Every time I look for the next hike, the two NHHH peaks on Garfield Ridge stand out. Theyíre close to each other, and thereís not a lot of peaks I have left within easy distance of each other, but there was another reason. Many of you knew my wife likely has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, well recently she was finally diagnosed. When my wife could hike, our favorite spot was the Garfield Ridge campsite lookout, just sitting on the bench, where we stayed the night twice. So I felt a strong pull to go back to Garfield and the lookout; it was a trip I knew I needed to do. I donít know why, maybe just the desire to feel like Iím bringing my wife closer in my travels, maybe just to remind me of whatís important, maybe just to remember better times. Maybe all of those and maybe more.
I only slept about 3 ĺ hours that night, having trouble getting to sleep and waking knowing I wasnít going back to sleep at 4:15. Well, that was fine by me, early start means more time in the afternoon to spend at home. Neesh was still awake, having a bout of insomnia, I was up way too early, so we were both pleasantly surprised to be awake together before I left. I took care of the dogs and thanks to having everything ready and in the car for once, I made it out of the house in record time at 4:45 after a big kiss for her. I made it back at 4:50. Not PM, AM --- I had forgotten some cash for parking. Oops. Good excuse for another kiss.
I was going to park at the Gale River TH, but went ahead to scope out the road walk ahead of me, just to make sure there werenít any weird turns. There werenít, but it was a half mile longer than the mile I had thought it was, so Iím glad I checked this out. I drove back and hit the road at 7:15. It was cold out. The first Wearing of the Fleece was accomplished for the season, and in short order I tossed on the glove liners. Brrrrr! Technically, it was still summer. It sure didnít feel like it was supposed to be in the 60ís later. There was no frost, but it had to be close. Along the road walk, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of a moose walking around in a moist area in the woods. I went down to see if I could see it, but once a car went by, the noises ceased, and I didnít want to wait around. I arrived at the Garfield TH a half hour later.
I set off on the trail to pleasant grades and pleasant woods, slowly building up some heat beneath the fleece. Finally that had to go. I went off in short sleeves, trying to keep an aggressive pace to build heat back up, but stopping quickly just for water just froze me up. For added joy, I could feel my left knee giving me some pain as well as a hot spot building on my foot. Probably too much log splitting the day before. Knowing this was a 13 mile or so trip, I was having my usual doubts, thinking it would be nice to just be a bum at the house. But it was that gem of a day you wait forever for, and the thought of the road walk back to the car was enough to ward off the doubts. I hit the first switchback, checked the map and was surprised to see how far I had come. Ok, nice, tuck those doubts away now. Brrrr! I came to the first small view out to the Conn. valley where there was a lot of fog, and saw some frost on the ground. OK, enoughís enough. I dug out a long sleeve overshirt, excepting that to be cold too, but it was lovingly warm. Oh geez, so much better! Idiot.
I was really conking in this upper section, having to stop frequently to get food, adjust this and that, drink, rest, etc. I hadnít eaten enough this morning and it was showing (gotta keep that trim figure, ya know, ha haÖ). After getting some more food in me, I felt much better and pushed on, with the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail coming as a surprise. This is unusual, as I can typically ďsenseĒ a junction coming up. I knew what was coming next. My memory is crap, but I KNEW the section of trail between the shelter and the summit was steep. It makes for a rough morning leaving the shelter. Sure enough the steepness was there, but short, and I was on the summit at 9:45.
As I came across the summit, my first thought was ďMy GodÖĒ as the views into the Pemi were laid beneath me. I knew this had great views, I have pictures of them. I had forgotten how enormous they were. I said hello to a couple of groups already there, and just sucked in the vastness of what was before me. To the right of Flume I could make out what looked like Kearsarge (it was), and was pleased by the clearness of the views. To the left of Flume were a couple of humps way in the distance. Later I found out it was the Uncanoonucs, 82 miles away, and surprisingly easy to see. I believe further peaks were visible, but I couldnít ID them. I eyed the north ridge of Garfield, which leads to a cliff, a bushwhack Iíve been thinking about for some time. It was evident there was a lot of blowdown patches on there, and Iím no longer sure itís worth it.
I only stayed for 20 minutes. On another day or were I alone today, I wouldíve just kicked back, but today I wasnít in the mood for extended exposure to people. I was thinking about Neesh, and wanted some private time, for lack of a better phrase, alone with her. I headed off to the campsite, arriving 20 or so minutes later. I always hated the uphill climb to the camp, always a bitch after a long day, and today it really felt no different. I saw a plaque, and almost missed the ladder to the bench. I knew this is where the emotion would really hit, but the severity of it overwhelmed me. I just started sobbing uncontrollably. This was our spot, and I was both sad and pissed that she couldnít be here to share it with me. I was crying for all the good times we had in the mountains that were no more, I was crying that such a good woman should have to go through so much, I was crying because Iím not as good a husband as she deserves. I felt the pain right through to every minor transgression Iíd committed.
I tried calling to let her know all of this, but alas, she had finally fallen asleep. We both later thought that may have just been as well. Fortunately, no one was around to witness this mess of a man. I looked to the left of me at the empty seat and just started sobbing again. I heard a group coming, got control of myself, and finally looked up from my seat.
WTF?? This view SUCKS! This is all wrong. There used to be views from beyond N. Twin to past the Bonds, and now all I really see is S. Twin staring me in the face. Now I was pissed at something else, the AMC and/or the Forest Service for letting this happen. You save a few trees in the name of being natural next to a large area you purposely keep free of trees? WÖTÖF??? That was the charm of this spot. Dammit! And flippiní symbolic to boot.
I sighed heavily and left, heading further down the steepy steepness of the GRT, reminding myself everyoneÖ. everyone goes through adversity in life. Some more severe than us, some less. I guess I concluded itís how you deal with it that determines the quality of your character. Tears started welling up again here and there, and eventually, I had to start thinking about the mammoth whack before me to Garfield Ridge, west peak. All 500 feet of it. First I had to come to the Franconia Brook Trail, a long ways from its origin. I went down this about 100 feet and liked what I saw. It was a beautiful mossy area, and I knew I wanted to return to this trail at some point (I had decades ago, but remember nothing). It looks like itís a miserable mud hole in anything but the driest of weather though. Now I was to look for an uphill followed by a flat area, and this is where the whack would begin. I found it, and was greeted by a ton of young, thick fir. Oh crap. This is all I could see uphill for some distance. Crappity-crap! I thought about this for a few minutes and said well, no harm in going further up the trail to see if this changes. Well, yeah, maybe 50-100 feet later around a small corner, thatís exactly what it did and I was greeted by fairly open woods.
Within 20 feet I came across a mostly yellow tie-dye bandana on the ground. Well, someone else chose this route or a mountain lion had eaten a wayward hippie. If you can claim it, itís yours (unless youíre a mountain lion). I kept on a southerly course, having to squeeze in between trees, getting my pack caught up quite a bit, but nothing too terrible. Iíd occasionally come across a herd path here and there and make some good time (it was funny to see a slight depression in the moss the size of a footprint, only to step into another exactly one stride away), and in short order was in the summit proper and found the summit bump at 11:30. I had heard the NE route was open, so I struck out at least NNE to see what that entailed. Before long the going got worse, and I ended up in thick young crap and had wondered if I had somehow wandered too far west back to what I was avoiding. This didnít seem possible, and indications were I was still going roughly NNE, but I didnít want to stray too far to the east either, so I just struck north and eventually came out into more open woods and starting going uphill. Huh? Had I checked my map, it wouldíve been evident I had gone NE at first (GPS confirmed this when I checked at home), and I soon found a nice straight strip of smooth rock heading off to the east.
Further down the trail, thereís a viewpoint of S. Twin and a clear line running right up it. It was so distinctive and straight, all I could think was it looked like a power or phone line run, but thatís about as stupid as letting me go off into the woods on a bushwhack. Or was there some history here I was unaware of? I looked at my map, and it was exactly where the trail was. It was hard to imagine the trail being so brushed out as to show up this clearly, but perhaps all the trees are pretty stunted going up there. A mystery wrapped in an ignoramus.
Now I was looking for a good sized descent into a col and then reaching the height of land. The col was rather evident, but the height was not. I kept hitting a hump and wondering ďis this it?Ē only to go a little further and have the process repeat itself over and over again. Finally at a little outlook followed by a sharp drop, it was quite plain this was it, although I could see I was more E of the summit than N. I chose a dead tree along the trail that looked more to the north of the summit (the summit of the east peak is only about 100-150 feet from the trail). It all looked like thick, thick stuff, and this is what I had heard about this peak. I chose a spot that had about 4 feet of good going and plowed in. Fir needles falling everywhere, adding to the collection I was wearing/carrying from west peak. It wasnít thoroughly horrid, just mildly so until the spruce decided to join the fir. Ow. Fir with their branches poking out all over the place are one thing, short plentiful spruce needles everywhere are quite another. I was crawling in places, and now I understood how it can take hours to go under a mile. Gawd, I hoped Scar Ridge wasnít like this. Hitting a ridge I kept a keen eye out for the high point, but it just kept going on and on. I made a mental note after passing one ledge, as I knew there were ledges on the east side and some steep ones on the south.
Finally, I popped out on another ledge at 12:45, escaping the nasty clenches of the FirrySpruce Monster With 1 Gajillion Claws to find jaw-dropping views. Oh my. I wasnít expecting anything this good. A wide open view from N. Twin to Garfield. OK, I stayed a bit here by my lonesome and let this one soak in. Oh my. The fir waves on N. Twin were in your face, the Galehead Hut was right there, thereís a great view of both the Osceola slide on one side and the Scar Ridge slide on another, and another interesting angle of Owlís Head including one of the ledges on the south end. Oh my oh my oh my. Oh-me-oh-my-oh.
Well, that was it for the day, I fought my way back down, losing what little of a herd path there was quickly, and popped out pretty much where I had started on the trail. I looked back up and there was no hint of the ledges up there. Itís one of those places you expect a spur trail, but youíre glad there isnít. A hidden diamond in the rough.
It was a quick jaunt over to the Gale River Trail, and then down the unrelenting steep slope. Must be a blast coming up this trail, especially with a packboard. I could start to hear the Gale River, and finally came to the area where you can go right down to it. Got a nice shot of a red-leafed tree, a cliff on N. Twin and the river. Oh well, it was nice to the eye, not so good in my camera. I was heading down, letting my legs enjoy the reckless speed, enjoying the sights and sounds of the river (kept thinking trout for some reasonÖ), coming across one woman and later four guys going up the trail. Thought it was kinda late to be heading up, but who knows what their plans were. Maybe hut bound or a quick jaunt up to Galehead. My mind finally numbed and I really thought of nothing other than watch the feet. Iíd occasionally check my progress on the map which was confirming the 3:00 out time I had figured on once I made the turn onto this trail.
I was 3 minutes later than I thought. I was shocked to have made such good time, which is great only in that I feel more comfortable doing long trips like these without being gone the entire day. Popped out in the lot to see a group of errrr, exuberant young guys getting ready to head up. Well hey, I was young once, too. Get out there and have the time of your life. Got changed, dropped as many fir needles as I could in the lot (look for the pile on the left back side), and headed back homeward to meet up with my beautiful wife, whom Iím lucky to have. I wonít forget this trip for a long time. Bagging the peaks? Yeah, Iíll forget that. What I felt on that bench, though, Iíll hang onto that as long as I can.
TIDS AND BITS:
I compared the fir waves from the east peak to the picture from 1984 I have from the campsite, and they look exactly the same. This shocked me until I did some looking online that says they move only around 3 to 9 feet a year, so apparently 75 to 225 feet of movement wouldnít be obvious at this distance. Interesting to see the shapes are still the same.
I thought I was well prepared for this trip after a couple of 10 mile hikes with similar elevation gains in the past month. Wrong. Those extra 3 miles (it is 30% more, there, SaltyÖ .ya know?) are putting some hurt in my calves and shins these past couple of days. Itís a nice hurt though.
Shoulders are feeling it too. Switched to my winter pack as Iím starting to slowly add in the winter-type gear with the colder weather. Sigh.