What do bowling pins, 15 pound bags of rice and charcoal, cases of beer, TV sets, and water reservoirs have in common? They’re just some of the crazy ass things that hikers load into their packs to train for backpacking trips where they have to carry heavy loads.
While carrying a heavy backpack has grown out of favor, you can’t avoid it on trips where you can’t resupply every 5 to 7 days. That, I kept telling myself, is why I was carrying 45 pounds of gear and water (lots of Platypus reservoirs filled with water) up Mt Liberty, the 18th highest 4000 footer in the White Mountains at 4459′ last Sunday. I’m training for an 18 day trip without any resupplies along a self-defined route through the White Mountains that climbs all of the White Mountain 4000 footers in one continuous backpacking trip (See the White Mountain Challenge.)
Hiking heavy isn’t something I recommend, but it’s been an interesting training regimen over the past six weeks and opened my eyes to how the other half lives. When I started backpacking in my forties, I went straight to the ultralight backpacking side and skipped the formative years of carrying the heavy backpacking loads that most of my contemporaries have experienced. I had no idea how much heavier those extra 20-30 pounds would feel.
When you carry a backpack, the ideal weight distribution is to have about 75% of the weight carried by your hip belt and 25% on your shoulders. That’s no problem if you’re carrying 25 pounds of gear, food, and water. But when you double that amount and carry 50 pounds, your shoulders and back muscles have to carry twice as much weight. I have strong legs from lots of hiking, but it’s been a difficult adjustment for me to carry so much extra weight on my shoulders. Carrying that extra load on your shoulders can be painful even if you have a backpack that fits perfectly. But you do get stronger if you work at it.
But I digress.
I hadn’t hiked up Mt Liberty for quite a long time and figured it would be a good training hike. Liberty is at the southern end of Franconia Ridge, which considered one of the most scenic hikes in the United States and I’ll be hiking up the Liberty Spring Trail to gain access to Mt Flume and the rest of the Franconia Ridge on my White Mountain Challenge route.
The trail head for the Liberty Spring Trail (which is part of the Appalachian Trail) leaves from the bike trail than runs down the center of Franconia Notch. The trail is named for the spring at 3750′ which serves as the water source for an AMC maintained tent site there. For three season hiking, there’s no reason to carry a load of water up there when you can resupply along the way. Winter is a different matter of course because the spring is covered in ice and inaccessible.
This trail starts out easy but gets progressively rockier and steeper the higher up you climb. I soon encountered the last traces of an icy monorail layer, named because it looks like a monorail when viewed from the side. The middle part of the trail (the rail) is usually the last part to melt off when the weather turns warmer because so many people have hiked on it all winter.
I came to a stream crossing and heard someone call out my name. There was my friend, Craig B. stripping off his shirt (to keep from getting it soaked during the climb) and putting his shell jacket back on. I barely recognized him since the last time I’d seen him, we’d been bundled up for a Winter Traverse over the Bonds in February. Craig was hiking Liberty for his April grid, of course (see The Grid, Gridiots, and the Gridiocracy).
We hiked together until just below the tent site and caught up with one another. It’s a small but kind world where you can walk through the woods and meet a friend you haven’t seen in months, who decided to hike the same mountain the same day and on the same path as you, in crappy weather.
We put on microspikes at about 3000 feet which is where the snow-line was last weekend. Everything above that is still locked in winter and will be well into May. I suppose we should be grateful that spring has come to the lower elevations in the White Mountains, but I still long for warmer weather and blue skies above treeline.
It started to sleet as we climbed higher. I was hiking up the steep section from 3000 to 4300 feet more slowly than Craig, weighed down by the extra training weight in my pack. My objective was just Liberty, but he wanted to bag both Liberty and nearby Mount Flume, so he took off and we parted ways. No doubt I’ll run into him somewhere else in the Whites in the coming weeks when he’s working on his May grid and I’m doing more training hikes.
I took a short food and water break in the woods before scrambling up to the summit in the mist. I got a laugh out of seeing the blue blaze pained on a rock below the summit, thinking this is an awful weird way to get to town for a thru-hiker resupply, after climbing Mt Liberty. If you’re headed northbound on the AT, you want to resupply before you climb Mt Liberty so you don’t have to climb it twice!
The views from Liberty can be quite nice on a clear day, but there was nothing to see above 4,000 feet except the faint outlines of Little Haystack and Mount Lincoln through the mist. I was hoping the fog would lift but no such luck.
By now I was soaked from the sleet, so I hiked down the peak and back to my car in the Flume Parking lot, making it down in about two and a half hours, before heading to GH Pizza in Lincoln. By the time I’d finished my pizza (2 hours later), I was completely dry and warmed up again, before retiring to my (wet) campsite for the night.
Total Distance: 8.2 miles
Hike Time: 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 3250 ft.