Monday, September 20, 2010

Mt. Flume & Mt. Liberty - My Longest Journey So Far

Mount Flume has always appealed to me. I'm not really sure what my draw to it is. I've always loved how the peak's profile is extremely sharp when viewed upon from the north or south. It also has some amazing slides and scars on the western face which make's it an unmistakable mountain. Most of all though, it has one of the most infamous trails leading up to the summit, that is still in use. The very steep and challenging Flume Slide Trail ascends the mountain by way of wet slabs at an almost vertical pitch. It brings the climber 1,400 vertical feet in only 0.7 miles. It's a killer!

In order to tackle the Flume Slide Trail, I recruited a veteran of it, my buddy Matt Reitan. He's an extremely experienced hiker and slides like this are not intimidating to him at all. His experience and confidence is exactly what I needed to get through this crazy desire of mine. So, we set the date for September 18th and headed up to Franconia Notch.

Matt's an old fraternity buddy of mine from UNH. He's received the name "Slowtan" (Slow-Reitan) because he is always late for everything. In standard Slowtan style, we pulled up to the trailhead around 10am, which is way later than I have ever started a hike before. But that was okay because I was just happy to have him, and his dog Dasher, join me. The route that we mapped out was a 10 mile loop which included multiple trails and two peaks. We would start on the Whitehouse Trail to the Pemi Bike Path. From the Pemi Bike Path, we picked up the Liberty Springs Trail. After following this trail for a bit, we branched off onto the dreaded Flume Slide Trail, ascend the slide until we hit the beginning of the Franconia Ridge Trail, 0.1 miles below the Mount Flume summit. After summiting, we would continue on the Franconia Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Liberty. After enjoying the summit of Mount Liberty, we would continue north on the Franconia Ridge Trail for a short distance, hang a left onto the Liberty Springs Trail and backtrack to the trailhead.

The beginning of the trek was pretty easy and for the first mile or so you forget that you are even climbing a mountain. However, when we got to the junction and saw the sign for the Flume Slide Trail, that feeling of intimidation came back to me quickly. It was a reminder of the challenge that laid before me. But I came to climb the slide, and that is exactly what I intended to do.
Matt, Dasher and I continued on this path for a few miles and noticed
very gradual elevation gains. The trail was not that scenic and at times, was grown in quite a bit. I was able to take a few snapshots of mushrooms and we hopped over a few easy brook crossings. This trail has such a horrible reputation for being so challenging and steep, and it was one of the easiest trails I had been on to date (at this point). This ironic situation built up a ton of suspense within me as I knew at some point, the trail would go up...and up it went.

Matt and Dasher at the foot of the slabs

The trail foundation quickly changed from soil and tree roots to many small loose rocks. This to me was a clear indication that the slide was near. The incline on the trail increased and we quickly came to a boulder on the trail sporting a red line down it. I assumed that this was the marker for the bottom of the slide. With larger rocks everywhere now, we climbed, one step after another, up a very steep trail. It wasn't long before we came to our first rock wall obstacle. I remember thinking, "this is what I have been waiting for, the fun part!" We started to use our hands more and more until we found ourselves on the side of wet, slab rock. There was no distinguishable trail in front of us or behind us, just rock wall.

Picture taken from the side of the trail, showing the grade

Matt, being the experienced climber that he is, would go ahead of us and scout out our best path. Dasher and I would sit back and wait for him to yell down to us that we were good to go. It amazes me how quickly you gain ground when you are moving straight up. In order to avoid some truly dangerous spots, we did have to veer off to the side of the trail at times, and use small saplings to pull ourselves up. After what seemed to be a very long ascent over slabs, we finally came to a recognizable path. The trail above the slide continued steeply, all the way to the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Me, on the summit of Mt. Flume, looking up the Franconia Ridge

After hitting the Franconia Ridge Trail, the summit of Mt. Flume was only 0.1 miles away. The trail opens up quickly and drops you out on the western ledges, just below the summit. A few people got a show just prior to us making it onto the summit as the fighter jets (we think they were F18 Hornets) from the Loudon Raceway fly over screamed over the summit. Matt was able to catch a glimpse of the bird's double stabilizers, but I was not fast enough to get up there in time...total bummer for me!

Dasher, on the summit of Mt. Liberty

Mount Flume was great. A wonderful, westerly breeze cooled us down after such a bear of an ascent. Mount Liberty and the rest of the Franconia Ridge was easily visible. After eating some lunch and relaxing for a short while, we geared up and headed over to Liberty, knowing we still had a long way to go. The hike over to Mount Liberty was a challenge for me. Not so much the downhill, but the uphill portion was tough. My muscles were just warn out from the Flume Slide Trail but I pushed through and made it to the summit.

View of the Pemi from Mount Liberty

Sun rays to the southwest of Mt. Liberty

Mount Liberty, to my pleasant surprise, was an incredible summit. I can honestly say it is now one of my favorite peaks in New Hampshire. There were great views from all around. To the north, Little Haystack, Lincoln and Garfield stood tall. To the west, Cannon Mountain, the Kinsmans and Moosilauke could easily be identified. To the south, our previous destination, Mount Flume sported its scared western slopes. My favorite views of all were to the east. The entire Pemigewasset Wilderness was easy to make out. The Bonds, Mount Guyot, Owl's Head, you could see them all! And peaking over the Pemi was the big guy, Mount Washington. It was clear enough that day that I could even focus in on the observatory towers.

Cannon Mountain from Mt. Liberty

Mount Flume and its scarred slopes

Matt, Dasher and I stayed on the summit for a good 40 minutes, sucking in the fresh mountain air and enjoying what New Hampshire has to offer. After taking many pictures and meeting a few hiking groups, we packed up and headed down to the Liberty Springs Trail. On the Liberty Springs Trail, I got my first view of an AMC Tent Site. It was actually pretty impressive with very sturdy platforms scattered on the mountain side. I only poked around the tent site for a few minutes and continued on down the mountain.

Matt, resting on a shear cliff on the northwestern corner of the Mt. Liberty summit

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful and the trek out seemed very long. As I said before, Mount Liberty was an incredible summit and the beauty of it far surpassed that of Mount Flume. However, the true reward for the day was knowing I made it up the Flume Slide Trail. Arguably, it is one of the toughest, non-technical climbs in New Hampshire and I can say I climbed it. I'm proud of myself. And the best part is, I had a blast doing it with a great friend. It was truly my longest journey so far, both because of length and difficulty.

A special thanks to Matt and Dasher for hiking with me this past Saturday and putting up with my slow pace! I hope to hike with you guys again soon!



  1. Karl, it really was a great hike...Just for the record, Slow-tan applies to everything but hiking :)

    Some really good pictures in there, love the "grade" pic and also the pic of Dasher at the top, but I am a little bit biased. How did you find out that the Fighter Jet was from the Loudon Speedway?

  2. Flume is an awsome mountain! Nice trip report. I think the Franconia area might be one of my favorite spots in the whites1

  3. Your friend Matt is CUTE!