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!

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