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A mighty fine day up on Mt Liberty.
Ian and I had originally laid plans to head up Saturday and the weather was looking great. He needed to attend to some things so we postponed until Sunday. Judging by other photos I saw from Saturday, both days were choice.
We met up at the park and ride, which was quite full. I pulled in an parked next to a modified mini school bus with a ‘hang ten’ sign in place of the stop sign and a couple of beer taps sticking out the side wall. I still hadn’t had my coffee yet, but made for an early morning chuckle.
Ian pulled in next to me and started sorting through his gear. This is to be his first genuine winter hike. He had done a couple hikes before the holidays which encountered ice, but not so much snow. He also had purchased some shiny new Tubbs Flex ALP snowshoes that he was eager to use. We packed up the trunk and headed out. First stop was Dunkin Donuts. Then a quick stop to top off gas so won’t need to do it later. The drive up went by fairly quick. We kept noting the Mountain Forecast sight reporting ‘some clouds’ for the day and my history with this report. Typically when I hike, if the forecast shows ‘some clouds’ that pretty much means snow or rain is imminent. The cloud ceiling was high, but it was overcast the whole drive up. Just before we reached Franconia Notch there were some breaks in the clouds. The sun shine through onto Cannon Mountain. I tried to get a good picture but it just doesn’t do it justice.
We pulled into the Basin parking lot on the Northbound side. This is a well known secret to access the Basin bushwhack cutting off a bit of walking on the bike path. There was one pickup truck in the upper lot, but we were the first in the lower lot, near the outhouses. This was the first time I had seen them closed. They had a wooden crossbar over the entrance with a note, but I didn’t approach to read the note. We strapped on our boots and gaiters in the warmth of the car and then climbed out to suit up. We chatted about layer options for Ian. As a skier he actually had quite a few layer options. The temps were supposed to be in the mid to high teens, but felt warmer as there was almost no wind. We opted to leave his full ski jacket in the car and take a couple fleece and a nice hooded wind layer. We didn’t need to strap our snowshoes onto our packs as we would be using them from the start. The clouds continued to break while suiting up and the weather continued to improve.
The bike path was well packed as it is used by snowmobiles during the winter months. We finished packing up and double checking our layers, hats, and gloves. We walked over to the bike path/trail and strapped on our snowshoes. The straps on the Tubbs Flex ALP work very well and require almost no learning curve. He was strapped in quickly and put on mine. I let him use my hiking poles for balance figuring it might be easier to get used to the snowshoes. He took to it quickly and didn’t have any issues. He equated it to walking like you had a diaper on, at first. But this goes away quickly as you get used it.
After a short stretch on the bike path, we found the bushwhack entrance. Luckily it was already packed out so easier to spot. I always have a tough time finding the entrance from the bike path. There are a pair of mature trees where someone has scarred the bark away to mark the entrance. You quickly cross the small brook next to the trail and follow up the drainage to the real trail. It meets the Liberty Springs Trail on the hairpin corner of a switchback. From the Liberty Springs Trail, the corner is an easy marker to find the bushwhack from that point on the return trip. We cruised up to the junction of Liberty Spring Trail and Flume Slide Trail. We adjusted our layers and continued on LST as we don’t want to mess with the slide in winter.
The trail continues over easy grades for a short while until it dips into a stream crossing. Ian commented a couple times how much he enjoyed the flats and how he could go for miles like that. I must admit, it is quite a treat. The crossing still had a decent ice/snow bridge, but there was one or two post holes just off the packed track. From here, the trail ascends at a constant rate, all the way to the next junction. This makes the trail seem longer than it really is. As Ian was out of practice and toting winter gear and first time hiking in winter boots with snowshoes. This is a lot to absorb, but the price of winter hiking. The stops were welcome and allows moments to enjoy the details of the trail and it’s surroundings.
We continued marching and resting until we reached the tent sites. By this point I was getting hungry but didn’t want to break out snacks until the summit. It seemed just around the next corner. The tentsite is about .3 mile below the junction. At this point in the hike, it goes by quick and soon at the junction of Liberty Spring Trail and Franconia Ridge Trail. The wind passes through this junction area and has blown the snow depths quite deep nearly burying the trail signs. We rest a moment here and checkout the lichen and snow covered trees. You can see footprints scattering in every direction seeking bathroom breaks. We sense the summit is just a bit more work so we don’t linger too long.
From the junction the trail weaves through some lichen covered trees. It seems to wander around taking the scenic route. After a few turns, you can see up the steeps. The trail steepens and you can see glimpses of out of the tree tunnel to the sky and occasionally the summit. It seems to pop out suddenly and if you remember to turn around you can see across 93 to Cannon and the Kinsmans and back down trail to Little Haystack and Lincoln. We continued up the ridge enjoying every step and view. Up on the exposed ridge, the massive rock outcropping of the Mt Liberty summit commands your attention.
We navigate around the base and up minding our steps on the ice. Till now, the snow pack was firm but not solid. The summit stretch was ice and bare rock and care needed to avoid snapping snowshoe toe crampons. Once at the summit we removed the shoes as it was mostly bare rock. The sky was blue in every direction. This open summit provides views in every direction. We could easily see Mt Mansfield in Vermont. We layered up as the temps were still cool, though warmer than predicted. I would guess mid twenties at the summit but the sun was warming. A light breeze reminded us it was winter. We ate some lunch and lounged a bit. For a few minutes we had the summit to ourselves.
We kept trying to decide if we wanted to press on to tag Mt Flume while we were up there, but our pace and the time help firm up our decision to skip it this time.
While we snacked and lounged, a couple folks came up with their pup and took some pics. They made their way over toward Flume. Another couple folks came up with 2 pups. Chatted a briefly with them. He owns the Notch Hostel(Link) and was on his day off. It sounds like a great place if you need a night or two to keep you in the Whites. I will definitely look them up in the future.
We mulled around a bit longer and few more folks made the summit. We decided to start our retreat and opted to pack our snowshoes and use our Hillsounds on the way down. The majority of folks were in spikes. Not many others used snowshoes. This proved to be much easier on the legs and our descent went quickly. I did take a few turns (butt) sliding down the steep sections. Ian managed to remain on his feet almost the entire descent. The trail was packed but any side step and it was soft. He rounded a tree and slipped just off trail into a bit of a tree well and took a tumble. Of course I had to snap a shot.
The weather was amazing and I think this was a very successful first winter snowshoe trip for Ian. He also gets another check off his list. I enjoyed the entire day.