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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mt. Liberty (#24), March 8, 2009

Whitehouse Trail, Liberty Springs Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail.

8 miles, out-and-back.

Hands-down, this was the best hike we've done thus far. In Alex's words, it was "the funnest and the weirdest."

We started out casually, easing into the morning. Got the usual bagel with cream cheese breakfast and drove to the Whitehouse Trailhead. It was wet outside, having rained all night long. However, I knew the forecast called for zero-to-little precipitation throughout the day and clear skies by the afternoon.

We arrived at the trailhead and geared up -- it was very, very nice not to be cold while getting ready. I think I'm ready for spring and the non-frigid weather.

The Whitehouse Trail winds gently through the woods, emptying out on a bike path near the Pemigewasset River. The trail was packed, the overnight rain having had no deleterious effects on the "white sidewalk."

We took the left turn and ambled down the bike path.

It was a pretty little stroll.

We approached the bridge that crosses the river.

Upon seeing the bridge, Alex immediately ran onto it and commenced her usual ritual....toss a handful of snow into the water, watch the river absorb it, toss more snow into the water, watch the river absorb that, repeat.

After a few minutes, she was ready to move on. Fifty yards away was the beginning of the Liberty Spring Trail.

The trail from here to the summit was just as packed and "sidewalky" as the Whitehouse Trail. Though I was carrying snowshoes for both of us, we never needed to wear them.

On the lower third of this path, rocks are beginning to poke through the snow and most water crossings have lost their snow bridges.

We reached the intersection with the Flume Slide Trail about half an hour later. Someone had left a nice twig message in the snow, probably the night before.

We took our usual trail sign picture...

...and continued on our way.

One great thing about the warm temps is that we were able to stop and smell the roses along the trail without becoming too cold for comfort. One of the many things Alex stopped to notice was this leaf (she took its picture):

This leaf was the only leaf on the tree - the only surviving leaf from the previous season. She marveled at how it was still attached, having survived all winter snowfall and wind. I took a picture of the whole tree, with her right by the leaf. It kind of looks like the tree is licking her face.

We said goodbye to the little thing and headed on our way.

Soon afterward we were passed by a nice man who was heading up to do Liberty and Flume. I found out later this was JohnL from VFTT -- really nice meeting you, John!

After about 0.8 miles, we hit the steep part of the trail. We now had a 1.2 mile steep and steady slog ahead of us until we reached the Liberty Spring campsite (which is 0.6 miles from the summit).

I had prepared Alex for this as much as I could ahead of time, telling her it was going to be an awful, gruelling, nasty climb. Therefore, the actual hike up didn't seem all that bad -- we had both imagined something far worse than what we actually found.

We took many breaks and a few silly pictures (here's one)...

...discussed the plot of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the book), compared it to the movie, compared both to Star Wars, did a few Jabba the Hut imitations, and wondered aloud what we would do if we ran into a troll on the trail. After an hour and a half of such musings, we came to the "don't camp-within-1/4-mile-of-the-campsite" sign.

A bit more steepness and twenty minutes later, we came to Liberty Spring Campsite itself.

The snow was a tad deep....

Here we stopped and had a nice, long food break. Again, I am digging the warmer temperatures, appreciating how nice it is to stop for a while and not become dangerously cold. I had forgotten what a delight something as simple as that is.

We finished feeding our faces, geared up for wind, and were about ready to roll when two VFTT/Rocks lurkers came up the trail -- Chris and Walter. They were heading up to do both Liberty and Flume. They were incredibly nice guys -- a pleasure meeting the both of you, if you ever read this.

We let them pass and then continued on our way. What seemed like a very short 0.3 miles later, we came to the Franconia Ridge Trail.

This trail was also packed out, in super-fine form.

Up to this point, we had heard the wind howling through the trees for most of our hike. I knew there would be exposure close to Liberty's summit, but I also knew that the total exposed roundtrip distance was only about a tenth of a mile. It was a relatively warm day and we had all appropriate wind gear and skin coverings (and hand warmers)-- frostbite would not be a danger.

So...into the wind we ventured. We felt it full force once we stepped out of the trees and started climbing up the first rocky bit toward a large cairn. Alex stepped out in front of me, a gust of wind hit her, and she promptly fell over. I asked if she was okay -- and if she felt warm -- she answered in the affirmative. I asked how her hands were, she said they were fine, everything was warm and toasty (hooray for hand-warmers). She got up and tried to walk again, and got knocked right back over. She then decided to crawl up to the cairn, and I agreed that would be the best move.

We were completely socked in -- so socked in, that at first I thought that large cairn WAS the summit....but something in me said no, that's not what I remembered from all the trail descriptions I had read....then the clouds cleared enough for me to see the rather gothic-looking, giant rocky summit looming just ahead of us...

I pointed it out to Alex, who didn't see the trail at first and thought we were going to have to climb up the side to get to the top. ("We don't have to climb THAT, do we??!?!")

I pointed the path out to her. She stood, I grabbed her arm, and we made our way across the path to the left side of the towering rocky peak.

Once we got onto the side of the peak, we were completely out of the wind. Alex caught her breath a bit -- she was completely warm, but the wind was ROARING and she said the wind sounded and felt "scary and weird." She was much happier now that she was shielded from it. We made out way toward the top and kept low to the rocks.

Once at the top, Alex and I both crawled around together, avoiding the wind and raising up enough to touch the tops of all the highest rocks. Once that was done, she found a sheltered place to sit for her summit picture.

She stayed there while I stood up to take a few pictures -- no views today, just cloud.

Here's the bit of trail we had just walked across to get to the peak...the ledge with the large cairn is barely visible.

More cloud views...

ALMOST getting a view...but no, not really.

I was thrilled to be up there -- the wind was fierce but not enough to knock ME off my feet (I weigh three times as much as my daughter). I was not cold in the slightest, and I could have stayed there much longer. Didn't need any face gear, just a was really comfortable up there, and I enjoyed the wind howling about me. However, Alex started asking when we could go back down into the trees, so we started down the peak.

On the way toward the cairn, I made Alex more comfortable with the wind by shouting at it. "Hey, stop pushing us, how rude!!" That made her laugh and she shouted a few things herself.

Once we were down the ledges and into the trees, she turned to me and matter-of-factly stated, "Well, THAT was something new to deal with!" Then she turned and began her usual jog down the trail.

We got back to the Liberty Springs intersection and I regretted out loud that I did not take a video up there. Alex told me to take a video now, so I did. Unfortunately, I turned the camera sideways while I was doing I have a film that you have to turn your head to one side to see. So until I figure out how to fix that, I'll leave it off the blog.

Back at the Campsite, we had another snack. JohnL came back down the trail while we were resting, after having visited both Liberty and Flume. He offered to take our picture -- thanks, John!

After he left, I took another video of Alex. Here she is, discussing the merits of winter hiking. (By the way, she knows about the Zealand moose...I've explained that it's difficult for moose to move through deep snow, and that moose like to use hiker trails...and that the Zealand moose didn't appreciate encountering a bunch of people a few weeks ago.)

Soon thereafter, we joyfully descended.

We had such a blast on the way down. The day was warming and the snow was becoming slippery...the steepest parts of the trail absolutely required butt-sliding....and let me just say....this is the number one trail for the glissade technique. We giggled madly all the way down.

Once arriving at the flatter sections, we felt the need to de-layer bigtime. We were both getting hot -- the sun was now out in full force and the skies looked completely blue. At the bike path, I looked through the trees and saw summits in the clear...sigh...Alex said she didn't care, that she felt this was her favorite hike so far, even better than Wildcat A.

We hiked the Whitehouse Trail feeling fine and made it back to the trailhead.

24 down, halfway through.

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