With the promise of clearing weather on Monday morning, and the knowledge that there was still a little of nice fall color to see, Cameron and I headed up to hike Garfield via the Garfield trail. I’d never been on this trail, as my previous two visits to Garfield were via the Garfield Ridge Trail from Lafayette and headed elsewhere. We thought we’d actually have a nice visit to Garfield and enjoy the fantastic views from this peak.
Driving through Franconia Notch, some of those visions vanished once we saw the snow on the high peaks. I knew there would be a possibility of snow at higher elevations because I had studied the weather forecasts, so we had packed plenty of layers, spares, hats and gloves. Since it was still fall at the trail head, we started up and decided to enjoy whatever the trail would bring.
Right around 2600 feet, we started to see a dusting of snow on the ground and as we ascended, it grew from just a dusting to accumulation on the ground and trees. The temperature was dropping as we ascended, but we added layers as needed and kept hiking, warm and dry.
The trail itself had easy to moderate grades the entire way to the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail, which we really enjoyed and thought that this would be a great winter snowshoe trek. We chatted with other hikers at the junction and then headed up to the summit. The trip up to the summit didn’t seem nearly as steep nor as long as it had in the past. What a difference not carrying a multi-day pack and not being tired makes! Sooner than I thought, we were at the summit ledges. While we were enjoying the snow, we did note that the clouds never did clear out, leaving us socked in with none of the dramatic vistas we knew were available from the summit. We enjoyed what we could of the summit and then decided to head back to the junction for lunch.
We knew we had to take a right off the summit ledges to head back the correct way, but for some reason, after exploring some side ledges, we ended up descending the wrong way. The trail looked pretty much the same, but after a while we’d sensed something wasn’t right, and when we came to some ledges neither of us remembered clambering up, it was time to evaluate the situation. After consulting the compass because there were no visible terrain clues or sun due to the clouds, we knew we were headed the wrong way. Another group showed up and after a chat, we confirmed our decision to hike back up to the summit was the right one.
Once back at the summit, we continued down the other side and sooner than we thought, we were at the junction enjoying a well-deserved break and lunch. Cameron even gave a grey jay a few bites of his sandwich. It was then time to hike back down and in less than an hour, we had brilliant sunshine as the clouds finally cleared out. This of course raised the temperatures and the trees were dripping water from the melting snow, almost like a heavy rain. Eventually we left the snow and dripping trees behind and we were back in fall, enjoying the colored leaves on the trail and overhead.
This was not quite the fall hike we envisioned, but we did get a double bonus of getting to hike in both fall and winter conditions. We had fun, and with the gentle trail and neither of us felt like we had hiked over ten miles that day.