Return to the Appalachian Trail
I returned to the Appalachian Trail this summer for the first time since stepping off in November 2014, after completing my final research hike. The summer of 2014—well, actually, the late spring, summer, and early fall of 2014—was packed with hikes along the Appalachian Trail in New England. After all, that’s the book—Best Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail: New England. Another hardy (and probably tired) soul gave the same treatment to the Southern region of the AT. It was truly an incredible experience, a logistical challenge, an intense physical regimen, an exercise in organization, a blaze of exploration, and just a heck of a lot of fun!
So my return to the AT this summer was to introduce my son, Devin, to one hike with which I really bonded last summer. The book will have 45 day hikes, from the full day slog up and down Katahdin to some gentle rambles through the woods and everything in between. For reasons I can’t truly explain, I bonded with several hikes in particular last summer: Old Speck and Old Blue Mountain in Maine, Mount Williams and Mount Becket in Massachusetts, St. Johns Ledge in Connecticut, and Mount Liberty in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. So when Devin and I set off for a weekend of camping and hiking this summer, we set off to camp along the Kancamagus Highway and hike Mount Liberty.
I remember Mount Liberty as an aggressive three-hour hike up—the last two hours being mostly clamoring over a steep stone staircase. My memory was quite accurate. It beat me up a bit more this summer than the summer before. I told Devin (an accomplished collegiate cross country runner) that he didn’t have to wait for me if he needed or wanted to get into a good hiking groove. I think I was still pronouncing the “V” of groove and he was off! I encountered him some time later, waiting for me at the Liberty Springs tent platforms just like I asked him. “Freedom isn’t free,” I joked, gasping between breaths. “Apparently, neither is Liberty!”
Then it was a relatively short (yet continuously steep and rocky) jaunt up to where the AT headed off to the left, running along the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln, and the mighty Mount Lafayette. The Liberty Spring trail headed right, or south, to the rocky summit of Mount Liberty. That’s where we were headed. After another brief scramble—and that truly means some hand-over-hand scrambling up, over, and around some giant granite boulders—we reached the dramatic summit of Mount Liberty.
Cliché phrases about views are as endless as the actual views they describe! But you’re overwhelmed with all of them at once when you see the vast views from the summit of Mount Liberty—the Great Gulf Wilderness to the east, the Franconia Ridge, and the rest of Franconia Notch to the north and west. The sweeping dramatic view is a full 360-degree panorama. It is truly awe-inspiring and breathtaking.
It was grand to be back at the summit and gazing at the surrounding wilderness and mountains; even more so to be doing it with Devin. “Here you go, Dev,” I said to him, clapping him on the shoulder. “Welcome to Mount Liberty.”
The summit was fairly busy on that day—a steamy, hot Saturday in July. Devin and I made friends with several other hikers and, more importantly, several other hikers’ dogs. There were two Golden Retrievers, a black Lab, and a couple of other dogs up there. There’s just enough of a flat area and just enough rock outcropping that everyone could claim a bit of Mount Liberty for their own for a moment. Devin did so in true Devin fashion, busting out his Ocarina for a couple of quick tunes. I’ll go out on a limb and say it has probably been quite some time since the summit wanderers atop Mount Liberty have been treated to a brief Ocarina concert.
Then it was time to head down. It was grand to be back, and grand to be there with Devin. I never like starting the hike back down. Like finishing a good book, that last run of the day on a particularly excellent ski day, or those last few hours of a Sunday afternoon, I never like to begin the end. But every time you take off your hiking boots, click out of your bindings, or close the cover of that book, you know you’ll be back again sometime soon.