Thursday, February 27, 2014

President's Day But No Presidents - Feb. 17, 2014

This was a rare 3-day hiking weekend for me, as I got President's Day off this year. As always in winter, the goal was to hike above treeline, preferably in the Presidential range, but cold temps and high winds nixed that idea. Plan B was on tap: a hike of North Twin, South Twin, and Galehead Mountain. Mondays are one of Whitney's normal hiking days, and these were remaining on her winter 4000-footer list, so this was an easy choice for what was supposed to be an otherwise beautiful and sunny day. Joining us were Denise (whom I hadn't seen since the Isolation hike in December), Ian (sans Marlie since it was a bit too cold), and Tim and his friend Ed.

We lucked out on this one in that a pair of crazy hikers broke out the whole route on Saturday, and another person took the same route on Sunday, so we weren't going to need to break trail. After meeting at Beaver Brook and leaving a couple cars there, we headed to the end of Little River Road. From here we took the usual winter route to the North Twin Trailhead, by taking the herd path on the left right after the snowmobile bridge and followed the old railroad grade (very obvious and easy to follow) right to the parking lot at the trailhead. Whitney and I were pleased to see that the overgrown section of this path had been cleaned up and we didn't have to wade through prickers this time, unlike in December when we hiked Mount Hale.

We made good time all the way to the upper crossing of the Little River, utilizing the typical bypass of the first 2 crossings. The river was completely and totally snowbridged along essentially its whole length, and so there was a great snowbridge path at the crossing, meaning we didn't need to shimmy across the giant log this time. Soon after this crossing the climbing begins in earnest.

The Little River, under a blanket of snow

Yes, there is a river under there!

Upper crossing of the Little River. Note the snow-covered log that is often a route across.

Walking across the snowbridge over the Little River

Looking downstream from the middle of the Little River

Upstream from the crossing of Little River
I was a bit tired from a poor night's sleep and being on the third day of hiking, and so the steady grind up to North Twin was tough and felt slow. Surprisingly though, I still made the summit with the group barely 3 hours after we departed the trailhead. That's close to 6 miles and over 3000 feet of climbing!

Just before the summit the trail pops out onto a terrific viewpoint (we layered up just below this point anticipating the high winds that had been forecast). Last winter when Ian and I did this hike, it was overcast though the views were still decent, but this day was incredible. Views stretched for 100 miles with barely a cloud visible, and despite the wind, we all had to stop and enjoy and take a lot of pictures.

South Twin from just below North Twin

Pano from the lookout just below North Twin

South Twin, with Carrigain on the far left

The Presidential Range gleaming behind Mount Hale

Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, shining on President's Day
Naturally we also visited the viewpoint just past the summit of North Twin (sign) that offers a great view towards Franconia Ridge and Galehead Hut. The wind was actually a bit stronger in some ways here, and after a few pictures we headed back to the wooded summit for a snack break before heading for South Twin.

Pano from the North Twin overlook

Franconia Ridge with Garfield on the right

Galehead Hut below Galehead Mountain with the pointed peaks of Flume (L) and Liberty (R) behind.
Up to this point we had enjoyed a terrific snowshoe track with no drifting. The trail over to South Twin was drifted in the col, which wasn't a huge surprise, but the trail is well-marked with blue blazes through here, and was not difficult to follow. The ascent to South Twin is also pretty gentle, and before long we were being buffeted by heavy winds on the open summit, but enjoying the views. The temp was around -3F, and the winds were definitely in the 30s, with gusts probably in the mid-40s as at times it was hard to stand up. Without a wind gauge, a guess is all we have for what the winds were, but they neared 100mph at times on Mount Washington during the day. While most of us spent several minutes taking summit shots, panos, and so on, Tim had to go retrieve part of his sled that he had strapped to his pack for the slide down South Twin to the hut. Unfortunately for him, as soon as he hit the summit, a gust of wind snapped it off (breaking it near the handle) and now he had to carry the pieces all the way back to the cars without getting to use it! (He did retrieve all of the pieces, so no trace was left).

Pano over the Pemi from South Twin

Heading off South Twin with Franconia Ridge and Garfield looming large.

Bond and West Bond, with Passaconaway far off on the left and the North Slide of the Tripyramids in the center distance.

The Willey Range (Tom, Field, Willey) with the Baldfaces in the center background.

Lincoln and Lafayette

Last look at Franconia Ridge
The descent off of South Twin was soft, with deep snow only partially broken out. Those in front reported still having to somewhat break trail, but in what seemed like only a short time, we were all at Galehead Hut ready for the last climb of the day. A short snack later, we dropped our packs and scurried up to the summit.

Galehead Mountain from just below Galehead Hut on the Frost Trail

The Twins (South in center, North on left) from the overlook just below Galehead's summit.

Galehead Hut tucked below North and South (R) Twin

Galehead Hut from Galehead Mountain

South Twin Mountain

Ed, Whitney, and Tim on Galehead

Galehead Mountain from Galehead Hut
Now all we had left was a long descent. A short stint on the Garfield Ridge Trail, then a long haul on the seemingly never-ending Gale River Trail brought us to Gale River Road, which is gated and closed to cars in winter, and used by snowmobiles. We didn't see any snowmobiles as we followed the road a short distance to a fork, and headed towards Route 3 briefly before ducking into the back of the first campsite along the road. In back of that campsite is one of the cross-country ski trails that leads fairly quickly back to the Beaver Brook parking lot. In a testament to the strong group of hikers on this hike coupled with good trail conditions, we completed the 14+mile hike in less than 7.5 hours, and did not see any other hikers either (aside from a couple folks a the start heading to Hale)!

Congratulations to Whitney and Denise on 3 more checkmarks off their winter lists, and to Tim, Ed, and Ian for grid checkmarks. For me, this capped off 8 peaks this weekend, bringing my February grid total to 24, making it my second month (July) to reach that mark.. With the fast hike, I was home a lot earlier than I expected, which was awesome as well. This was an awesome hike with great company, thanks for the invite Whitney!

Route: Old North Twin Trail, North Twin Trail, North Twin Spur, Twinway, Frost Trail, Gale River Trail, Gale River Road, Beaver Brook Ski Trail
Peaks: North Twin (4761', NH4K), South Twin (4902', NH4K), Galehead (4024', NH4K)
Mileage: 14.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 3950'
Book Time: 9hr 10min (actual 7hr 25min)

Looking up-river along the Gale River Trail

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