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Hiking a Mt Flume and Mt Liberty Loop

Mt Flume
Mt Flume

Mt Flume and Mt Liberty are the two southernmost 4000 footers on the southern end of Franconia Ridge. Sometimes called “Fliberty”, they’re frequently hiked together in a loop since they’re only separated by a 1.2-mile walk along the top of the ridge. Of the two, Liberty gets the most traffic since it’s on the Appalachian Trail, even though Flume is by far the more picturesque of the pair.

If you climb Flume first, the shortest route to the summit is via the Flume Slide Trail. The climb is quite gentle at the start but then ascends quite steeply up an avalanche slide, which is usually covered with ice from late autumn to early spring. The final climb gains 1400 feet in just 0.7 miles and you have to pretty much claw your way up it.

Mt Flume in the foreground. Mt Liberty to the north
Mt Flume in the foreground. Mt Liberty to the north

I hiked it just a few days ago after Thanksgiving in microspikes but wished I’d brought along an ice tool or two and a partner. “Slides”, short for avalanche slides, are usually pretty strenuous to climb because they’re randomly distributed blocks of rock that have slid down the mountain. Temperatures were in the high 30’s and the ice was fairly soft and plastic, so my Hillsounds (microspikes) were able to get a good bite. But I still had to bushwhack around the bigger drops and ice floes and claw my way up in slippery wet snow among the trees. Once you start this climb, you’re pretty much committed since there’s no easy way down. My only real option when things got sketchy was to keep going.

At the top of the slide, the trail veers left (north) and side hills toward the Flume summit, coming out just 0.1 tents of a mile below it. The summit area is a narrow strip of west-facing rock above a sheer cliff. It was very windy (40 mph in the forecast), so I put on a wind shirt and gloves. The views of Liberty and the snow-covered Franconia Ridge were gorgeous. I could also see Mt Garfield at the other end of the Franconia Ridge clearly, which I’d climbed the day before.

Snowcapped Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette on Franconia Ridge
Snowcapped Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette on Franconia Ridge

The hike from Flume is Liberty is an easy ridge walk, protected by forest until you pop above treeline again at the Liberty summit. I started descending into the saddle between the peaks and ran into my old friend Bob Zoletti and his two daughters. Bob and I have been on many challenging winter hikes together, but I haven’t seen him for a while. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see him though. The regular hiking community is pretty small and it’s easy to run into old friends on the higher peaks.

Trip Reports to Nearby Destinations

I layered up again before hiking up the Liberty summit which is an open cliff, but not as steep as Flume. The wind had died down and it was downright balmy at the summit. I lingered some more and took in the view of Mt Canon on the other side of Franconia Notch and the impressive Canon Cliffs.

The hard (climbing) work done, it was literally downhill all the way. But the Liberty Springs Trail isn’t a cake walk. The west sides of both Liberty and Flume are covered with boulders that have rolled downhill into the woods. Covered for miles! The trail weaves through them in its own special knee grinding way. There’s also been a lot of trail work done on the Liberty Trail including the construction of stone steps to curtail trail erosion.

My knees, actually my quadriceps muscles, hate going down stone staircases, almost as I much as I hate climbing them. There’s something about the stride length required by stone stairs that don’t agree with my legs and tires out my big muscles quickly. I prefer a real incline/decline rather than a manmade one. That said, I was glad I was descending Liberty and not climbing it, which would have been infinitely worse. It’s also not as interesting a trail as the Flume Slide Trail.

Despite my gripes about stairs, I was able to get off the peak pretty quickly and back down into the bottom of Franconia Notch. From there it was a short walk down the bike path that runs through the notch back to my car. It’d been a beautiful day and a rewarding hike, not exactly easy, but just right

Total Distance: 9.75 miles with 3900′ of elevation gain.

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6 comments

  1. I’m impressed you went up the flume slide trail this time of year.
    I hiked Liberty and Flume last February, but did an out and back on the Liberty Spring trail. I had done the Flume Slide Trail a few summers ago and thought better of attempting it in the winter. That’s tough climbing!

    I always found late shoulder season to be the most difficult time to prepare for. Knowing what level of traction to bring is a challenge. I generally opted to carry crampons and an ice axe even if I was pretty sure I’d be in micros the entire time. On day hikes in the Whites, I never minded the weight penalty. Better to be safe than sorry I suppose.

    • Last week there was a foot of snow at 4000 feet and none in the valleys. Very difficult to plan for especially since so few people were out hiking and posting trail condition reports over the holiday weekend.

      Caught me by surprise the day before actually. I’d hiked up Garfield to do an overnight at 13 falls but wasn’t ready to camp in a foot of snow with the gear I’d brought. Too borderline scketchy. I decided to back off and hike out instead. Turned into a long day.

  2. Is it easier to hike Flume slide when there is ice on it? Still on my terrifying 25 list to do, but so is Mt Flume and Liberty for my NH 48. Days are gettin too short formeaningful hikes.

    • Nope (it’s harder) and definitely don’t go DOWN flume. That’s a bad idea any time of year.
      Flume is a long hike from Lincoln Woods, but doable in winter. Just get an early start and drop a car at the other end below Liberty.

  3. I must be about your height Phil. I know the feeling about the steps just not being the right pitch for my legs. I’m glad it’s not just me!

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