April 7, 2012

Mount Garfield

Today, Katy and I checked another mountain off of our NH 4000 footer list: Mount Garfield. It's been over a month since our last hiking adventure in the White Mountains, but yesterday it looked like we may be able to get out and get one done today. After a bit of a false start getting going this morning, we finally did get out the door at 7AM and were at the trailhead by 9:30AM just north of Franconia Notch. Normally, a hike up Mount Garfield is a 10 mile out and back affair that takes you up a long but steady ascent of the Garfield Trail to the 4500' peak. However, in winter time, the access road to the trailhead is gated off, and the hike requires an additional 1.2 mile out and back road walk from the gate bringing the total mileage to 12.4. Even though the "winter that never was" has left no snow on the ground at the lower elevations, we were still ahead of schedule for the gate to be opened so had to opt for the extended route. We were off on the high mileage hike.

Spring may be in full swing back in Massachusetts, but there are still some chilly days ahead in the White Mountains. The temperature at the trailhead was in the upper 30's under partly cloudy skies as we made our way down the access road and to the main trailhead. The first half of the trail had easy grades and no snow to be seen which made for a leisurely climb. As we continued to gain elevation, we began to come across more and more snowy and icy patches and the temperature continued to drop until we were hiking on a full fledged frozen monorail, about six inches to a foot deep. We put on micropikes in these higher elevations and continued the upward climb. For the most part, the grades remained fairly gradual and steady, but with no trail junctions or checkpoints to speak of until the final quarter mile, the upward march was a bit of a slog. We made good time, though, and reached the end of the Garfield Trail, 0.2 miles from the summit.

The final push to the summit was easily the steepest and most challenging, but it was short-lived. We quickly made it to the top and popped out above treeline to some cloudy but still plentiful views. The temperature was much colder at the peak, and the wind was whipping across the exposed summit for even lower wind chills. We stayed just long enough to snap a few photos before heading back for cover in the trees. The trip down was the same route we took up, and we again made good time. We made it back to the car just before 3:30PM for a total trip time of just under 6 hours.

Mount Garfield is the 31st of 48 peaks that Katy and I have hiked on a journey that we started two and a half years ago. All have been great experiences, most have been fun, tiring, and endorphin filled conquests, and a few have been tough and not lived up to expectations. Mount Garfield was somewhere in the middle, a workmanlike effort. We punched in, we hiked, we punched out, and we checked it off the list. Not all hikes are like this, but when you set this type of goal, and you bag all 48 peaks, sometimes the experience is just that. I really enjoyed the day with my best friend, though, finishing it off with a post-hike meal at the Common Man in Lincoln. Here's to warmer weather and beautiful days for our treks this summer on some of the great hikes in the Whites: the big Presidentials and the Bonds!

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