“I brought my winter gaiters. I think they’re going to be overkill,” I said on the car ride over to the North Twin trail head from the Gale River Trail parking area.
“Wear them, you can always take them off and put them in your pack if you don’t need them,” said Schorman.
I was pretty sure they’d be too much gaiter for the amount of snow we would see. After all, the trail condition reports said that there was about 4-5″ of snow up high, not quite enough for full winter gaiters. I’m not the most graceful person, so I figured I’d better put them on anyway and at least had an extra layer on my lower legs. I always end up with way more snow on me than really should be. Beside the gaiters, for my legs I had thin wool tights and winter hiking pants, worn mainly for the wind, not repelling any snow we’d encounter. Off we went, up the North Twin trail, enjoying the 1″ or so of snow on the ground and icicles on rocks and also keeping an eye on the river as we knew we’d have to cross it eventually. We made good time, crunching along in bareboots, down the herdpath bypassing the first two crossings and then came to the third crossing where we knew we’d have to face what was probably the hardest obstacle of the day: the river crossing. Today the river was the lowest I had ever seen it, which was good. There was snow and ice on the rocks and logs, which was bad. We hunted around a bit up and down the bank to find a reasonable place to cross and decided that higher up the river looked better than lower. There were plenty of rocks and only one short log to cross. I went across first and then the others followed. It sounds easy, but it wasn’t, requiring a good measure of concentration and courage. We all crossed safely and were thrilled to be on our way on a loop hike and not have to return to the river later in the day.
Then we began the climb up to North Twin. We enjoyed the morning sunshine and the increasing amounts of snow, entering a winter wonderland as we climbed higher up the side of the mountain, complete with not just snow-dusted trees, but snow-laden trees. About the same time we all commented that it was probably time for microspikes as after a few slips we felt we might gain a bit more traction that way. No one else had been up this way in while, or at least not since the snow fell, so it was also time to break some trail, which Lady Di did in great style. After a quick gear change, we headed uphill and up into a cloud. No more sunshine, and instead we got wind. We could hear it, but thankfully, weren’t in it. We arrived at the level section before the summit of North Twin, and while the snow depth was now 4-8″, there wasn’t a snowpack so deep that we didn’t have tree protection from the wind. We headed down the protective tunnel of trees, and finally the cairn marking the North Twin Spur and view spur came into view. The signs were already starting to collect rime ice. A quick congratulations all around and we were on our way to South Twin. It certainly was gloomy and cold, and I was starting to anticipate what the conditions on South Twin might be. Wind hasn’t always been my friend, and between time and experience, I have been better with it. Just the anticipation of going into an exposed area with wind in winter conditions can still make me a bit anxious. Once I put on a fleece under my shell and added mittens over my gloves, I was cozy and happy and faced the barren, rime iced summit of South Twin with no problem and even enjoyed it. I even got out the handheld weather station and found out the winds were pretty steady in the 25-30mph range. We had a few quick pictures and then we quickly moved into the safety of the trees on the other side of the summit.
Down we went toward Galehead Hut, carefully over and around the rocks, poking around a bit if necessary to figure out how not to break a leg or ankle if we stepped unwarily into a trap. The further we descended down toward the hut, it was obvious we were also dealing with some ice under that snow, so our caution increased. In spite of that, we made great time coming down from South Twin, coming out of the greyness into sunshine and soon we were enjoying lunch on the porch of the Galehead Hut.
It seemed that some other party had made a recent pilgrimage to Galehead, so we wouldn’t have to break trail, at least for a while. With lunch over, we left our packs and made the quick round trip to the summit of Galehead in the brilliant afternoon light, overjoyed that we would not have to go back up into the gloom that still concealed South Twin. We were even happier to shed some layers and follow a broken out trail down to the Gale River Trail, where we were pleased to see that the broken trail continued downhill. No one had gone to or come from Garfield along the Garfield Ridge Trail and we weren’t going to either, it was time for the descent to the car. Two and half hours later, along with some fantastic views of North and South Twin in the evening light and the rising of an almost full moon, we were back at the car, ready to pick up the other car and head home.
In the end, those winter gaiters and winter hiking pants were not overkill at all! In fact, I was very, very happy to have worn them, considering the amount of snow we encountered! It was quite an adventure and even made better by the blessing of traveling with great company over many miles over hidden rocks and holes and none of us getting hurt, and by the blessing of finishing just as the light was fading and not needing to use headlamps!
Special thanks to Schorman and LadyDi for letting me tag along and for the photos!