Although this hike was done in the beautiful, crisp, fall month of October, the foliage and gentle breeze on the summits were not as picturesque as one might’ve hoped. However, after having seen snowpacks, freezing temperatures, and beating sun in seasons they don’t belong in, I know that the White Mountains (especially Franconia Notch!) operates on its own weather system. My foggy peak views on top of both Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume were perfect examples of a slim payoff for working extremely hard to haul myself up the sides of mountains. However, the unexpected adventure I experienced hiking these peaks was worth it!
I began at the Franconia Notch Visitor Center and took the Liberty/Flume loop clockwise up Liberty Springs Trail. The hike up was only moderately steep and fairly uneventful. As I neared the peak, the trees thinned and I was able to poke my head above the treeline a few times. Each time the shelter of the trees disappeared around me, frigid wind slid down my sweatshirt and threatened to knock me off my feet. I felt like I was walking through a frozen moving cloud with each droplet of fog water crystalized and stinging cold.
At last, I made it to the top of Liberty and enjoyed a beautiful view of nothing. Please don’t mind the terrible summit selfie; we took a very rushed picture to quickly get off the freezing peak.
After returning to safety beneath the treeline, we ate a quick lunch of granola bars, an orange, some trail mix, and a few bites of a sesame bagel leftover from breakfast. Fueled up, we took off down the ridgeline to the next peak, Mt. Flume. After a short uphill, the trees parted on my right and the land crumbled away into a vast cliff. Wind was whipping my hair into my squinting eyes and violently flapping the hood of my rain jacket. I struggled to see and stumbled across the narrow path. I am now thankful that I didn’t misstep and plunge at least 500 feet to a frozen death.
Finally, I climbed up to the peak of Flume. Again, the views were purely white. When you picture being inside of a cloud, you may picture floating on cotton balls or watching birds soar in and out of the enchanting mist. From the many times I’ve hiked up into clouds, I can tell you: it is wet. It is cold. It is windy. And it kind of feels like you could disappear into the white and never be seen again.
The ride up to Flume was fun, but it was dull compared to our decent down Flume Slide Trail. Whoever named this trail did an astonishingly accurate job. If I had to sum up our trip off the peak, I would use the word “slide.” The rain had created a dangerously slick surface on the rock face that spanned the width of the trail. Our pace slowed to a grinding halt as we struggled to cling onto the tiny trees that grew almost sideways on this extremely steep slope. Our microspikes were zero help and the jagged rocks taunted me as I clung to baby evergreens above them. I froze and there was no way for me to turn around. The pads of my numb fingers prodded at the face of the rock, looking for stray moss or thin cracks to slide my fingernails into, but I found nothing on the slick, unforgiving wall of stone. My only option was to slide into the woods and find footing in the crisscrossing roots. In a leap of faith, I fell into the trees, grasping with my hands at the bark. Swinging myself through the trees was just as steep and arguably more difficult, but I found comfort knowing there was always something there to catch me, even if it was a cold hard tree trunk.
Zealand seemed to have no problem maneuvering around the trees and down the rock slide. Either the brutality of this trail did not affect dogs, or Zee embraced her inner mountain goat.
My hands were numb and I seemed to have lost circulation from the second knuckle up. I had to take breaks often to pull off my wet gloves and slide my hands down onto my thighs. It was a shock every time my icy fingers came in contact with my legs, but it helped warm them.
At last, the treacherous rocks leveled out and I was able to take a picture of a less steep version of the rock slide. Look at how slippery the rocks are!
At last, we made it down the Flume Slide Trail after hours of slow progress. I highly recommend to any hiker who is planning on hiking Mt. Liberty and Flume that they take the loop counterclockwise, heading up the Flume Slide Trail and down the Liberty Springs Trail to avoid a steep and slick downhill. Overall, we had a great time adventuring in the clouds and on the rocks, and I knocked off two more 4,000 footers from my list, bringing my grand total up to 42!