The Gear You Need for a Shoulder Season Ascent of Mount Liberty

Largely below treeline but with breathtaking summit views—and a convenient location just off I-93—an ascent of Mount Liberty in Franconia Notch is one of the more popular shoulder season hikes in the Whites. Not quite winter and not yet summer, a shoulder season climb presents a handful of challenges to hikers: conditions can change quickly and yesterday’s monorail might be today’s ankle-deep mud. The best way to deal with the variable terrain and ever-changing conditions found on Mount Liberty and ensure yourself a successful summit is with the right gear.

Credit: Tim Peck

Kahtoola MICROSpikes

From the parking lot blacktop to its 4,459-foot summit, snow and ice take a long time to disappear on Mount Liberty. Nail your ascent of this Franconia Notch classic with a pair of Kahtoola MICORspikes—they can mean all the difference between slipping and sliding every step of the way and confidently speeding to the summit ridge with excellent traction on every footfall.

Oboz Sawtooth II Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boots

An ascent of Mount Liberty starts on Franconia Notch Bike Path, soon connecting with the Liberty Spring Trail, which hikers take to the summit ridge. On the Liberty Spring Trail’s initial low-angle portions, there is often snow and mud as well as several easy stream crossings. Ensure your feet stay dry in these messy shoulder season trail conditions with a good pair of mid-cut, waterproof hiking boots. The Oboz Sawtooth II Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boots (Men’s/Women’s) feature a B-Dry waterproof membrane for dealing with wet conditions while vents will keep your feet from overheating if you luck into a five-star day.

Credit: Tim Peck

Outdoor Research Performance Trucker Trail-Run Hat & Whiskey Peak Beanie

The gradual nature of the Liberty Springs trail means motivated hikers can move fast for the first few miles, and the OR Performance Trucker Trail-Run Hat is great for keeping the sun and sweat out of your eyes while doing so. Stash a traditional winter hat, like the OR Whiskey Peak Beanie, in your pack to have for warmth during rest breaks as well as for later, above treeline.

EMS Equinox Stretch Gloves & Ascent Summit Mittens

Large temperature fluctuations are a staple of shoulder season, especially when you change elevations. While being barehanded at the base of the mountain may be comfortable on some spring days, you might find yourself wishing for a light pair of gloves—like the EMS Equinox Stretch (Men’s/Women’s)—around the 2.5-mile mark as you pass Liberty Springs Tentsite. The only thing worse than not packing a pair of lightweight gloves like these is forgetting to also carry a warm pair of mittens—such as the EMS Ascent Summit (Men’s/Women’s)—in your pack for when you reach Liberty’s exposed summit.

Credit: Tim Peck

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

Above the Liberty Springs Tentsite, the trail begins to climb consistently. Depending on the snow conditions, this section of trail features a handful of balance-testing challenges for both ascending and descending hikers. A pair of trekking poles like the Black Diamond Trail is handy to have along to provide additional stability over the slippery rocks, ice, and deep snow you’re likely to encounter.

Two Puffy Jackets

Franconia Notch is often a wind tunnel and can feel significantly colder than the thermometer says it is. This is especially true on the summit ridge, where the Liberty Springs Trail ends and hikers follow the Franconia Ridge Trail south for 0.3 miles to Liberty’s summit. An active insulator like the EMS Vortex Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is the perfect layer to wear while ascending the summit ridge and the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is a lightweight, packable jacket to throw on for staying warm enough to soak up the 360° summit views of Loon Mountain, Cannon, Lafayette, and the Bonds once you reach the summit proper.

A Buff pairs well with a Thunderhead jacket.

Buffs

Just below Liberty’s summit, there’s a short treeless section that hikers must traverse to the top. Often windy, a Buff makes a great face covering here, protecting your face from Franconia Notch’s chilling winds. (Also, in late spring, Buffs treated with Insect Shield are a nice way to fend of the black flies frequently found around the Pemigewasset River that runs near the beginning of the trail while the UV+ versions provide extra sun protection on those sunny spring days and from reflected sunlight from the snow.)

HydroFlask 20 oz. Insulated Food Jar

Speaking of summits, don’t forget your celebratory summit snack. Warm soup or cold ice cream in a HydroFlask 20 oz. insulated food jar is a great calorie boost. Packing some extra calories and a treat is a good call if you decide to go for a doubleheader—Mount Flume, another 4,000-footer, is just a little over a mile farther south on the Franconia Ridge Trail. Comparatively less traveled and not always broken in, make sure to leave enough time for the out-and-back if you decide to bag it.

EMS Thunderhead Jacket

It sometimes can seem like Franconia Notch has its own weather and the sun that was shining when you left the trailhead may become ominous clouds by the time you reach the summit a few hours later. The EMS Thunderhead Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) can protect you in the event of unexpected precipitation higher up the mountain.

Mount Liberty is one of the best shoulder-season hikes in New Hampshire and a popular place for hikers to find their legs after a long winter. Having the “right” gear along with the 10 essentials can set a positive tone to carry you through the season while showing up unprepared can suck stoke faster than a socked-in summit. Is there another piece of gear that’s a must-have for Liberty? Tell us in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck