Let the record show that on the last day of January, 2021 this author fell in love with a pile of granite atop a ridge in New Hampshire. Mount Liberty rises 4,459 feet with a prominence of 379 feet, making it one of the state’s 4000 footers. I’ve flirted with Liberty for years, but when I wiped the slate clean and re-started my pursuit of the 48 4K’s last year in the middle of a pandemic I decided to leave this very popular hike for a quieter day. How about first light on the last day of January?
Mount Liberty was named for George Washington, but since there was already a Mount Washington Liberty seemed appropriate. It seems when you look at the mountain from a certain angle it looks like George lying in state. And sure enough, from a certain angle you can see that.
While Liberty was the goal all along, the proximity of Mount Flume, itself a 4000 footer with the rather intriguing measurements of 4,327’/407′ prominence made it a no-brainer for a peak bagging day. Since we were hiking an out-and-back, we ended up summiting Liberty twice, making for a three summit, eleven mile hike. There’s a loop option that includes the Flume Slide Trail, but we just weren’t that ambitious (and a friend talked me out of it). Talking to a hiker with crampons who’d done it, he described it as “gnarly”. And not in a good gnarly way. Better to stick with the safer route, thank you. Mount Flume is the source of Flume Brook, which carved the spectacular gorge named, you guessed it, The Flume. It’s worth a visit on a quiet day in late spring, but best done mid-week and early to beat the crowds.
You know right away that most people turn around after some time on Mount Liberty by the condition of the trail. The Liberty Springs Trail was compacted snow the entire hike, and the summit was completely compacted. The trail between Liberty and Flume was defined but definitely not as well-travelled. Since we started early, we were contributing to the trail break, but it was just compacted enough to keep the snowshoes strapped to the pack (more on snowshoes in tomorrow’s post).
For this hike, I’d texted a college friend I’ve hiked with before. The two of us met at the Liberty Springs trailhead at 6:45, making us some of the first hikers to climb that morning. We saw a few people on the summit of Liberty and were soon joined by a few more. The crowd was even thinner on the summit of Flume, with just a few diehards when we arrived there. But the day was spectacular and the traffic was picking up. Our return hike to Liberty required a lot of passing maneuvers, which generally meant whoever was coming downhill to posthole into virgin snow off trail to allow someone to pass. In summer you don’t think anything of it. In deep snow you think about it every time.
Back on a now-crowded Liberty, we had a quick snack, drank some water and began our two-hour descent. Plenty of people passed us on this leg, suggesting the return hike can be much faster for those who like to jog or butt slide down the trail. We took our time, a concession of age or wisdom or experience. I’m just not going to jog down a mountain with a full pack with snowshoes strapped on the outside. With all the traffic and the sun warming the snow the trail was breaking down a bit. Our timing was just right.