After my early-June hike up to Franconia Ridge, I was eager to get back to the White Mountains and cross another 4000-footer off my list. Luckily, I was able to get a Friday off from work, and on Thursday evening I packed my gear into my car and made the 2.5 hour drive from Freeport to Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch.
It was almost dark when I arrived at the campground, where I’d managed to get a prime spot on the banks of the Pemigewasset River. I quickly set up my tent, got a fire started, and kicked back with a beer. Unlike my last trip, I had my whole hike planned: a straight shot up the Liberty Spring Trail to the 4459′ summit of Mount Liberty.
The weather was nice enough that I was able to sleep without a fly over my tent, and I managed to get up at about the same time as the sun. I broke down camp and enjoyed breakfast to the simple sounds of the Pemi, then headed to the trailhead.
I left my car in trailhead parking just north of the Flume visitor center. There are a few places to park to get to the Liberty Spring Trail – the trail proper actually starts near the midpoint of the multi-use bike path that runs parallel to I-93 from the Flume to the Basin. This meant I had a nice walk through the woods for a little less than a mile before I crossed the Pemi and started climbing.
I didn’t see another soul as the trail climbed gradually from the Pemi up the base of Mount Liberty. After about half a mile the Flume Slide Trail split off from Liberty Spring Trail, and the trail started to gain a little more ground a little more quickly.
After a brook crossing, the trail started to climb – and climb fast. For more than a mile the hike turned into something akin to climbing up a neverending set of stairs. With no outlooks and not much variation in scenery, I had to get into the rhythm of putting one foot in front of another and just making myself go up, up, up.
I put my head down and climbed, and when I raised it again I saw that I had made it to the caretaker’s big canvas tent at the Liberty Spring Tentsite. The 10 or so tent platforms looked downright luxurious, and I took a breather to enjoy the sounds and smells of two or three weekday backpackers preparing their breakfasts. As nice as it was to wake up on the Pemi, it must be exhilerating to open your eyes at 3700-feet.
The tentsite is right at the Liberty Spring itself, so I got a quick refill of my water bottles and headed up the remaining quarter-mile of Liberty Spring Trail to Franconia Ridge.
Ah, the Ridge! While my hike from Little Haystack to Lafayette was all above treeline, here the Ridge Trail dipped into the woods, and it stayed pretty sheltered from this junction almost to the summit of Liberty.
Just before the summit, though, the trail broke out of the trees and offered a spectacular view of the rocky final push.
I was lucky enough to have the whole summit to myself for the half hour I spent there. The temperatures were just starting to rise – it hit 90 before I made it back to Maine – but there was a cool breeze on the exposed summit. It was a clear day, and there were spectacular views of Mount Lincoln, Mount Flume, Cannon, the Sandwich Range and the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
It was a quick descent, and before I made it back to the trailhead I ran into at least a dozen people. I gave everyone the same review – clear as a bell – while quietly relishing the fact that I’d gotten it all to myself. Back at the Pemi, I gave my tired feet a dip in the cool water before hitting the road back to Portland.