FLUME BROOK VALLEY: 3/26/10
Cold overnight temperatures promised to set up some firm snow for bushwhacking. I wasn't able to get going early enough to join John Compton on his trek into the Ethan/Shoal Pond area, so I opted for an exploration close to home in the beautiful valley of Flume Brook, which in its upper elevations opens out in a large bowl between Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume. I had visited some crags on the south ridge of Liberty on a couple of previous trips. Today's objective was to reach one of the open talus slopes high up on the east side of that south ridge of Liberty, where there would be an "up close and personal" look at Mt. Flume. This SE-facing opening would have good sun exposure and be protected from the day's predicted cold NW winds.
Access to the Flume Brook valley is provided by the lower 2 1/2 miles of the Flume Slide Trail which, unlike its steep and nasty upper section, is a very pleasant valley ramble. To save the roundabout walk up the bike path and then back along the lower Liberty Spring Trail, I opted to make the hardwood bushwhack from the top of the Flume up to the trail at a point partway into the valley. Though the temperature was only in the twenties, it looked like spring as I descended the bare road to the Flume Covered Bridge.
I made a short side trip to look at Avalanche Falls, in full flow.
It was a pleasant hardwood whack northward from the top of the Flume to the Flume Slide Trail. Much of the way the ground was bare except for a slight overnight dusting. There are some large old sugar maples, yellow birches and beeches in these woods.
Above 2000 feet there was crusty snow, time to put on the snowshoes.
I joined the blue-blazed Flume Slide Trail where it runs through open hardwoods with a south-facing aspect. The trail offered a mix of hard-packed monorail, bare ground, and crusty track.
After wading across two small tributary brooks (the snowshoes took a beating today), I started whacking across the slope at the base of Mt. Liberty's south ridge. I soon rose into the beautiful birch forest that carpets this area, which was burned in a 1908 forest fire. At the start the snow was firm, providing easy going through these open sun-drenched woods.
But as I rose higher, the slope steepened and the spring sun strengthened. As I made a long sidehill traverse, the snow began turning to mush. My visions of easy sidewalk-type snow conditions were toast. This bushwhack was going to entail some work.
Slow progress was made, up and across through the birches, with Flume's snowy face glimpsed through the trees. As I turned the corner around the ridge, I hoped the snow would be firmer. For the most part it wasn't firmer, just deeper.
The first open view of Mt. Flume, through a gap in the canopy.
At around 3000 ft. young conifers mixed in under the birches, bearing a fresh coat of snow from the previous night. By weaving around, I was able to stay in mostly open going as I climbed steeply up the slope. The final approach to the talus area was under a mostly coniferous canopy, where the snow was very crusty, testing the grip of my MSRs. The snowshoes performed admirably.
At 3300 ft. I came to a small, scrubby talus area, with some cliffs on Liberty's south ridge in sight above.
Sensing that there was a bigger opening nearby, I climbed up and across to the NE, and at 3400 ft. found the base of the largest of several talus fields in this area. The col between Liberty and Flume is seen in the background.
From the bottom of the open slope there was a view down to the floor of the Flume Brook valley with Hardwood Ridge looming on the south side.
Looking up the steep talus slope, there was a jumble of bare rocks on the left side and a strip of deep, mushy snow on the right.
I herringboned partway up the snow swath, took off my snowshoes, and carefully picked out a stable rock seat for a lunch break. It was quite comfortable here in the sun and out of the wind.
The slide-streaked west face of Mt. Flume took center stage.
I didn't spot any hikers up there during my hour plus stay on the talus.
Looking up the rocky slope from my seat.
The obligatory boot shot.
My snowshoe tracks coming up the talus.
After a while I decided to explore higher up the slope.
The distant view, looking SSW. Little Coolidge Mtn. is seen below, through the "U." In the distance were Mt. Kearsarge, Ragged Mtn., Mt. Cardigan, Mt. Kineo and Carr Mtn.
Farther up, the talus slope widened out on the west side.
The top of the main part of the talus; looking at Google Earth later I saw that there is another segment to this slope hidden away up in the NW corner. Since I was over 3500 ft. here, I briefly entertained a notion of a J.R. Stockwell-type bushwhack all the way to the top of Liberty, but soon came to my senses.
Descending the talus, I paused to look back up at my tracks.
Nearby was the cliff I had looked up at from the small lower talus area.
A final look at Mt. Flume, set to be the site of a 48 X 12 "grid" finish for Mary Ellen Baross (MEB) the next day.
Descending through those beautiful birches was fairly slow going due to the soft snow conditions, with frequent snowshoe postholing.
But it sure is a gorgeous forest.
I took a direct route to the floor of the valley to avoid the long sidehill traverse. Here the snow was pure mush, I was merely pushing it downhill with my snowshoes.
Down on the flat floor of the valley, in the shade of the conifers, the snow was still firm and crusty. What a contrast!
On the bushwhack back down to the Flume, I paused to admire this pair of towering old trees.
The overnight snow dusting had melted in the lower hardwoods, making for nice bare ground whacking.
On any hike that involves returning from the Flume, you face a 150-ft. climb back up from the covered bridge.
Evening light on Liberty and Flume from the parking lot. The inner recesses of the Flume Brook valley are around the corner, behind the ridge descending from Liberty. A fine place to spend a sunny early spring day.