The walk out along the East Branch on the Lincoln Woods trail was nice. Not too warm yet and I always love listening to the sounds of the river. We started up the Osseo Trail and almost immediately were greeted by the show of wildflowers that we'd have most of the way up. Starflowers, Trout Lilies and Painted Trillium were growing in patches so large you'd swear they were gardens. Beautiful! The Osseo is an amazingly flat, smooth walk. Hardly seems like being in the Whites. The grades are all easy, but knowing that we're going to gain 3000' eventually we know that there are steep stretches ahead.
Cloudy start looking over the East Branch
Nice smooth walking on the Osseo Trail
Further up we finally reached the switchbacks as the trail steepened and wound up the first ridge. There are many stone steps here (which I forgot to photograph) and the signs of the many steps to come. According to Steve Smith in 4000 Footers of the White Mountains there are 396 steps on the way to the summit of Flume. We believe it now! It was a warm day - the forecast said 15-20 degrees above average - but the woods stayed fairly cool in the mist as we gained elevation. While it seemed like the kind of day that we'd be swarmed by black flies and mosquitoes we hardly saw a bug all day. Definitely a bonus. Before long we reached the beginning of the ladders and we found out how we were going to pay for all that easy walking earlier in the hike. Lots of elevation gain in a hurry.
After the ladders is there is another long stretch of flat walking in the col below the summit of Flume. It seems very strange to be back on flat ground after all that steep climbing. This is a really lovely spot that winds through the evergreen forest with frequent bog bridges to navigate the muddy trail. The trail was lined with more wildflowers up here including tall shrubs covered with white flowers (which I couldn't identify) that were so prolific that it looked like it was snowing along the trail. While we were still walking in a cloud I really didn't mind at all. There is something of a magical feel to walking in the misty woods, particularly on a mountain. I was contemplating the fact that we weren't going to have any views from a summit that really has some spectacular ones. It made me think back to all of our previous 4000 footers and realize how lucky we'd been. In the nearly 30 times that we've stood on a 4000 foot summit the only time we didn't have a view was on South Twin. Not only had the rest provided views, most had been on perfect bluebird days. Truly a blessing. The summit today was going to be great - views or not. Before long we had hit the junction of the Flume Slide Trail and were ready for the final fun scramble up!
The mystery shrub
Almost to the top!
Summit ridge in the clouds.
Blue blaze in the middle of the picture marks the start of the scramble
Looking down one of the slides from the summit ridge
Nat heading up the ridge
Final steps to the top
Gazing into the mist
Sitting on the edge of ???
On top of #22
Hang on to your hat. Windy up here!
Clouds tease us with a peek down
Our gift from the mountain Gods
Happy to see the sun!
One last look
A couple of thousand feet straight down
As we headed back down into the woods the skies began to clear for good. The sun filtering through the trees made the hike down feel like we were on a completely new trail. The wildflowers greeted us again and kept us company for the return journey. I usually like loop hikes much better than out-and-backs but this one is fine just the way it is. Past the switchbacks on the way down the Osseo reminded us what a nice trail it is with those last few miles that are so much easier on the knees than most - and very welcome at the end of an 11 mile day.
What goes up must go down
The views that we missed on the way up
The perfect lookout point
Brightly decorated stump
Sun splashed trail - lovely walk
Picture perfect views over the East Branch to end the day
Mom's Meatloaf Sandwich and a Pemi Pale Ale. Yum!
Hops growing on the outside of the brewery
Trail view from the East
Trail view from the West