Give Me (Mount) Liberty
Tucked between its loftier neighbors Mts. Lafayette and Lincoln (both over five thousand feet in elevation) and Mt. Flume (4328 feet) on its shorter side, Mt. Liberty often ends up like a middle child in the mountainous siblings making up the Franconia Range, a beautiful and often visited peak en route to completing the Franconia Ridge Trail. At 4439 feet, Liberty is a gem of the valley, a wholly challenging but highly accessible climb offering spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, including distant looks at the majestic Presidentials to the northeast. The focus of this winter trek was to summit Liberty via the Whitehouse Trail (a paved walking and bike path that begins at the Flume Visitor Center and continues well beyond the junction to head up Liberty), up the Liberty Spring Trail before meeting up with the Franconia Ridge Trail for the last ascent to Liberty's summit. An "out and back" trip to Liberty is eight miles and roughly 3250 feet in elevation (peak bagging Flume will add two more miles and another thousand feet in elevation) and is largely tree covered for most of the way until the final ascent, a gorgeous visual payoff not easily matched anywhere in the White Mountains.
There are certainly higher mountains with longer, more majestic ridge walks and spectacular views, but for the time invested (our trek took four and a half hours total), it's difficult to beat Liberty's easy access off the highway and varied terrain to get some great all around vistas. This winter ascent was made a bit easier by the more moderate temperatures the first two-thirds of the way (helped by the dense tree coverage and day's lack of wind) but the trail posed challenges with packed ice and snow and some water crossings in the first hour of the hike. The roughly mile and a half approach to the Liberty Spring Trail via the walking/bike path serves as a useful warm up over two bridges and past another parking lot before veering off to the right into the woods.
Early on, the ascent up the Liberty Spring Trail proves fairly mild but moderately technical, with rocks and some sharp turns and deceptive trail slopes along the way. Strapping some micro-spikes on one's hiking boots will help immensely here and later when the trail gets snowier and packed with ice en route to the top. Within two tenths of a mile hikers are met with the Flume Slide Trail junction and an opportunity to ascend to Mt. Flume and loop back (hitting Liberty's peak along the way) for a descent down the Liberty Spring Trail.
Be warned--this is something best saved for summer months and avoided during winter as it poses an extremely dangerous and high risk journey. Keeping left on the Liberty Spring Trail brings hikers to a series of manageable but noteworthy water crossings (again, be wary of stepping on iced over rocks in the winter and seek safe footing to cross, especially the larger Cascade Brook). Once past this point, the trail steadily climbs upward for a very hearty and steep two miles before meeting up with the Franconia Ridge Trail.
The last half mile of the climb is a short scramble upward, past scattered firs and birch trees to the rocky peak with 360-degree views abound. For a truly spectacular view, push past the cairn of Liberty another few hundred feet to the massive slab of jutting rock which cuts an impressive profile as one looks out to one of the most breathtaking panoramic views of the White Mountains in the state, including an unobstructed eastern view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Liberty's vistas are unlike any peak in New Hampshire and allow hikers to see a bounty of surrounding four thousand foot peaks along with other formidable mountain tops in the area.
After a satisfying and picture-worthy stay at the top, the descent from Liberty moves along fairly quickly and directly. After branching off the Franconia Ridge Trail, the drop in elevation down the Liberty Spring Trail is sharp and relentless for the first mile and a half before letting up for a more moderately challenging descent, albeit still with some technical rock management and water crossings. Spikes or crampons are a necessity if making this climb during the winter. All told, the descent ranks among the most direct and relatively moderate returns off a peak of all the major New Hampshire mountains (total time from Liberty's peak to the Flume Visitor Center parking lot was two hours). Liberty offers the best of both worlds: a challenging and vigorous climb with utterly spectacular views up an accessible, direct trail ideal for all seasons.