June 30th, 2016: Inaugural AMC 4000 Footer Hike: Mt Flume & Mt Liberty (Dad)

   It was an early morning for me on an off Thursday as I awoke at 5:30 to make breakfast, then lunches and pack the bags for our trip.  Catie soon lumbered down the stairs dressed 30 minutes later to a bagel with peanut butter as I was making the sandwiches and filling the camelbacks.  We were out the door by 6:45

  This trip was about testing out new gear and getting a feel for longer day hiking.  Catie and I had gotten Osprey backpacks the week before with 2.5-liter water reservoirs and were eager to try them out.  

New packs taking a rest
New packs taking a rest

The dry fit with and felt great and I was looking forward to feeling them out on the trip.  Prior to this trip Catie and I had done moderate hikes at best in Massachusetts in the Blue Hills and Middlesex Fells reservations, but never more than a half day’s hike.

The top of the Blue Hills ski slope in Canton, MA
The top of the Blue Hills ski slope in Canton, MA

 

  I had heard about the 48 New Hampshire 4000 footer’s club from a co-worker of mine who had a friend who had completed them, some of which with an artificial heart!  I brought the idea home to my 9-year-old daughter and she was excited about getting to join an exclusive club, but I think was unaware, or under-aware of the hard work needed to accomplish this task.  At worst this would give us time together in the beautiful White Mountains while she was young and maybe instill a bit of work ethic in her at a young age.  She’d surprise me later today with a quote directly related to the latter, but we’ll get to that later.

  We headed out into Boston traffic north to Franconia Notch. 

1-93 traffic south of Boston at 7:00 AM = no fun
1-93 traffic south of Boston at 7:00 AM = no fun

Almost exactly 2 hours later we arrived at the Flume Gorge Visitor’s Center at 8:45 (yes I have a heavy driving foot).  As we approached the notch I pointed out Mt. Liberty to Caitlin and as she peeked up out of her book her response had me a bit worried, “We are climbing all the way up there?” 

Hello Flume Gorge!
Hello Flume Gorge!

  We had planned the route days before on the dining room table.  The plan for the day was up the Pemi/Whitehouse trail to the Liberty Springs trail then veer off to the Flume Slide trail to Mt. Flume, then over to Mt. Liberty via the Franconia Ridge trail and down the Liberty Springs trail eventually back to the car.  That would give us a 9.7-mile hike according to our AMC White Mountain Guide (WMG) and maps, a pretty aggressive for the first hike out but manageable for both Catie & I. 

In depth planning meeting...
In depth planning meeting…

  I sought out the info desk at the Flume Gorge Visitor’s Center and the ranger promptly threw that plan out.  It had rained heavily the day and night before and I was informed that it would be much wiser to take the Liberty Springs Trail.  This would add .4 miles and a re-summit of Mt. Liberty to the itinerary on the day, which at the time I thought was not really that big a deal.

  We set out for the trailhead just a bit down the road from the Flume and promptly set out. {pic #7- trailhead}  After leaving the Pemi/Whitehouse trail and getting on the bike trail there is a side trail to the left that has a little ladder that goes down to the Pemigewasset River as it cascades down a pretty good pitch, just before it dumps into The Pool on the Flume Loop trail.  It was a beautiful sight and Caitlin and I stopped to take pictures and just soak in the scene. 

Liberty Springs parking lot trailhead
Liberty Springs parking lot trailhead
IMG_3421
Small cascade just off of the bike path
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Cascade selfie!

  We climbed back out and back to the bike path and over a bridge where it hits the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Liberty Springs trailhead.  We were up and off!

  It was .6 miles to the split of the Liberty Springs and Flume Slide trails and this part of the trail was notable for muck.  There was quite a bit of scrambling around mud and muck for both Caitlin and I.  We passed a family with a teenage son and a mother with a college aged daughter along the way here.  The family asked which way we were going and was telling them how the ranger dissuaded us from the Flume Slide trail.  Based on the amount of muck I had seen so far, I thought we had made the right choice.

  We hit the trail split and started a mild accent until we hit several stream crossings about ½ mile from the split.  Right before the first crossing a deer scrambled across the trail.  Catie missed seeing the deer and I missed a pic!  I worried about my daughter scrambling over the wet rocks at the largest crossing, but she did just fine with this and the other 2 lesser crossings.  After the largest of the streams we climbed a long set of granite steps and took our first break at the top.  Some energy bars were just what were needed and we were back on our way.  Not far from there Catie demanded a picture with this mossy covered rock that she named fish rock.   

See the resemblance?
See the resemblance?

  From here the trail got aggressive and honestly unremarkable.  It was step after step after step upwards.  The trail was in excellent shape with stable granite rocks fashioned into steps.  We took several stops to rest along the way and Catie was starting to ask how much longer we had to go.  I pulled out the Unreal Candy version of M&Ms and put them in her hip pocket of her backpack for easy access that helped motivation.  After about another 45 minutes we saw the ¼ radius sign for the Liberty Springs Tentsite.  That was a key motivator as we now knew we were less than ½ mile from the Franconia Ridge Trail.  It was about this time that we started to see a couple of hikers trickle down the trail.  Everyone was very friendly and remarked about how beautiful of a day it was and the views waiting at the top.

  We were up and on to the tentsite where we stopped to check out the scene.  The tent pads were picturesque overlooking the notch and Cannon Mountain beyond.  There is a little spring there for water if needed, but we did not partake as we had plenty at the time.  Catie smartly pointed out that this must be why the trail is called Liberty Springs.  There was a bit of activity at the tentsite and we saw several more hikers about.  After a bit of rest we headed back out and up towards the ridge.  Catie was slowing a bit and a pair of hikers that we had seen at the tentsite passed us.  As they passed it dawned on me that they were thru hikers on the AT.  The patch, and a bit of the smell gave them away.  They encouraged Catie as they passed and were very friendly. 

  Towards the top of the trail a pair of young women hiked up behind us.  Little did we know, we would be leap frogging with them for a good portion of the day and they are responsible for most of out peak photos that you see both Catie and I in.  Super nice ladies and super encouraging to both Catie and I.  They both remarked how little Catie complained and how that would have not have been the case when they were young hiking with their fathers. 

  We finally hit the top of the Liberty Springs Trail and took a right towards Mt. Liberty.  

Liberty Springs meets the Franconia Ridge trail
Liberty Springs meets the Franconia Ridge trail

The trees were getting smaller and soon we were in the alpine zone (there was a sign that told us so).  The trail got less rocky and soon we were within sight of the summit, or so we thought.  

Give me Liberty, or take me back down?
Give me Liberty, or take me back down?

Interestingly the first exposed section is a sub-peak just below the summit.  We took a couple of pics from this section and I thought that spot had just as good a view of the peaks to the north and Cannon as the actual summit did.  IMG_3431   Thanks again for the pair of ladies that took all these pics with the both of us.  We did return the favor and take pics of them.

  Just a short 3 minutes up the trail we hit the actual summit of Mt. Liberty.  #1 of 48 was now complete and we stopped to have lunch and take a well-earned break.  Total time to the top was a little over 2:45 which is well under AMC WMG book time of 3:10.  Way to go Caitlin!  A 9 year old hitting under book time!

Resting spot
Resting spot

  To just watch her affect change after popping out on the sub-summit and now at the actual summit was tremendous.  Caitlin was truly in the grind the last 45 minutes but she kept trudging on.  This was her reward.  She was giddy with her first peak and hit me with a surprise quote that I use on her all of the time just before the summit.  It’s a modified version of JFK’s speech about putting a man on the moon, “we choose to do things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  Yes, that’s not the exact quote but it’s quite appropriate here and funny how she threw it back at me at just the right time.

  I cannot tell you how proud I was of her at this moment and how happy I was as a father to be there for this.  Some day she will be all grown up and I hope she will remember this moment, as I will for the rest of my life.  I also hope she takes the lesson of working for rewards home as well. 

  As we hit the top there were 8-10 other hikers there enjoying the view and lunching.  Several congratulated Catie on her first 4000 footer.  We promptly stopped and had lunch consisting of PB&J and cherries. 

Peak lunch!
Peak lunch!

We talked about the other peaks around and pointed out the other 4000 footers that we would have to conquer.  The conversation gravitated towards Cannon Mountain.  She has been trying to ski there for 2 seasons and things just don’t seem to work out for her to get there each time.  Last summer we took the tram to the top as a family.  I would have never guessed then that we would be across the notch at the top of Liberty less than a year later.  

View from the Cannon observatory in the Summer of 2015
View from the Cannon observatory in the Summer of 2015

  Conversation turned to Mt. Flume now and I asked Catie if she still wanted to go there.  She replied with a hearty yes.  We again set out on the Franconia Ridge Trail down to a col and back up to Mt. Flume.  This was to be a 1.5 mile and 55 minute segment according to the AMC WMG.  With the descent off Liberty, we again were leapfrogging with the two ladies who took our pictures (I wish we had introduced ourselves looking back).  This part was quite steep and I vividly remember thinking that coming back up this was going to be a chore.  The most notable thing on the descent was Catie’s first call to nature in nature.  That was now out of the way and we were descending rapidly into the col.   These little white flowers were blooming everywhere along the trail here.  IMG_3449 I’m not sure what type of alpine flower they were, but they were as beautiful as they were simple.  I’ll make sure Catie researches this and finds out what it was.

  We began to start our assent towards the Flume summit and Catie was in good spirits at one point noting how this speed and climb was “just right.”  At one point there was a bit of a clearing where you could clearly see a wooded peak quite a distance away.  My heart sank for her as I wrongly thought we were in for a much longer hike.  I think she realized this and asked me if that was where we were going.  I told her I didn’t know and we kept going.  To my complete surprise, we popped out of the trees and onto the peak of Mt. Flume not 5 minutes later!  

IMG_3448
Flume summit!

  Another surprise at the top was the family we had passed right before the Flume Slide and Liberty Springs trail split greeted us as we summited.  They had taken the Flume Slide trail up and reported that it was wet but passable.  I was a bit sad that we missed that section as reading about it both in the guide and online remarks the beauty of the trail, as well as the danger.  We stopped and took some pictures.  The father of the family took these pics of us.  The one with Catie and I overlooking the notch is my favorite of the whole trip. 

Flume summit with the Kinsmans in the distance and Liberty to the right
Flume summit with the Kinsmans in the distance and Liberty to the right

In the side pics you can see the two ladies we were leapfrogging with since the Liberty Springs Campsite.  

Our leapfrogging hikers in the background. Hi ladies and thank you again for the pics and encouragement!
Our leapfrogging hikers in the background. Hi ladies and thank you again for the pics and encouragement!

They informed us they were going down the Flume Slide trail, which the family at the top (and everything I have read about it) discouraged.

  We stopped for a second lunch.  Catie had a bar and cherries and I had a second PB&J.   I cannot tell you how perfect of a day it was.  No humidity, maybe a 5mph breeze at the summit and 90% sunshine.  It was a perfect late June day.  Overall the trip from Liberty had taken 45 minutes (10 min under AMC WMG book time).  We spend maybe 30 minutes at the top and turned back towards Liberty and the return trip.  I was dreading the re-summit and wishing we had just gone for it on the Flume Slide trail up.

  Catie really started to drag on the way back up Liberty.  The gnats had come out and were aggressive in attacking her.  Several applications of bug spray did little to help this.  They weren’t really bothering me, so she must have been much tastier.  Rests for her were coming more often.  In the col between the two peaks we met up with some older ladies who encouraged Catie and remarked how awesome it was for her to be doing this at such a young age.  Another 45 minutes from the Flume summit and we were back up on the summit of Liberty.  

USGS Mt. Liberty summit button
USGS Mt. Liberty summit button
Everyone is shuffling..
Everyone is shuffling..

  We again hung out for 20 or 30 minutes at the top in the breeze.  It was nice to get out of the bugs.  Non-threatening fluffy white clouds were more prominent now.   We snacked again and Catie re-shuffled her backpack.  {pic 18- backpack summit}  We took in one last view and headed back down the Franconia Ridge trail and turned left back onto the Liberty Springs trail.

  This took a bit of a turn for the worse for Catie when she stumbled just before the tentsite.  She was a bit weepy and disheartened.  I did my best to comfort her but when that was ineffective, I had to give her the tough love treatment of “you have to get down the mountain and I can’t carry you.” 

  The descent was brutal and far more difficult that I had ever imagined.  Catie ran out of water about ½ way down.  Fortunately I still had plenty and we shared the rest of the way.  Exhaustion was kicking in and the trail was just dragging.  It was taking far longer than expected to get down.  There was much more bug activity on the descent than previously encountered on the way up.  There was also more wildlife activity with several red squirrel, chipmunk and other assorted wildlife spotted.  We did see hikers still attempting the climb late into the day including 1 thru hiker.  One pair of college girls that were ascending asked us how much farther to the top.  I knew we weren’t far from the stream crossings and I watched their shock as I hold them they weren’t quite ½ way yet.  I wonder if they made it to the top as they were not equipped with any more than just a water bottle and we encountered them around 3:30 in the afternoon.

  Soon after we passed the Flume/Liberty junction, we again encountered our picture-taking ladies from earlier in the day.  They had indeed survived the descent of the Flume Slide trail.  They remarked how it was a lot of scooting down on their butts and holding onto trees as times, but they made it.  They took off past us and we did not see them again.  Sorry for no pics on the decent, but I just didn’t think about it.  Catie started to complain about her pack hurting her shoulders.  I thought this was mostly fatigue, but when we got back to the car her shoulders were red from the pack.

  We were back to the car by about 4:30PM, making it 6 hours of hiking and 1½ hours on the summits for a total of 7:30 for 10.2 miles and >4,400 feet of elevation climbed (the elevation was more than that as I did not include the ascent of Flume and re-ascent of Liberty). 

  Caitlin & I were both wiped out.  I was dreading the 2+-hour ride back through Boston.  We changed out of our hiking clothes and shoes and headed out down Route 3.  I wanted to hit up a local spot for dinner, and we did just that stopping at the Woodstock Inn Station for dinner. 

Woodstock Station Inn & a very hungry Catie
Woodstock Station Inn & a very hungry Catie

{Pic 19- C with menu}  There was an excellent ½ duck for me and a massive BLT for Catie.  I also ordered a summer ale brewed onsite, which also was excellent.  Notable happening at dinner was this gigantic burger that was ordered by the booth across from us.  I asked to take a pic as this was the largest burger I have ever seen.  {pic 20- burger}  We left before it was finished but the gentleman had but a good-sized dent into it.  Only in America…

IMG_3457
That is your daily allowance of calories on one plate folks…

  I’d recommend the Woodstock Station Inn to anyone.  Excellent menu, food, kids menu and brewery.  We hit the road back to Boston and within 5 minutes, I looked back to see this.  {pic 21- catie asleep}  I guess I tuckered her out.  I wish I could have done that.  The ride home was great until south of Boston where we hit Cape traffic at 8PM trying to jump the long 4th of July Holiday weekend!!!   That added 30 minutes to the drive home, which was well above book time!

IMG_3459
Fell asleep reading a 4000 word blog?

Dad’s Trip Tips:

  Trails and Planning:  Looking back I might have pushed for the Flume Slide Trail ascent.  I was reluctant as this was the first hike of any magnitude for Caitlin and I feel like you should listen to the experts, in this case the rangers at the Flume Gorge.  The last thing I would want is to ruin her first big hiking experience.  Your experience may differ and I would have much rather have done the loop than having to re-summit.  I might have also picked a less demanding hike for the first one in retrospect like Mt. Tecumseh or Mt. Osceola, but I wanted the first hike to be spectacular, and everything I had read pointed to Liberty/Flume.  Maybe if it is a first hike, I might consider just Liberty on it’s own?

  The stream crossings were no big deal on the Liberty Springs trail but there is a larger one I wouldn’t want to do with water higher than it was today (consider that it did rain heavily the day before).  Hiking the rest of the day in wet socks and shoes would not have been fun.

  Kid Factor: Longer hiking with smaller children I learned quickly to get their mind off of the trail and onto the surroundings throughout.  Take more breaks than you think they need as when the battery runs out, you still need to make it back to the car or whatever your destination may be.  Little snacks in her hip pockets of the backpack were a lifesaver.

  Equipment:  I went into this thinking I could get away with sneakers.  I was wrong and my feet hurt towards the end of the day and the next because of it.  Hiking shoes will be required next time around without a doubt for both Caitlin and I.  I also need to figure out something with her bag.  I spent a lot of time adjusting it at the beginning of the day for proper fit (it’s the physical therapist in me) and she still got sore.  I’ll find a way to fix that next time.  My Osprey was great except for the blue from the pack rubbed off on my shorts.  Take the precaution of having an emergency kit and layers for weather.  We didn’t have to use any of the emergency gear, but had it there anyway even if it was a day trip and there was a manned AMC tentsite on the way.  Layers were unnecessary today with perfect conditions but it was nice to know I had them and raingear just in case.  Also it was nice to have the AMC maps and WMG trail descriptions.  I wish the WMG was less heavy- note to AMC.

  Other Tips:  Absolutely hit the ranger station at the Flume Gorge before the hike.  They get current trail conditions and steered me towards the safest route.  It is also a nice spot for a bathroom break before the trailhead and has a cafeteria and gift shop for things you might have forgotten or need at the last minute.  Lincoln and Woodstock, NH has ample sites for last minute items and nice restaurants for your post-hike needs.  I had good luck with the Woodstock Station Inn/Brewery.

-Dad

Next up:  Either Waterville Valley area 4000 footers (the Osceolas or Tecumseh) or a return to Franconia Notch for Cannon.

2 thoughts on “June 30th, 2016: Inaugural AMC 4000 Footer Hike: Mt Flume & Mt Liberty (Dad)

  1. Great dad. How about a hotel room so you don’t have to drive home….. Or at least a tent at a local campground

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