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2006-06-03 Mt Liberty

The boys and I did our first official hike of the season in the White Mountains of NH yesteday: up Mt Liberty and across the Franconia Ridge to Mt Flume. We have to plan these things well in advance - people need to take time off from work, we have to get a condo, and then there's the general question of everyone's availability.

It's been a very busy spring for me (an unusual number of events with family and friends), and about two weeks ago I realized that I hadn't been getting any exercise and I had what would undoubtedly be a very strenuous hike coming up in two weeks! I began to cram for it - I went on a couple of half hour runs and did a small hike with Jenny over last weekend. It's probably not a very good idea for a forty year old cigar smoker who sits on his ass all day to suddenly begin a program of intense exercise, but there you have it. I like to live on the edge.

This sudden exercise program didn't help very much - I had to take it very slow throughout the entire hike to keep my heart rate and breathing within sustainable levels. My buddies (Steve and Tom) were way ahead of me most of the time.

We started out at nine A.M. Of course, it was raining. Most of the times I've hiked in the White Mountains have been in the rain. It rained on and off all day long. It was nothing compared to what they got a few hundred miles south in Boston, but it was enough to have us completely soaked by noon, rain gear notwithstanding.

It took us about three hours to get to the summit of Mt Liberty. This is a 4000+ foot peak. It's really amazing at the top. It would have been a lot nicer if we hadn't been completely engulfed by clouds.

I met a couple of old guys on the way up. They were coming down. "How's the summit?" I asked. "Windy" they replied. This turned out to be an understatement. The winds on top were intense. So much so that I had to crouch down on one occassion because I was afraid of getting blown off a precipice. And then there was the hail. Yes, hail. In June. When we finally got to the peak, we found ourselves getting pelted with small hailstones. This was overshadowed by the wind when facing away from it, but when facing the wind, the hail striking our exposed faces was nearly unbearable.

We didn't stay on the summit for very long. We headed off to Mt Flume, a mile or so to the south. The map showed what appeared to be a shallow valley between the two peaks, with elevation changes of only a few hundred feet. As we began the descent from Mt Liberty, it was clear that the reality of this was a little more of a steep downhill than I had bargained for. We knew it wasn't going to be very much fun coming back up this.

We normally like to do "loops" - up on one trail, down on another. This would have been doable in this case with the Flume trail (which runs from the base to the summit of Mt Flume) but the guidebook and several hikers we met all advised against going downhill on the Flume trail - which is largely a rock scramble. They had also advised against doing the Flume trail at all in wet weather, so we had decided to go up the trail to Liberty and then backtrack down it after hitting Flume.

When we reached the peak of Flume after a short uphill, we found that the wind was a lot less harsh there. No hail, either. We were hoping that this meant that the wind had just died down a little since earlier. We could see where the trail went on from the peak down into the Flume trail, and even saw a couple of hikers coming up it. These guys must have been serious die-hards, as they weren't carrying any packs and had no visible water containers.

After the obligatory pictures on the cloudy summit, we headed back down the trail from which we had come back to Liberty. As expected, the downhill from the Liberty peak proved to be quite a grueling uphill on the return trip. I consoled myself with the thought that this would be the last extended uphill walk I would have to do on that day, and soon made it back to the peak (where Steve and Tom were waiting for me, just below the peak, avoiding wind exposure).

It turned out that the Liberty peak was just as windy and hail-assaulted as when we had left it. This seemed very strange, we speculated that this had to be due to the difference in altitude between this peak and Flume (Liberty is about 500 feet higher).

The trip down was painful, at least for me. My leg muscles were pretty raw and wobbly at this point, and I was completely soaked. The trail is very rocky, and the wet rocks made for the possibility of a potentially dangerous fall. I took the descent very slowly, not wishing to add haste to this formula for disaster.

We finally got back down to the parking lot at almost four. All told, a seven hour hike. Not too shabby. We're filing this one away for future reference. On a clear day, the views from the summits should be awesome.