Sunday, September 20, 2015

One Night on Mt. Liberty

Summit of Mt. Liberty
With my big trip to Iceland, I didn't go on my usual summer backpack trips, and I've been aching to sleep in the woods.  With the weather turning cooler, I decided I better get out before I lost my opportunity for the year.  Fortunately, my friend Jenny, took me up on a last minute invite to spend the night near the summit of Mt. Liberty at the Liberty Springs Tentsite.  We were rewarded with early fall weather, summit sunsets, and a pleasant hike. Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure: Mt. Liberty Overnight Backpack
Jenny on the Liberty Spring Trail

Getting There:  Mt. Liberty is located along the famous and often visited Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains.  To get to the trailhead, I took I-93 north into Franconia Notch State Park.  You can park at either The Flume or The Basin parking area.  I choose The Basin.  Both parking areas are free to park and have pit toilets.  To access the trail, walk south on the paved bike path about 0.8 miles until you reach the Appalachian Trail/Liberty Springs trailhead.  Your hike starts here.

Trail:  We took the Liberty Springs Trail from the bike path all the way to the tentsite and summit.  This is also part of the Appalachian Trail and is marked with white blazes.  The first 0.6 miles gradually rises through a hardwood forest.  At 0.6 miles, you reach the junction of the Flume Slide Trail with the Liberty Spring Trail.  Many hikers choose to take this offshoot to the ridge at Mt. Flume and then loop back to Mt. Liberty.  I've tried it in the past and while it's enjoyable and fun, the Flume Slide Trail is challenging and difficult.  I decided it wouldn't be as fun with my large backpacking pack.

Loving Nature on the Franconia Ridge
From the junction, the trail gradually meandered up through the forest, crossing over a moderate river crossing (not bad in fall).  As we crossed into the boreal zone of conifers and evergreens, the trails steepness increased and the last 1.5 miles was like a long rock staircase.  The challenge of the hike came in the consistent steady uphill, but I would categorize it as fairly moderate since there was little to no slab or technical hiking involved.

At around 2 miles, we reached Liberty Springs Tentsite.  We checked in with the cartaker (still manned through September), paid our $8 a piece fee and were assigned our platform.  Due to to the high numbers of campers, we had to share a platform with another small tent.  Our AMC caretaker warned us of increased bear activity and reminded us to cook in the assigned area away from the tentsites and to keep all food and food-related materials in the bear boxes.
Rainy hike down...bring the right gear!

Jenny and I set up camp and left again to reach the summit.  Back on the trail, it was another 0.3 miles or so to the ridge junction.  From here, we turned right on the Franconia Ridge trail.  We hiked through low trees on a gradual rise until we popped out on the rocky summit of Mt. Liberty (about 0.3 miles from junction).  We reached the summit around 6:30 pm - just in time to admire the sun setting behind the western mountains.

We returned to camp, made our delicious dinner of burritos and settled into our tent for a cool night under the stars.

In the morning, we packed up and returned the same way - 2 miles back down the Liberty Spring Trail to the bike trail and 0.8 miles back up to The Basin parking lot.

Difficulty:  Moderate in fair weather

Bear Watch at Liberty Spring Tentsite
Distance: 5.2 miles on the trail (including summit) plus 1.6 miles on the bike path to the parking lot = 6.8 miles total.

AMC Liberty Spring Tentsite: The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains shelters and tentsites in the White Mountains.  During the busy season, a caretaker is there to help assign tent platforms, maintain the privy, and aid hikers.  There is an $8 fee per person.  This gives you access to the privy toilet (bring your own toilet paper!), bear boxes, and a water source.  In the summer the tentsites and shelters fill quickly, especially on weekends.  Make sure you get to your site early.  Even through it was mid-September, Liberty Spring Tentsite was completely booked by the end of the night.  We got there around 5 pm and there were still spots (although we had to share a platform).  This is a great way to backpack through the Whites with limited impact and guaranteed water/tentsite.


- Check the Weather - Franconia Ridge is notorius for high winds and variable weather.  Although it was easily 80 F in The Basin parking lot, it was a cool 40 with windchill at Mt. Liberty summit.  We experienced hours of downpour overnight and woke up to drizzle in the morning.  Fortunately, we had checked the weather and were prepared with rain gear and warm layers.
View of Mt. Lafayette and Cannon Mountain from Liberty.

- Gear - Know what you need for an overnight.  Besides a tent, sleeping bag, and pad - overnight hikers need to be prepared with extra water, water purifier, stove, food, warm layers, and extra first aid materials.

Experiences sunset on the Franconia Ridge was a magical experience.  By spending a night up at Liberty Spring Tentsite, Jenny and I got to enjoy some of the best views and camping in the White Mountains at the beginning of fall.  I highly recommend a night near the ridge.

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