Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Twins and Galehead Traverse - January 19, 2013

For this hike, only IQuest was able to come along. With a meeting time of 7 AM at the Beaver Brook Wayside Area (a cross-country ski area), I was on the road around 4:30 from Massachusetts. Just South of Lincoln there were some snow squalls and the roads were deteriorating some. I began to wonder if the weather forecast was spot-on and it was going to be a bad day for some above-treeline time, however brief it is on the Twins. The forecast in fact had called for 2-4" of snow, falling all throughout the day, with heavy winds though mild ~25 degree temperatures. But by the time I made it to the meeting site North of Franconia Notch, it was done snowing, and it even appeared that the cloud deck was above where we would be heading. IQuest had arrived just before me, and a short time later we left my car in the lot here, and headed a little way further up Route 3 to Little River Road.

Parking in the turn-around at the end of the road, we hit the "trail" at 7:25. First off we needed to get to the North Twin Trail, since Haystack Road is gated in winter (hence our presence on the next road North). Right from the end of the road, we crossed a snowmobile bridge and then put on our snowshoes, which would stay on until reaching my car later on. Hanging a left onto an old rail or road corridor of some sort right from the end of the bridge, it was a fairly quick and easy ~1 mile trip up to Haystack Road, right by the parking lot at the trailhead to the North Twin Trail. Being my third time up this trail in the last 6 months, I knew what to expect: an easy stretch utilizing a bypass up to a large river crossing, then a relentless ascent to North Twin from there.

We were breaking out 3-4" of snow that had fallen overnight, but moved right along, using the well-defined herd path that bypasses the first 2 large crossings, reaching the turn to the abandoned, though popular in winter, Fire Warden's Trail to Mount Hale. Here we were passed by a solo hiker who blew by us like we were standing still (well, we were, but he was moving!). A brief mention that he was heading to Lincoln Woods and we never saw him again (we later found from other hikers that he was headed to Lincoln Woods via Franconia Ridge!) A while after this turn, we reached the only major stream crossing of the day, the crossing of Little River. Unfortunately, there was not a good snow/ice bridge over the river due to the thaw the previous weekend. So we shimmied across a fallen log to a snow bridge half-way across and were fine from there. The only mishap here was me knocking 2 of my small Nalgenes that I use for food into the stream as I got onto the log, but I was able to fish them out of the river with a trekking pole a few yards downstream where they came to rest against the ice. Whew!

IQuest shimmies across the log on the North Twin Trail

OK, he made it across to the snow bridge, now it's my turn!
From here it was a long slog as expected, with many breathers, especially as we reached the steep ascent portion of the trail. IQuest was having an off day pace-wise, but that was fine by me as I could take it a little easy on the climbs, where I'm not all that speedy to begin with. As we neared the ridge, the trail was getting a little drifted in from the heavy winds and shortly before hitting the first open ledge we donned facemasks and extra layers.

The Presis in the clouds behind Hale, Zealand, and more. South Twin on the right.
From the ledge, it is a short and gentle final push to the summit of North Twin, which is in the trees. There is a nice ledge on a short spur trail from the summit which looks towards Galehead Hut and Franconia Ridge.

Franconia Ridge

Galehead Mountain far below South Twin

South Twin

Franconia Ridge, Garfield Ridge in front

The awesome summit of North Twin...
From North Twin it is a little over a mile to the open, rocky summit of South Twin. This trip is a fairly easy one, though there was one tricky ledge coming off of North Twin that had a lot of ice on it.

Final push to South Twin

Looking towards the Bonds from near South Twin

Carrigain behind Guyot

Pano from South Twin
It was VERY windy up on both summits, but especially on the exposed summit of South Twin. We did not stay around too long as we were getting pushed around a little by what were probably 50+ mph wind gusts. But we were very happy to have gotten some views off of these peaks, far more than the forecast had suggested we would. In fact it didn't snow on us at all while we were on the trails. The steep descent from South Twin went fairly quickly, with ample snow-shoe skiing on the loose powder. In little time we were at Galehead Hut.

Here we saw the first people we'd seen since the one hiker that blew by us early on. It was 2 groups of 2, both getting ready to head back down after having bagged Galehead. One pair had a very friendly golden retriever with them who loved getting his/her head scratched. After we had our break and geared up to head up the 1/2-mile spur to Galehead Mountain, another pair arrived, having come the same way we had, though they were on their way to Garfield too after Galehead! The actual trip to Galehead Mountain was uneventful, with a short stop at a ledge near the top where there are the only views to be had off this mountain.

North (L) and South (R) Twin from Galehead Mountain ledge

Galehead Hut

Closer look at Galehead Hut

Down the Twin Brook Valley towards the Pemi Wilderness

South ridge of South Twin

Super-awesome-exciting summit of Galehead Mountain -- NOT :)
A brief stop at the hut on our way down, and we took off for the Gale River Trail and the long descent out. Once off the steeper portion of the Gale River Trail, we just switched over to auto-pilot and made good time to the closed-for-winter Gale River Road. From here, we took a right onto the road, groomed for snowmobile use (though the snow cover was pretty thin in spots from the warm weather the week before), hung a left at the road junction, and then a right into the first campsite along the road (rather large one at that). In the back of the campsite there was the expected cross country ski trail that led right back to the car at Beaver Brook (hanging a left when it forked). We were back just before 5PM, so no headlamp time. Nice!

South ridge of South Twin from Galehead Hut

Galehead Mountain from Galehead Hut

An old AT marker along the Garfield Ridge Trail - don't see many of these anymore

The route

Peaks: North Twin (4761', NH4K), South Twin (4902', NH4K), Galehead (4024', NH4K)
Trails: Herd Path, North Twin Trail, North Twin Spur, Twinway, Frost Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Gale River Trail, Beaver Brook Ski Trail (yea, a lot of trails on this hike!)
Mileage: ~14.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~4100 feet
Book Time: ~9.5 hours

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