It has been an interesting winter so far here in New England. We’ve had snow, ice, rain, and plenty of subzero temperatures. When I saw a window of weather opportunity on Monday and by a chance had a later carpool pick-up, I knew it was a good time to try to bag another peak for my winter list.
I chose Garfield because the approach is pretty straightforward and moderate. With only three stream crossings (which actually can be avoided ) down low, it was ideal. Trail conditions were the biggest question of the day – what would I encounter after a weekend of rain and possibly snow in the higher elevations? I was mentally prepared for the worst: ice including boilerplate, mush, frozen postholes and all other forms of ankle-busting footing. I figured if it were any better, then I’d be pleasantly surprised.
I headed up I-93 very early, and arrived at the trailhead around 7:15a. I still had a carpool pick-up, so I wanted an early start to make sure I was back in time. As I got out of the car, another car pulled up with two women who were also going to hike Garfield. After a quick chat, they agreed to join forces for the at least part of the way or for the whole day, depending on how things were going. Suzanne and Joanie are two great hiking partners and no strangers to the White Mountains, having completed both their all-season and winter 4K lists, and are almost done with the New England 67 list.
We headed past the gate and up Gale River Road to the trailhead. The road was a bit icy, but bareboots were fine, with a careful eye on the footing. We started up the Garfield Trail and with just a dusting of snow, it surely did not look like January at all.
We came to the first crossing and Joanie took the lead, having been on the quick bushwhack over to the snowmobile bridges before. I knew about this well used shortcut for high water situations, but had used it, so it was nice to have someone who really knew what they were doing in lead. With the help of the GPS, we were able to do two small bushwhacks and came out right above the third crossing, back onto the trail (we could see the third crossing from where we stood). That was perfect, the water wasn’t super high, but I think the crossings would have required careful study and possibly stepping on submerged rocks to cross. Due to the recent rain and warm temps, the snow bridges were definitely gone, leaving only thin ice shelfs near the edges that most likely would not support a hiker and gear.
Back on the trail, we continued on until about 3 miles from the cars, where we decided traction would be useful. We were facing a literal river of ice on the trail, and to have gone on without some sort of traction would have been foolish. Traction securely on the feet, we continued to make progress to the summit. Up we went, past the birches, then through the mixed forest and switchbacks and on to the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail. Along the way, we had been passed by Joe, who when we met up with him again at the junction, accompanied us to the summit.
After a quick break to add some extra layers as protection against the now obvious wind, we head up to the summit. Quickly, we were on the summit, enjoying the sunshine, wind (quite a bit of wind, actually) and 360 degree views. As we turned to leave, large gust of wind took my hat and sent it down into the scrub. Thankfully, we were able to locate it, and Joe broke through some thick spruce to retrieve for me. It was only a cheap hat, and I did have a back-up hat, but I appreciate his kindness and effort to get back such an item for me.
The trip back to the car was pretty quick. I decided that my microspikes were not enough traction for going down all the ice flows, so I opted for the Hillsound Trail Pros. Once I got them on and got all the buckles turned the correct way, they worked great and had much better bite for descending the ice. I had one buckle turned around for some reason, and the strap just wouldn’t stay in. After a few minutes of studying it, I figured it out and was on my way. We negotiated all the ice, which was now softer and melting in the above freezing temperatures and made it back to where we put on traction earlier in the day. With less ice and almost no snow to speak of, we put away the traction and barebooted right back to the cars!
I had a great day! Besides bagging another peak and enjoying the views, I got to meet some new people, all of who are excellent hikers and will be out on the trails for a long time to come.
Special Thanks to Suzanne and Joanie for letting me tag along and Joe, who, even though we hiked with briefly, rescued my hat!