Return To The Flume – Waterville Valley
It had been almost a year and a half since I attempted to reach The Flume, located in a valley on the mountainside of Flume Peak in The White Mountains of New Hampshire near Waterville Valley. This is a different Flume than the more popular State Park and attraction located near Franconia Notch. My first attempt had been in the winter, just a few months after Hurricane Irene devastated parts of Vermont and New Hampshire in 2011 with torrential rains and monumental stream and river washouts. As a result of the washouts, a bridge at a key stream crossing was wiped out and parts of the trail had disappeared. Because it was mid-winter the stream was mostly frozen and easily crossable. However the trail loss, especially at one stream bend about 3 miles from the trailhead, was too hazardous for me to attempt alone. So I turned back.
Each time I went to New Hampshire to hike I wondered about The Flume. This past week we were in Waterville Valley and this time I was going to forego hiking a 4000 footer and hike to The Flume. A complete loop hike would be about 9 miles and 1300 vertical feet. This time was different than my first attempt: it wasn’t winter and a friend was going to hike with me. However, some things hadn’t changed: the stream crossing was not yet rebuilt and the trail still had sections wiped out.
When we reached the stream crossing, we walked a few hundred yards up and down stream until we found a spot that was easily crossable, even at this time of year when there is a high volume of water. Once across, the trail was easy to find and we hiked all the way to the stream bend where I had turned around a year and a half ago. There were plenty of rocks and blown down trees in the stream to provide footing to get around and through the washed out sections. Each time we lost the trail, we were able to re-find it after only minor detours. I was very pleased when we finally arrived at the intersection of The Flume Trail and The Old Skidder Trail. At this point I knew we were past all the washouts and The Flume was just a ¼ mile ahead.
The Flume was a spectacular site, although very hard to photograph. Our initial approach brought us to a huge mound of dead, uprooted trees piled into a huge mound. You could hear the roar of the cascade in the distance but couldn’t see it with that large obstruction in the way. We climbed up and around the trees and were treated to a wonderful view of a powerful cascade rushing down a smooth granite ramp originating somewhere in the trees on the side of the mountain. On either side of the cascade were rock cliffs some 50-60 feet high. The cliff on the right was vertically straight and pretty smooth. The cliff on the left side looked like a giants set of rock blocks piled up to make a wall. It was a beautiful specimen of fissuring in a large granite outcropping. The space between these two cliff faces provided a great path for water to flow as it finds its way down the mountains toward the larger stream called The Mad River.
We spent some time climbing around the lower section of the cascade. The destruction that was caused by Irene was very evident here. Beside the large pile of uprooted trees there were sections of the hillside that had been washed down causing rockslides and extensive damage to the nearby foliage. After surveying this area we decided that we needed to move on, if we were to complete the 9 mile loop and get back by lunchtime. Back on the main trail, we continued to head north. Very soon we realized where all the vertical rise was located. We hiked uphill for the next 0.6 miles picking up about 500 feet of elevation. We were both happy when we saw the intersection with Livermore Trail because we reached the highest point in the hike and it would be all downhill from there. And it was 4.6 miles of gradual downhill on a wide, cleared fire road back to the car.