Not Quite a Fall Foliage Hike, Garfield, 10.8.12

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.

At the Garfield Trail trailhead, ready to go on another adventure.

Up the trail, surrounded by the fall leaves.

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.

From fall to winter, in just a few steps.

Check the calendar! Yep, it’s still October. No wonder they call these the White Mountains!

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.

At the summit and old foundation on the summit of Garfield.

First snowball of the season!

The only view that we got from the summit of Garfield. Note the grey/white background of the previous two photos.

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.

Back at the Garfield Ridge Trail and Garfield Trail junction.

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.

Changing of the seasons on Lafayette, taken on the way home on Rt. 3 South, just before the junction with I-93.


5 thoughts on “Not Quite a Fall Foliage Hike, Garfield, 10.8.12

  1. Love your photo “From fall to winter, in just a few steps”!

    Regarding starting down the wrong trail from the summit of Garfield, there is something about that summit which can be disorienting. When I was up there a year or so ago, I had to stop and make sure I was headed down the right trail before leaving the summit. For whatever reason, it wasn’t intuitive as to which way to go!


  2. Scott – Yeah, it seemed like a lot of folks were out enjoying the snow! I should say that most people we saw were enjoying the snow; the rest weren’t quite prepared for it.

    Thanks, John! I’ve never had trouble on Garfield, but of course, the last two trips were done in full sunshine, so I had landmarks (S. Twin, Galehead Hut one direction and the Franconias in the other) so that I could see exactly which way to descend. Being socked in with clouds just means that one has to be extra careful and when in doubt, trust the compass! With several paths over the ledges to the stone foundation, a quick sanity check, even in broad daylight isn’t a bad idea, like you did.

  3. Summerset,

    Nice write up and pics. I only had four hours to drive and hike that day so did welch dickey. I could see active snow flurries falling towards Franconia Notch so yeah, that mostly sunny forecast didn’t happen. I was curious to see the new snow so it was awesome to see what it was like through your pictures. The whites should have snow October through may. Garfield is a nice fast snowshoe hike, but I did use crampons for the last .2 and cone last January because of the pitch, blue ice underneath, and inch of fresh powder on top preventing micro’s from grabbing.

  4. Thanks, JohninNH! Yes, we got snowed on, too, during the day. Temps at the top were in the low twenties, and that depended on if you were in the trees or not. Official winter will be here before we know it! Thanks for the beta on a winter hike up Garfield – I guessed two different types of traction might be needed. Garfield is certainly on the winter list for me, and on a clear day if I can get one!

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