lot about 7:15am after going back and forth along the same stretch of a highway a couple times due to construction and confusing detours. Despite those frustrations and the general slowness that always seems to delay our departure from the car, we managed to be off by 7:30.
The first stretch was along the Whitehouse trail, a comfortable little 0.8 miles to warm up. After about twenty minutes we merged onto the Franconia Notch bike path, I made a point to memorize the sign, “PEMI TRAIL” so that we would find it easily on our way back. We followed the paved path briefly before crossing a bridge and turning onto the Liberty Spring trail.
In the next half mile we ran into a couple other groups; each one warned us that the trail we were headed for, the Flume Slide trail, was steep and slippery. Of course I was comforted by this, my dad had already told me its last section climbs 1,400 feet in 0.7 miles, so to hear that it would be slippery too left me only mildly anxious. Anyway, nothing is more odious to us than the idea of chickening out of a perfectly walkable trail on a beautiful day, so we noted their warnings but did not allow them to deter us.
We quickly reached the junction and turned onto the Flume Slide trail. It was very nice, though I noticed we were not climbing very much. I quite had hoped we might get rid of some of the climbing before the slide but no such luck. There were a few stream crossings, which prompted us to take out our poles, but aside from the rock hopping across the water we didn’t really need to use them.
The trail was very well marked. We had no trouble figuring out which way to go, until after one stream crossing, we suddenly “felt some uncertainty” (my dad’s words, mine were more like crap crap crap we’ve lost the trail we’ll never make it). We found ourselves still on a very clear track, but there had been possible alternatives, and we noticed that for the first time since the beginning, there were no blazes to confirm the route. After walking some distance along the obvious track we started to feel nervous. We took out the guidebook and maps and tried to pinpoint exactly where we were. I was insistent that we not walk farther without knowing exactly where the trail would take us, because we had a long day planned and could not afford to waste precious time and energy walking the wrong way. Finally, despite reminders of how easy it is to get misled (remember Macomb?), my dad convinced me to continue on the obvious path (the mountains were definitely in that direction), and finally a blaze confirmed that we had made the right choice.
At around 10:00 we reached what we can, in retrospect, call the beginning of the Flume Slide. It started with some scrambling up mini-cliff type rocks, but I had been expecting something more dramatic like on Saddleback or Seymour, so when we slowed down I started worrying that we wouldn’t reach our goal of the doing whole Franconia ridge in one day. Five minutes later we decided that this had to be the slide. It was steep, rugged, and yes – slippery! Fortunately it wasn’t even particularly tiring; steps and handholds had to be carefully planned and cautiously taken so we were moving at a very slow pace (what, us??). I was a little bit nervous at times since looking down you could see that it would not be wise to lose one’s balance, but I have to say it was pretty fun…I do enjoy the rock scrambling!
There was only one point where I was actually scared. I had gotten a bit ahead of my dad, and I found myself stuck. I didn’t see anywhere to grab above or beside me, any footholds within stepping distance of my feet, and it was too slippery for me to trust myself going down the way I had just gone up. I think I stood there for a solid 5 minutes. In the meantime a fit young lad and his dog raced past me (they took a better route to the left of me) and my dad caught up to me. I was totally fine on this mini ledge that I was on, I just couldn’t move. My dad wasn’t really in any position to help me without risking falling himself. So finally I decided to jump for a tree growing from another mini ledge above my head. Like Spiderman himself, I managed to grab the tree and hang there, then drag myself up. It was an incredible feat, let me tell you.
The slide alone took about an hour and a half, but it felt like it went by quickly! If I hadn’t been so stressed about time, I probably would have been sad it was over. At last we came to the junction with the Franconia Ridge trail, took a picture of the wrong sign (we walked away, thought about going back to get the right one, but decided that even we didn’t care that much), and started the short walk to the summit of Mt. Flume. We took a bunch of pictures of the emerging beautiful scenery, enjoyed the steep exposure and views, before I finally dragged my dad to the top because I wanted to get there on time. Enjoying views is great but it’s important to stay on schedule!!!
When we reached the summit just before noon, my dad insisted on victory poses, as we were officially White Mountain ONE-rs. Time since parking lot: 4.5 hours
On the summit we ran into a mother and son, whom we had met earlier on the Liberty Spring trail. Yes, they had already been on Liberty and were celebrating their second mountain, but that’s ok, it’s not a race. We chatted with them for a few minutes, they were kind enough to take pictures of us and we returned the favour. We soaked in our small achievement for 20 minutes or so, before deciding it was time to move on.
The skies were perfectly clear so we got a good view of the road ahead, this was motivation enough to get us moving toward Mt. Liberty, just over a mile away. The descent to the col was easy enough and we were soon climbing again. We were mostly in the forest so I was slightly dying of heat, but other than that we had no problems.
As my dad said, it wasn’t a “gimme”, but compared to the Flume Slide the 650-foot elevation gain was easy. The whole trek took less than an hour, and by about 1:00pm we were celebrating our second peak of the day. Time since parking lot: 5.5 hours
The views were even nicer from Liberty! We got a perfect view all around us, one guy we met taught us the term: “Bluebird Day” which it may not have been exactly, but it was pretty damn close. The wind was a little strong, but I guess I couldn’t complain since I had been quite warm up until then. We took the requisite pictures and spent almost half an hour on top before heading out on the next stretch.
The trail went right back into the woods and was fairly straightforward (and deplorably unphotogenic) for the next hour. I was beginning to think that it wasn’t soo bad but then we started some steep climbing; luckily it wasn’t actually that bad and soon enough we were on open rocks, and renewed views on the final pitches up to the top of Little Haystack. While it is not one of the official 48, neither of us could complain about the panorama.
As much as I love the Adirondacks, they have no ridges quite like the one we now saw in front of us. The sky was completely clear. We had a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and the trail ahead to Mts. Lincoln and Lafayette. We stayed a few minutes, just taking it all in (and maybe snapping a 1-2 pictures) but I was keen to get moving. Even once I got started, it was very slow going because every two steps I wanted to take another picture, also I turned around to see my dad was still on Little Haystack taking pictures.
On our way we met a man who casually mentioned he was completing the Pemi Loop (after congratulating us/seeming very impressed that we were doing the WHOLE Franconia Ridge). The loop is over 30 miles long and over 9,000 feet of climbing. I think most people who do it take 2 or 3 days, but this guy was doing it in just one! He had started only a few hours before us, and probably ended up finishing before us too. We can’t pretend to be that hard core… our motto is, slow and steady finishes the race.
We spent another 35-40 minutes walking to the summit of Lincoln There was definitely some climbing in there but I barely noticed, because it was so beautiful along the ridge. Time since parking lot: 8 hours.
We stayed on the summit chatting with a man who had two dogs with him. Apparently all three of them are very close to becoming 48ers! I had no idea they recognized dogs, but I think that is simply adorable!! (…if I ever have a dog someday…) After 15-20 minutes we were starting to worry a little bit about time, and we knew Lafayette was going to be even better, so we said our goodbyes and moved on.
The walk to Lafayette, much like the one from Little Haystack to Lincoln, was breathtaking. I just kept thinking to myself, wow, this is amazing, wow, I wish the Adirondacks had this; the trail wound ahead of us along the ridge, with the cone of Mt. Lafayette looming above.
I’m pleased to announce that not only is it beautiful, it’s actually a pretty easy walk too, and we reached our fourth and last summit of the day in only about 40 minutes . Time since parking: 9 hours
The views from Lafayette were, of course, spectacular. We met a trio of other hikers and naturally took some pictures, then took a seat in a former building (or something) to escape the wind and get some food. In other words, I ate food while my dad picked up someone’s leftover food and garbage that they had kindly left behind. We managed to keep our relaxing time down to a brief 20 minutes,because despite the fact that we always seem to end up walking in the dark, we felt we should try to get back to the car before it was pitch black.
The trio we had just met on the summit left a minute or two ahead of us and within a few more, they were mere specks of colour in the distance; we took our time navigating down the relatively steep rocks, neither of us feeling inclined to sprain an ankle. The sun was, however, getting lower in the sky so we tried not to waste too much time.
It took about 45 minutes to get to the Greenleaf Hut, where I nearly wept tears of joy at being permitted to use their bathrooms. I was covered in scratches/war wounds from when I had tried to sneak into the dead bushes atop Liberty, and had almost forgotten how nice a hole in the ground and a door could be. Open ridges are beautiful, but they’re…open…
After exploring the hut and chatting up a few people, it was time to take the Old Bridle (or as the sign says, “Bridal”) Path down. We had been hoping for a relatively easy walk, since, we were thinking, you know, horses used to do it, but we were surprised to find the path steep and rocky. It was also a little slippery, but still far more civilized than the Flume Slide Trail. (Father’s Edit: Checking the book later, it seems that only part of the trail – presumably the lower part – was in fact formerly a bridle path. Oops.)
On the bright side, we were rewarded with some unexpected great views of the Franconia ridge, as our path followed the top of a spur which curved to almost parallel it. Finally, we re-entered your typical forest trails, much easier going, and the only interesting things to look forward to became getting to the car and finding ice cream. I wondered about whether or not I could find a Stewart’s nearby, while singing the same verses of Coal Miner’s Daughter over and over, to my father’s dismay…for some reason he doesn’t appreciate it when I imitate Loretta Lynn’s accent even though I’m actually very good at it.
Finallyyy, about 2 hours after leaving the hut, we arrived at the trailhead, and I was delighted to use another hole in the ground with a door! Now came my favourite part (not), we walked under the highway and found the bike path (with the help of a friendly fellow we had just met) and began the final walk back to the car. About 2.5 miles of it was on the paved path, and as my feet pounded hard and the soreness set in I thought of all the things we could do differently the next time we did this hike: leave our bikes at one end? bring flip flops? have someone pick us up?
An hour of scheming and singing later, we reached the familiar bridge we had crossed early this morning. Right after that bridge I saw the sign for the PEMI TRAIL, but for some reason it did not look familiar, and we spent a few minutes going back and forth before we finally decided the trail we were looking for had to be farther on. Shortly afterwards we saw the sign we were looking for, and I set a time limit of 15 minutes for making it back to the car.
Despite my dad’s slightly more pessimistic prediction, we did arrive back at the car right on time, a little after 9:00pm. It felt so good!!! Time since departure: 13.75 hours
Mount Flume: 4,328 feet, elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Mount Liberty: 4,459 feet, elevation gain: +650 feet
Mount Lincoln: 5,089 feet, elevation gain: +1000 feet
Mount Lafayette: 5,260 feet, elevation gain: +450 feet
Round trip: 17 miles
Sorry (NOT SORRY) for all the pictures 🙂 Happy trails!