In the winter, Gale River Loop Road, which accesses the Garfield Trail trailhead, is closed and gated. But a small lot area is typically plowed off the highway in front of the gate. I initially jumped into this lot, powering through the bank alongside the road, but with the lot clearly not having been plowed in several days, I decided to get out of there and park elsewhere (I was the first one into this lot this morning it appeared). Just North on Route 3, there is a small lot on the left across from the Northern end of Gale River Loop Road, and so I parked there (this area is referred to as "5 Corners" and is at the intersection of US3 and Trudeau Road). It only adds 0.2 miles each way to the hike. Several others had parked here already, and some were there gearing up for Galehead.
I hit the road at 8AM sharp, snowshoes and microspikes on the pack. The walk on the shoulder to the Southern end of Gale River Loop Road (the one closer to the Garfield Trail) went quick and I started up the road itself. The road was fairly hard-packed though lumpy, but I made my way with little trouble to the trailhead itself, avoiding the couple of side roads that are used for logging and for snowmobiling (keep left where the snowmobile route continues ahead when you are inbound). 1.5 miles in, with another 5 miles to go to the summit.
I started off in microspikes, but just past the 2 crossings on this trip (both nice and fully snowbridged), I put on the snowshoes. The snow was getting deeper, and I didn't want to cause damage to the trail. Higher up, the snowshoes became essential.
I'd had a terrible night's sleep, and just wasn't feeling it early on, but slowly and steadily I made my way up the gradual trail. The wonderful thing about the Garfield Trail is that there is not a single steep section. However, that also means it is LONG.
There was little to see as far as far-reaching views go, but plenty to see as far as beautiful winter woods go. And, as I passed through the final switchback (yes, this trail has several of them!), I had company. No, not other hikers (and in fact aside from the snowshoe prints of one hiker ahead of me, I hadn't seen a sign of anyone since the parking lot), but GRAY JAYS. These handsome little scrounges are pretty common in the White Mountains, particularly in the Crawford Notch area, but I've seen them in a number of other places, including on Garfield back in November. Here they provided me with a great source of amusement. After seeing one at a short rest, every time I stopped for a quick breather, 2 would land in nearby branches (I assume they were the same 2 jays). All the way up the last 1/2 - 3/4 mile to the summit! They were obviously looking for snacks, and while they got one or two peanuts, they were probably a little disappointed in this hiker. But they stuck with me until I left the summit, obviously hoping for more.
0.2 miles from the summit, the Garfield Trail ends at the Garfield Ridge Trail. Here is the only steep part of this hike: the last pitch to the summit. This was filled with loose snow, but I made my way up, and was greeted by the wonderful view...of the inside of a cloud.
|Summit area of Garfield|
|Not much to see is there?|
|Normally there is a great view towards the Twins and Bonds this way...|
|Inside the old fire tower foundation|
While the winds were calm and the temperature reasonable, there was little to see so I returned to the trail junction for a little while, before starting down. Before doing so, I noted that the tracks I had been following all day had returned from the summit and then headed off over the Garfield Ridge towards Galehead, through what looked like an un-broken trail (since the snowstorm the weekend before at least). Hope he had a good hike!
The descents are one of the best parts about winter hiking. With the solid snow coverage, there were no rocks, roots, or anything in the trailbed, just a nice smooth ramp downhill. I made great progress downhill, running into a number of groups heading up (some with large overnight packs heading towards the Garfield shelter and/or beyond). Aside from the trio of college-age kids in microspikes and crampons totally destroying the trailbed, everyone was in snowshoes and looking to be having a great time. With gravity on my side, I was down the trail, off Gale River Road, and back to the car less than 2.5 hours from when I left the top!
This was winter 4000-Footer #42 for me, with only 3 hikes left to finish. But I'll have to return to Garfield another winter day for sure to get those winter Garfield views!
Peaks: Garfield (4500', NH4K)
Trails: Road Walk, Garfield Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail
Mileage: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 3300 feet
Book Time: ~8hr 15 minutes (actual: 7hrs)