Note: Over the course of 2013, I’ll be running all 160.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. Other entries in this series are available here.
It’s been eight years since I last climbed the Liberty Spring Trail, the 2.9-mile section of the Appalachian Trail that ascends from I-93 to the Franconia Ridge. The last time I did it, I was fairly out of shape, and I was carrying a big pack. The result: pain. This weekend, I decided it was time for a rematch.
This time I took on the long, steep climb as the first stretch of a loop run that included an ascent of Mount Lafayette. We started at the AT parking lot just north of the Flume Visitor Center at about 6:45 a.m. under sunny skies (amazing!). To get to the Liberty Spring Trail, we first took a short connecting trail (0.7 miles) to a paved bike path. At a footbridge that crosses a river, the Liberty Spring Trail enters the woods on the right.
The first half mile of the Liberty Spring Trail is fairly easy. After an intersection with the Flume Slide Trail, the trail starts to climb. Then it climbs some more. After a bit more climbing, it continues climbing. The footing is rocky, but without a heavy pack it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered and didn’t require any use of hands (as South Kinsman had, for example). About a third of a mile from the junction with the Franconia Ridge Trail, we passed the Liberty Spring tent site, where I had spent a night back in 2005. When we hit the ridge, we headed north 1.8 miles along the Franconia Ridge Trail (aka AT) to Little Haystack Mountain. The ridge to Little Haystack was nice, but I was eager to finish that wooded section so we could get out on the open ridgeline. At Little Haystack we were greeted by clearest view we’ve had in weeks.
From Little Haystack, we descended only slightly on the open ridgeline before we climbed up Mount Lincoln. This section is fairly runnable (or at least fast-hikable™) if your legs aren’t too tired from the climb to the ridgeline. From the summit of Mount Lincoln, we looked out on a sea of peaks. From Lincoln, we again made a brief descent, still on ridgeline, and then made the climb up Mount Lafayette (1.7 miles from Little Haystack). The summit there was every bit as great as Lincoln, although it was a little more crowded by this point and the sky was getting a little hazy. Still, it was an amazing panorama. While Mount Washington and the other Presidential peaks may be the most famous in the White Mountains, the Franconia Ridge really is quintessential New Hampshire. If you haven’t found your way up here yet, make this a must-do for the coming year.
At Lafayette, we left the AT and headed down the Greenleaf Leaf Trail 1.1 miles to the AMC hut, where we splurged on one-dollar lemonade. From Greenleaf Trail, we started down the Old Bridle Path. The trail was a little wet, which made footing a bit slick, but not bad considering all the rain we’ve had. The trail was very crowded with large groups, but everyone was polite as we flew down the trail, the Far North dog in the lead. The 2.7-mile Old Bridle Path is a really fun place to test your downhill running skills. There are a couple of spots where you have to slow down to clamber down big rocks (especially if you are like me and have shorter legs), and there are some spots where the views are worth stopping for. But overall, this is a great place to really test your speed and skill.
We followed the Old Bridle Path to a connector to the Lafayette Campground on the west side of I-93 where we met the Pemi Trail, which turned out to be a bit of a mess. The trail was passible but muddy and there were a lot of stream crossings (one of which required some serious wading). Had we realized the condition it was in, we probably would have just jogged along the paved bike path back to the parking lot, and we would probably do that in the future if we do this loop again. We followed the Pemi Trail 1.9 miles to its intersection with the AT, which we then took under I-93 to its intersection with the bike path. We stopped there to play in the river for a bit. The bike path then took us back to the .7 mile connector to the parking lot. The total distance for this loop run was just about 14 miles, with enough elevation gain and loss to please even the most dedicated mountain runner and enough stunning views to justify the effort for everyone else.
Distance: about 14 miles
Total ascent: approximately 4,800
Total descent: approximately 4,800 (it is a loop, after all)
Trailhead: The Liberty Spring Trail can be reached from the trailhead off Route 3, just north of the parking area for the Flume Visitor Center.