Mt Flume & Mt Liberty - August 6, 2005
I was up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning; 0500. Splashed some water on my face, ate a quick breakfast, made sure everything I needed was in my day pack, grabbed my Limmers, and was out the door about 5:40.
Gawd, it was a beautiful morning. I just love being out and about early in the morning. The world seems to exude promise and possibility in the early hours. I hopped on the expressway and miracle of miracles, there weren't any traffic problems driving right through the heart of Boston. Before I knew it, I was driving past the "Welcome to New Hampshire" sign. A couple hours later, I made a short detour off the highway to a little diner where I stoked the furnace with a second round of breakfast. Then I was back on the highway and on up into Franconia Notch. Just past The Flume Tourist Trap, I turned off into the hiker parking lot. I was about 20 minutes early, but the other folks in my group turned in about 15 seconds behind me. Karma.
A happily jumbled ten minutes or so as everybody tumbles out of the cars with warm greetings and we all set to work lacing up hiking boots and hefting packs. In a few minutes, we set out along the trail. It's glorious weather in the Whites today; temp just about 70, with just a hint of haze and humidity in the air. It's cool enough that the bugs aren't even active yet.
We're taking the Flume Slide Trail to the summit of Mt. Flume. From the cars it's probably about 4 1/2 miles to the summit. About half of that distance is the last .7 miles where the trail climbs straight up the granite slabs of an old slide. We're at the intersection between hiking and climbing. It's challenging, and a ton of fun. Occasionally the heavy forest opens up a bit, and we can turn around and see down into Franconia Notch. It's always amazing to see just how far up you've climbed.
By the time we get to the top of the slide, it's been more than three hours since we started hiking. I'm getting hungry. So we turn north on the Franconia Ridge Trail and quickly push on the last tenth of a mile to the summit of Mt. Flume. Ah, yes. This is why we came. It's a glorious day. The sun is shining. The air is dry for an August day in New England. There's just enough thready clouds to lend a bit of depth to the sky. We loll on the rocks. We eat. We drink. We share stories. We joke and laugh. Pulling out a map, we try to identify the surrounding peaks.
Somehow, everybody knows when it's time to push on, and without much talking, we all stand and shoulder our packs again. We plunge back into the forest as we descend to the ridge between Mt. Flume and Mt. Liberty, standing to the north. I let the others get ahead, and for a few minutes I stand still in a shaft of sunlight filtering through the evergreens. I close my eyes, and canvass my other senses. First I listen. Mostly I hear the gentle buzz of insects. It's warm enough that the flies are out now. Then I pick out the call of a bird off to my right. I try to listen for an answer, but hear none. What do I smell? I smell the distinct smell of the fir boughs that have been recently cut by a trail crew and which now lie on the ground at my feet. I smell, faintly, some rich organic mud. I smell the good, clean stink of my own sweat. Next, what can I feel. First, I feel the sun on my right shoulder. And I feel the air moving, cooling my body. And I definitely feel the muscles in my legs, and a dull, not yet unpleasant ache in my feet.
Okay. Enough of this. Open your eyes and start walking again, Allen. Gosh, it's a nice day. I wonder what the poor people are doing today. (An old hiking acquaintance from the Green Mountain Club used to say that all the time. He's dead and buried now, but I can still hear him say it.) Descending down to the ridge exercises a different set of muscles in my legs, then it's time to start the ascent up to the peak of Mt. Liberty. Liberty has impressive views. First, I turn and look back to Mt. Flume, from whence we have just come. Then I turn to the west, and peer down into the Notch. It's beautiful. Even the highway is small enough, and quiet enough, from this vantage point to be unintrusive.
And finally, I turn to the east. Here, I am looking out across the Pemigawassett Wilderness. At one time this area was a smoldering, logged over ruin. The outcry and indignation over this was a big impetus in the creation of the White Mountain National Forest. And now much of it is a designated Wilderness area. Looking down, I can pick out a couple of little ponds, and the hint of some water courses. I know there is a network of trails down there, but it's all invisible from here.
Finally, I look further east, and there above all the other peaks rises Washington. This is one of those rare days when the peak is clear and basking in sunshine. As the air crashes into the mountain from the west and is pushed up to cross over the peak, a thin trail of cloud forms and then dissipates as the air rushes back down the other side. From this remove, even the smoke belched out from the cog railway (A favorite mooning target for AT through-hikers) as it chugs up to the summit is picturesque.
It's time to go now. We start down. The long, steady descent from the summit of Liberty pounds my knees into submission. Self-pitying thoughts of age are countered by thinking of the poor slobs stuck spending their day at the mall. I'd rather feel the ache of my knees while scrambling down the rocks of the Mt. Liberty Trail in the White Mountains than ride down the escalator in the numbed anesthesia of the South Shore Mall.
About the only thing better than lacing up your hiking boots in the morning is unlacing them at the end of the hike, and peeling off those socks. Ahh! Legs tired and soul satisfied, it's time to get back on the highway and make the long drive home. After three hours behind the wheel, getting out of the car at home elicited some of those funny noises I remember my dad making when I was a kid. Now I understand.