“Hi, This is John. Where are you?”
“Somewhere between my house and Tilton on a heavily frost-heaved, poorly-treated, icy road.”
Thus, the last official winter season hike started. I was on my way to meet my hiking partner in Meredith, and then we’d carpool via the back roads up to the 19 Mile Brook trail head for a hike to Middle and South Carter. Due to the state of the roads and his 360 degree adventure in an intersection just moments before he called me, we decided that we might have a better chance of getting to the mountains if we took the hopefully better maintained I-93 northward. After picking up JohninNH and his gear, we set off. The I-93 wasn’t much better, with a 45 mph speed limit. As we were nearing Lincoln, travel time calculations were made and after comparing lists, we decided to hike something closer that we both needed. Galehead seemed to fit those requirements.
After a brief stop in Lincoln, we were headed to the Beaver Brook Wayside/Cross Country Ski Area. We both knew that there was an shortcut utilizing the Beaver Brook ski trails to access Gale River Road to the Gale River Trail. Problem was, neither of us had been on it, nor did we have the correct map for the area as our original intent was the Carters. Thankfully, we both had been on Gale River Road and the Gale River Trail before in the summer, so we knew what the trip to Galehead from that point would be. After studying the map at the kiosk and taking a photo of it on the digital camera to have just in case, we set off. Following a large meet-up group didn’t hurt, either, we just followed their snowshoe tracks. Following the trails and always veering to the right, we crossed an open area, tentsite #3 off of Gale River Road and ended up right on the road. From there we knew where to go: up the road, to the right and to the summer trail head. We crossed the bridge over the Gale River and there was the trail.
The hike was actually pleasant, with some nice sunshine in the morning, and a packed trail with just a little new powder on it. The Gale River Trail is not a difficult trail, and only has one steeper section, near the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail. We enjoyed the trek up the valley, seeing this trail for the first time under snow cover. We came to the first river crossing and recalled reports that the old route had been broken out, not the new section of trail that avoids the sometimes dangerous river crossings. While at the bank, we noticed large blocks of ice, just tossed on the bank, like a child tosses away toys that he’s bored with. We surmised that the the recent warm temperatures and rainfall had broken up the ice and when the water levels went down, the resulting blocks of ice were left on the banks of the river. The water level today was fairly low, so the crossing was relatively easy with an eye toward careful foot placement.
We trekked along the river some more, then did another crossing and recognized the area where the new section of trail connects to the old section. Soon after, we knew the steep section would start, and looking ahead up the trail, there it was. Amazingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I remembered it from this summer, and we arrived at the Garfield Ridge Trail. Along the trek upward, it started to snow lightly and we noticed the surrounding ridges were in and out of the clouds, but we weren’t too worried, there wasn’t that threatening feeling that the weather some times has. At the junction, my partner switched to crampons, as his microspikes just weren’t getting enough bite. My snowshoes were doing just fine, but due to snowshoe induced foot injury, he can’t wear snowshoes at the moment. His traction options were limited, and the crampons were the best choice. He wasn’t damaging the trails, but I brought up the rear just in case.
We quickly covered the distance to Galehead Hut and felt great, standing in front of the hut and being able to see Galehead nicely below the cloud deck. The clouds raised and lowered over South Twin, sometimes revealing the trail near the summit and sometimes not.
We decided to head right away for Galehead’s summit and followed the paths along until we were almost sure we missed the turn for the Frost Trail and then saw the trail sign by our feet! Off we went, uphill to the viewpoint, where we were able to look over the valley and back down to the hut. A few more tenths later, and the trail dead-ended in a very small clearing with a mound of snow, presumably hiding the summit cairn. With the customary summit photos done, we headed back to the hut porch, to relax on the benches for a twenty minute lunch break and to enjoy the views. It was really quiet, and we even had a visit from a couple of grey jays who were very happy when I shared my trail mix.
After lunch, we packed up and headed down for a very quick trip to the car. Aided by a little butt-sliding on the steeper sections, we made it back to the car in well under three hours, enjoying the afternoon sunshine and easy trails the whole way.
While it was adventure just to get to the trail head, we had good day that was just as good or even better than the hike we’d originally planned. Safety all day, the pretty winter scenery, bits of sunshine, and wisdom to make good decisions were blessings enjoyed by both of us. It was a fun way to end the official winter season. While we’re a little sad that the season will be over and the snow gone in a month or two, we’re both looking forward to spring and summer hiking plans. Besides, it will officially be winter again on Dec. 21!
Thanks to JohninNH for another great hike in the Whites!