Thursday, November 15, 2012

A 48 Finish - Galehead and Garfield - November 11, 2012

At last I had a day where I was going to hit these two peaks, the last 2 remaining for my 2012 round of the New Hampshire 4000-footers. What a crazy but awesome year of hiking it has been for me. If a year ago you had told me I would have done all 48 4000-footers, and in fact a total of 68 New England 4000-footers (13 in Maine, plus some repeats in NH), I would have laughed in your face. But the truth is, hiking for me this year has served not just as exercise and a way to get outside, but has been an escape from the every-day grind of work and other things in life. Getting out roughly two weekends a month on average has really been great in that regard.

But I really wanted to do a full circuit once I realized in June that I was only 15 short of that completion. The last 2 months have been filled with a busy life, and the few fully free weekends had poor weather, so now I was here in early November, crossing my fingers that I could do this hike before the seasonal roads closed in New Hampshire. Not that the roads closing would have stopped me, but as this hike is already roughly 14 miles long, the extra several miles of road walking were not ideal. I had also wanted a day where I would have some decent visibility off of Garfield, one of the finest views peaks in the Whites.

Incidentally, Garfield was the only peak from my first hiking trip in 2000 that I had not re-hiked en-route to my initial completion of the New Hampshire 4000-footers. With a good forecast several days out, I was looking forward to this. Of course, 2 days out the forecast started to turn, with chances of sleet and plentiful clouds in the forecast. Oh well, I was going anyway. I had also found one interested person to come along with me, HOSSinNH, who I had hiked both the Twins on Flags on the 48 and Owl's Head back in September. This meant a car spot was possible, not that the road walk between the 2 trails is that bad or that far.

We set off in the chilly morning air on the Gale River Trail, and made good time really all the way to the hut. There was some snow from about 2000 feet on up, but it was not all that deep, and was pretty packed from what was likely a busy day the day before. There was a little ice here and there, but the temperature was gradually warming, so the ice was generally soft. We were passed by a couple of people, some of which were planning the same "traverse" that we were.

Gale River Trail is a pretty moderately-graded trail most of the way to the Garfield Ridge Trail, though the last stretch has some rock steps and is a bit steeper. Still, the footing is always good, and it really was a nice trail overall. There is a roughly 1-mile long new trail relocation that is reportedly always muddy and less than pleasant, but we were through before the snow and ice started softening much, and so it was no trouble.

Once we hit the Garfield Ridge Trail, we hung a left for the short stretch to the Galehead Hut, from which there are normally terrific views. Not so much right now, there was a cloud deck hanging out around 4500 feet, masking the summits of the Twins.

Up the Gale River valley from partway up the Gale River Trail

The ridge up to South Twin from Galehead Hut

A Southern spur of South Twin from Galehead Hut

Galehead Mountain from Galehead Hut

The now-closed-for-the-season Galehead Hut
There was a group of backpackers at the hut, who had spent the night at Guyot Shelter and were on their way to Garfield Shelter for the night. While we left for Galehead Mountain, they moved on and we never saw them for the rest of the day. Hopefully they had a good trip.

It is a little under 1/2 mile and a couple hundred foot ascent from the hut to the summit of Galehead, which is viewless. There is a nice view spot just below the summit along the side of the trail, however, which we made sure to check out before tagging the summit and returning to the hut. Several people were ascending as we left the summit, but we had the hut to ourselves for a little while for a snack.
Galehead Hut from near Galehead's summit

That Southern ridge of South Twin again

Slightly lower cloud deck now on South Twin

View down the valley towards the Pemi Wilderness. Is that a tiny bit of clearing trying to occur?

And Galehead makes 47!
After a lengthy snack break at the hut, we packed up and retraced our steps on the Garfield Ridge Trail. Just after leaving the hut, it seemed like someone turned off the "clouds switch" as in a matter of maybe 5 minutes it went from a solid overcast to blue skies with a few high clouds here and there. I guess we were going to get views from Garfield after all!

Garfield Ridge Trail between Galehead Hut and Mount Garfield has a couple significant ups and downs, as it skirts very near the summits of 2 New Hampshire 100-Highest peaks. The trail is described as rough and rugged, and it certainly is, but it is also kind of a fun trail if you ask me (thius was my second time doing it too). From the trail near the first bump, there are some terrific views of the Twins and Galehead.

Galehead Mountain on the right, and Galehead Hut just visible in the saddle to the left

South Twin towering over Galehead Hut below it
The crazy thing that happened mere minutes after leaving the hut was it started to RAIN. Yes, rain with nearly clear skies. What had happened was with the warming temperatures, and the sudden influx of sun, the snow-laden trees were now melting really fast. So fast it seemed like it was pouring at times. This led to us quickly getting soaked (rain gear probably would have been a good idea, but we were pretty quickly soaked and were warm as long as we kept moving, so we did). We also kept getting large snow clumps dumped down our necks by the trees... The snow on the trail was also now mostly slush, and often several inches of it. My "waterproof" Vasque summer boots that I have been using were not up to this and soaked through fairly quickly. (Someday I've got to get around to a review of them, I'm less than impressed with them in even mildly wet conditions).

We stuck at it though, and made our way to the summit of Garfield little by little. As we neared the Garfield Campsite 4/10 mile below the summit, there is a steep pitch that has water flowing over it in warmer weather. This day it was mostly ice, and we actually dug out the microspikes for about 20 feet of trail (first use for them all day). After that we made our way to the junction with the Garfield Trail, which would be our route back down. Thankfully, by this time the trees had thinned out and the few left were clear of snow, so the sunny rain was over. At the junction we ran into Sue and Big Earl working on their Grid hikes for November (for those that don't know, "the grid" is hiking all 48 summits in each month of the year - quite a lot of hiking over a several year span). I have run into them several times this year since the only time I hiked with them back in January. They were chatting with another pair of hikers who were just starting to leave when we got there.

After a short chat, we all headed up the last short stretch to the summit, where nice clear skies waited for us.

North (L) and South (R) Twin, the various bumps that the Garfield Ridge Trail traverses stretch out below them

The Bonds, with the broad hump of Carrigain peeking from behind the Bond-Bondcliff ridge

Owl's Head Mountain from Garfield, the pointy peak to the right it Mount Flume

Owl's Head Mountain on the right, the Osceolas and more off behind part of the Pemi Wilderness

North Twin, with the snow-capped Presidentials peeking from behind

Another view of the Twins with the Garfield Ridge leading towards us on Garfield
After a snack break and laughing at 2 gray jays hanging out, we headed back down the Garfield Ridge Trail to the Garfield Trail and took that down to the waiting car. The Garfield Trail, like the Gale River Trail in the morning, was a new trail for me. It is a beautifully-graded trail all the way down, with not a single steep pitch and no sections of rough footing. Also, the trees were done raining by the time we left the summit, so we had a dry hike down. There was one confusing spot at a stream crossing down low where it was hard to tell where the trail crossed, but we figured it out. A better marking might be good in this spot, shortly below where a snowmobile trail crosses the trail.

We made it back to the car just before sundown (but after sunset) at roughly 4:45, 9 hours after we started. Good time was made in the morning, but the sloppy conditions on the Garfield Ridge Trail slowed us down. And that was it, I had finished the 4000-footers in one calendar year, and in fact in less than 10 months even! Also of note was that Hoss reached the halfway point on his 4000-footer list on Garfield, congrats yet again dude!

I've been asked a few times what is next. Well, for now I am getting ready for winter hiking, as I want to try to finish the winter 4000-footers this year (21 to go). For next year, I have a lot of different hiking plans flying up in the air right now. I'm toying with possibly trying a single-year New England 4000-Footer loop, or perhaps hiking some (certainly not all!) of the 4000-footers in New York (there are officially 46 of them) towards the NorthEast 4000-Footers. There are a myriad of other hikes I want to do in New Hampshire too that don't entail 4000 footers. The only certain thing is that I will get the last 6 peaks I have left on the New England 4000-Footer list, and hopefully finish the winter 4000-footers.

Peaks: Galehead Mountain (4024', NH4K), Mount Garfield (4500', NH4K)
Trails: Gale River Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Frost Trail, Garfield Trail
Mileage: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 4350 feet
Book Time: 9hr 10 min


  1. An awesome accomplishment and hearty congratulations!

    1. Thanks Phillip! It was a crazy year to be sure, but worth every minute!