May 27, 2012

Galehead Mountain and the Twins

Katy and I had been planning all week long to hike up North and South Twin Mountains on Saturday of this weekend to add to our NH 4000 footers list. It was a busy weekend in store for us already, with my sister's bridal shower planned for Sunday, and Katy's father inviting us to visit him, her mom, and her brother in a lake house he's renting all summer long near Alton Bay, NH. So we decided we'd continue with our plan to hike starting early on Saturday, stop by for a BBQ in Alton Bay afterwards, and then continue home so Katy can make it to the shower on Sunday. When yesterday rolled around, we did what we have done so many times now and got up at 5AM to make the drive north. We were out the door by about 6AM and were on the North Twin trail at about 8:30AM. On paper the Twins are a hefty hike and are a straight-up out and back of over 11 miles. Both are tall with South Twin topping out over 4900 feet. We headed up with conditions warm in the 60's, foggy and cloudy, but forecast to be even warmer and sunnier as the day progressed.

The first section of this trail is easy with relatively simple grades, but less than a half mile in, we came across our first significant river crossing. The trail descriptions indicated that this hike has three significant stream crossings, but two of them can be bypassed by following a herd path along the river's edge. When we reached this first crossing, it seemed passable, but not without getting our boots wet, so we opted to take the pretty clear herd path that continued on to our left. While not the official trail, this path was pretty well beaten and easy to follow. With some trail maintenance work it would not be difficult to turn it into the official route. After about 15 or 20 minutes following this path along the river's edge, we met back up with the official trail and continued the steady and gradual climb and passed the one other rock-hoppable river crossing further along. After about two easy miles, we gradually hiked away from the river and the trail became steeper.

We made it to the summit of North Twin in about two and half hours at which point the fog was finally beginning to lift and the winds were beginning to subside. From the outlook near the peak you could see the wispy fog and clouds clearing from the mountains and the nearby Galehead Hut. I mentioned to Katy that Galehead Hut is only 0.8 miles from the peak of South Twin and the little nub next to the hut was Galehead Mountain, a peak we have yet to bag. Pondering this thought, we continued on towards the summit of South Twin. The 1.3 mile section of trail between North and South Twin was very simple and we navigated it in a little over a half hour. During this time frame, the clouds and the winds had rapidly disappeared and we enjoyed panoramic views on the exposed summit cone of South Twin. Galehead Hut also looked tantalizingly close. I crunched some quick numbers and estimated that it would add an additional two hours to our hike to go down and bag Galehead, leaving just enough time to make it to Alton Bay by the 6PM that we had given Katy's father as an estimate. Katy wasn't sure if she wanted to do it, but she's heading down the trail towards Galehead as she's telling me this. I guess we are going for it!

The trail between South Twin and Galehead Hut may only be 0.8 miles, but it is steep. It goes down about 1000 feet in elevation in this short section. Down, down, down we went, chatting up a couple of different groups of hikers along the way. It seemed like many who were on this section of trail were doing some type of a loop hike with car spots at the each end of the Twins and either Galehead or Garfield. Perhaps my favorite exchange with another hiker coming up from the hut went like this-- Hiker: "Where are you guys headed?" Us: "Up to Galehead." Hiker: "Then where?" Us: "Back up over and down the Twins where we parked." Hiker: "Why?" He was not the only one surprised that we were doing an out-and-back to Galehead from Haystack Road! When we finally did reach the hut, there were probably about two dozen hikers there soaking in the beauty of a day that it has turned into. We ate some lunch and then continued on, hiking the additional simple half mile up to the viewless peak of Galehead Mountain.

By the time we reached the summit of Galehead, despite the fact that we bagged an extra peak (!), I think Katy was just about ready to kill me at this point for suggesting so enthusiastically that we add this "quick and easy" two and half miles to our hike. We headed back down to Galehead Hut and after another quick stop, began the dreaded climb back up South Twin, 1000 feet of elevation gain in 0.8 miles. While not too difficult in terms of scrambling, when this section of trail is 7+ miles into a hike, it can be tough. Up, up, up we went, and by the time we made it back to the summit of South Twin, it had been a two and half hour detour on our hike, just a little longer than my original estimate. It had also warmed up even more and the peak was full of several hikers, some relaxing and sunning themselves on this now sunny day. With the steep section up from Galehead Hut behind us, I think Katy stopped hating me and we continued on. After double bagging North Twin, we motored down the rest of the trail and were back at the car just after 5PM. Nearly 14 miles and 3 peaks (two double bagged) in under 9 hours was not a bad day. On top of that we made it to Alton Bay by 6:30PM and were greeted with a BBQ with family. That's now 35 of 48 done!

May 13, 2012

Mount Isolation

Yesterday was a warm, clear day here in the Northeast, which meant it was a perfect opportunity for Katy and I to get another hike in. With such a great day in store, we considered all of our remaining NH 4000 footers, including an above treeline hike up Madison and Adams, the long drive to Mount Cabot, or the hefty ascent of the tall Twin mountains. In the end, though, we decided to get one of "the long ones" done - Mount Isolation. On paper, Mount Isolation is a curious challenge. While it is the second shortest mountain on the 4000 footer list at only 4004 feet, it is not easily accessible from any trailhead. For this reason, it is actually the most popular "last bagged" peak for those completing all 48. The shortest route mileage-wise leaves from the Glen Ellis falls trailhead, takes you up past Glen Boulder over a side shoulder of Mount Washington, before hiking down to the summit of Isolation. Total mileage is just under 13 miles, but the trouble is you have to hike up to well over 5000 feet in order to reach the lowly Isolation summit. Another slightly longer option but with easier grades is done via the Rocky Branch Trail. This route is just under 15 miles but does not require large swings in elevation. After considering the choices, we opted for the longer but steadier route.

We awoke at 5:00AM yesterday morning and managed to pack up and be out the door by about 5:45AM. The drive to Isolation is a long one, but we were geared up and on the trail at 8:45AM. There were only two other cars in the lot when we arrived and in total we saw only three other groups on the trails all day long. The initial part of the trail began with a gradual ascent up a dry trail, piece of cake! As we continued along, we began to encounter more and more wet and muddy sections of the trail, until we were basically rock hopping down a stream for miles. The mud and the water made it a little slower to navigate, but the grades were still easy and we continued on. After about 3 or 4 miles of hiking, probably the most unusual thing that's ever happened to me on a trail, happened. I had stopped for a second to plan my next step, when something smashed me hard on the top of my head. My teeth crunched and I yelled mostly from being so startled and saw two pieces of a large tree branch fall down on either side of me. Katy was just a few feet behind me and saw the large tree branch fall from a tree above and hit me on the top of the head before breaking in half. I was shaken up for a bit but other than the adrenaline jolt, I appeared to be ok.

We continued on and shortly encountered the first of five very significant river crossings. For the most part, we were able to rock hop these crossings, but a couple of times we weren't able to find a simple route and had to wade through the fast moving current. The water was well above our ankles and made for some sloshy boots but other than that, we were no worse for the wear. Over five miles in, over six miles in, and we reached the final trail junction, which was another mile or so until the summit. At about 1:30PM we arrived at the peak of Mount Isolation, which despite its lowly stature has exposed ledges with great views of the southern Presidentials as well as panoramic views to all sides. It was very windy when we came out from the cover of the trees but there was not one cloud in the sky with the temperatures probably in the 50's at the summit. We took in some views, snapped a few photos, and then retreated to find some cover from the wind to eat lunch.

We descended down exactly the way we came up. Back through the river crossings, and back along the wet, muddy, trail. It was a fairly uneventful descent, with no tree branches falling from the sky, and still the easy, gradual grades. The many miles of hiking began to wear on the muscles, the feet, and the joints, though, and we were both eager to see the car when we finally reached the bottom. We arrived back at the trailhead at about 6:00PM for a total hike time of just over 9 hours. After a post-hike meal at the Red Fox, we headed back home to complete a very long day trip but a satisfying adventure. For those keeping track (me), that's 32 out of 48 4000 footers complete!