We got on the road a little later than we'd wanted, so didn't actually get on the trail until about 10:00. Because of the length of the trip and how difficult some of the Flume Slide trail looked, we figured we'd be hiking for 7 or 8 hours, but luckily there would still be plenty of light at that point. Saturday was forecast to be a ridiculously hot day, so we knew we had to be careful with our water - I brought 3 bottles, and we knew there was a spring just below Liberty that we could refill at (Meg has a water filter, which has come in handy many times!). I don't do well in the heat so I was a little concerned about it, but I keep a good eye on myself with regards to overheating. From the parking area to the summit of Flume was close to 5 miles total, and from the maps, we figured the first 3.5 miles at least would be relatively easy. We were right. It was about a mile and a half from the car to the junction of the Flume Slide and Liberty Springs trails, which we covered in about 45 minutes, then the next 2 miles or so of the Flume Slide trail was also quite pleasant. The trail went along and crossed a brook a few times, and luckliy we were mostly in shade so the heat did not get too bad. Looking at the map (and the AMC White Mountains book), we knew the last mile or so up would be brutally hard - if I read the contour lines on the map correctly, the trail climbs probably close to 1500' in about a mile (VERY rough estimate). Basically, we were climbing up sheer rock slabs for a mile. And they were a little wet from rain a few days before. The AMC book advised against going down the FS trail, and boy are they right. Now, personally I like climbing rocks, really like it actually, but a few things made this brutal: first, the heat; second, it felt like the longest mile in the world and we just wanted to summit already. There were some amazing views from the rock climbs on the trail though.
(view from the Flume Slide trail)
(view north along Franconia ridge from the summit of Flume)
After we toiled our way to the summit of Flume (which was a weird, small, relatively un-marked summit), we sat down for a breather and to inhale lunch. It was breezy on the way up, so that helped with the heat, but we were in full sun at the summit and didn't stay too long. We were joined for lunch by a girl coming from the other direction (from Liberty), who was considering completing the loop & descending the FS trail. We talked her out of it. After lunch, we hiked north on the Franconia Ridge trail, leading us down slightly then back up slightly over about a mile & a half to the summit of Liberty. It was considerably windier on Liberty, which was wonderful because it kept us from being affected by the heat. Luckily, the mile & a half on the ridge was mostly in trees, so we weren't exposed to the sun directly - I was starting to feel a little dehydrated, but we knew there was water just down the trail after Liberty. We rested for a few minutes at Liberty and enjoyed the amazing views.
(view down to the highway from the summit of Liberty)
(myself, left, and Meg at the summit of Liberty)
Beyond Liberty three tenths of a mile, the Liberty Springs trial descends left and away from the Franconia Ridge trail - this was our route down. An additional three tenths of a mile down the Liberty Springs trail is the Liberty Springs tentsite, a cute AMC-maintained area with tent platforms and a nice spring. We refilled our water (finally!) and chatted with the AMC caretaker briefly, and continued down. The trail, like the Flume Slide trail, was rocky, but not with huge scary slabs to climb down, so it made for relatively quick hiking down. Quite glad we decided not to go the opposite way & go down Flume Slide, it would've been horrible. We got back to the car at about exactly 6, so we were out for a total of 8 hours.
The hike exhausted us, but we were happy & felt triumphant about conquering the Flume Slide finally! I would've chosen to hike on a cooler day, but we can't be picky with our days - we have to go when we're free! This hike reinforced my love for Franconia Ridge - I really want to take the rest of the group here. Team Badassa as a whole has hiked Cannon, which is on the other side of the notch opposite Franconia Ridge, but I'd like to take the boys to the ridge next season. If you want a good introduction to the White Mountains, Franconia is a good area to check out.