Garfield – 11/27-28/2015

Clouds roll over a small mountain
Clouds on the foothills

‘Twas the morning after Thanksgiving, so Rich and I drove up to New Hampshire for our almost annual post-Thanksgiving backpacking trip.  I like to get as far away from Black Friday and the traffic that comes with it as possible.

Other than some rain and mixed rain/sleet for the first day, the weather was looking good.  The plan was to hike Garfield Ridge Trail to Garfield and stay at the Garfield shelter, then move on to Galehead, South Twin, North Twin, Zealand and Guyot and stay at the Guyot shelter, then hit West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff the next day and retrace to the car – minus most of the summits.  A good workout to burn off the big meals of the previous few days, but nothing crazy.

Car and gear at start of backpacking trip on Mt. Garfield, New Hampshire
The packs and the (new!) car at the start of the trip

The rain and mixed precip that was forecast the first day never found us.  It was cloudy and the air was wet, but other than that we had fine weather for hiking.  I would have preferred about 10/15 degrees colder, as I run hot, and I was carrying a heavy pack for the first time in almost a year.

We’re not ultralight, folks.  I can speak for Rich and myself when I say a good workout is one of the things I enjoy most about heading to the mountains.  Although I failed to weigh my pack before I left that morning in a half-asleep stupor, things topped out somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds.  This was a vacation for me, so I wanted to be comfortable at night – I brought a ton of layers to be able to change into and hang around in, my heaviest sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering -40… she’s a fancy girl), and plenty of fuel for the stove to allow for more hot meals than strictly necessary.

The Garfield Ridge Trail between the road and the summit in most conditions is about as easy as it gets (I feel like I’ve been writing those words a lot lately).  Super flat and the “steep” sections are few and far between, and about as steep as… well, just not steep.

The heavy pack had me feeling some discomfort almost immediately, though.  Mostly the left hip flexor and my shoulders.  I know, I know, if your shoulders hurt, the pack isn’t fit/strapped/packed correctly.  It was, sometimes it just still hurts.  Anyway, it felt like a fitting punishment for the gluttony of the previous few days.

We decided to head to the shelter before the summit of Garfield, to see if anyone was there and lay claim to the finest spots if no one was.  As with most shelters, there is a brutally steep and rough .3-ish miles before you get there.  With the pack loaded up, it was unpleasant – but again – good.  I was looking for a workout.  We put our MICROspikes on here.  The ice on the trail for the last 4.8 miles was easily avoided and mostly on level ground anyway.  We passed the very nice spring at the low point on the way to the shelter, and from there made the easy climb to our home for the night.

We were pumped to find we had the place to ourselves (although it was only just past noon), as we both have incredibly foul mouths and were looking forward to not having to censor them in any way for the duration of the trip.  About 30 seconds after declaring we wouldn’t be sharing the shelter than night, along came Una, who had hiked over from Liberty Springs tent site near Mt. Liberty.

After a brief conversation with Una, and subtly supporting her thoughts of heading on to Guyot that night, we went for the summit of Garfield with light packs.

Super windy and somewhat clouded in, the summit still afforded better views than I had received on my previous visit, which was completely socked in.  As of this writing, Garfield was one of only 5 NH 4000 footer summits I hadn’t been on twice or more.  It’s location affords only the second perspective I’ve ever had from which Owl’s Head appears to be a legitimate (ugh… beautiful) mountain, the other being from the Osseo Trail on Mt. Flume.

Owl's Head Mountain from Mt. Garfield, New Hampshire
Owl’s Head, doing its best to look like a real mountain – and pulling it off

Before we left we had our only visitor on the summit, a guy who asked for about 30 pictures as he balanced on the wall of the old fire tower foundation in the screaming wind.  It was fun to watch him up there through the lens, although I wondered if I’d have to put my wilderness first aid to the test.  I didn’t.  He left as we were getting ready to head back to the shelter.  Time to get back home to Una.

Una was asleep when we got back, around 2:30 pm.  After quite a while trying to be quiet, we gave up, as everything is loud in one of these shelters.  Una was experienced, so we knew she’d be able to sleep through some normal shelter sounds – and she did.  I know this because of the strange sounds she emitted every couple of minutes, and also the snoring.

Dark came on fast, and we fired up the stove to be able to hydrate and throw some hot water bottles in the sleeping bags, as well as make edible our triple serving sized Mountain (out)Houses.  First we chugged whatever was left of our now very cold water and then ran down to the spring to fill back up – this was uneventful and repeated a few times that night.  With the stove firing away and the hot tea and Spicy Mexican Chicken and Rice getting into us, good times were had.  This was enhanced by the blueberry pie for dessert, and a few slugs of whiskey.

Backpacker pours boiling water in Garfield Shelter, New Hampshire
Rich pours boiling water in Garfield Shelter
Backpacker throwing a bottle of water across Garfield Shelter, New Hampshire
Me, carelessly firing a bottle of boiling water across the shelter -photo Rich Scioli

After we ate, Una woke up and asked us if we saw “all of those crazy lights in the trees”.  Yes we did.  They were the lights from the towns to the north – some may well have been in Canada – but Una wasn’t having that.  They were “too high up”. Well, I guess they’re aliens then.  Rich and I walked down to a nearby tent platform with a clearing to make sure these weren’t in fact alien invaders, and when we got back, Una had gone to sleep (again).

After some ridiculous conversation, some doodling and a recap of the next day’s plans, I fell asleep around 9 pm, and got one of the best and longest sleeps in quite a while.  I didn’t wake up until 7:30 am.

A cartoon drawn in a mountain shelter
Late-night mountain doodling

Although I woke up because my bladder was about to explode, Una also happened to be packing up.  I knew we’d be seeing her later at Guyot Shelter, so I decided not to expend the energy of saying goodbye, and tucked myself back into my bag for another 15 minutes, denying that I needed to get up and go outside.  When I finally did, I found a pretty campground covered in a thin layer of new snow.

I thought I’d be a hero and get the meals going before waking Rich.  I fired up the stove, put on some water, and bam – she died.  Started it up again, let it burn for a minute… she died.  Pumped up the fuel, started it again, she died.  Great.

I woke up Rich and told him what was going on.  We played with the stove and the fuel bottle for a while, but something was wrong.  It had worked fine at home and the night before, but the fuel bottle itself seemed to have trouble holding the pressure.  It didn’t take long to realize we were done.  We had water for the day, but no way to make more tonight.

We’d take a light pack journey to the summit of Garfield to see what looked like a great undercast, then come back, pack up, and head home.

On the summit of Garfield (again), I got exactly what I was hoping for as a photographer.  Clear blue skies are great, but they often don’t make for very interesting photos.  This morning we were treated to clouds in the form I consider them at their best – from above, behaving just like liquid water.

A hiker approaches the summit of Mt. Garfield over a sea of clouds
Rich approaching Garfield’s summit on the second morning
The Pliny Range (which includes Mounts Cabot and Waumbek) rising above the clouds
The Pliny Range (which includes Mounts Cabot and Waumbek) rising above the clouds
A sea of clouds splashes against a mountainside
The beauty of things in triplicate
A sea of clouds to the north of Mt. Garfield, New Hampshire
iPhone pano of the sea of clouds to the north

We were also treated to all of the Vermont 4000 footers poking up above the clouds.  Especially nice was Camel’s Hump, looking all Sphinx-like, which we were both standing on a little less than a week earlier.

Camel's Hump in Vermont rises above the clouds, from Mt. Garfield, New Hampshire
Camel’s Hump (Vermont), above the clouds

Galehead, an otherwise not super interesting mountain (it’s overshadowed by it’s neighbor South Twin and isn’t much for views), put on a hell of a show this morning, serving as the rim of the bowl that is the Pemigewasset Wilderness for the clouds to spill over.

I spent a long time shooting and just watching the Galehead Hut and the mountain itself dip in and out of the clouds, and the spilling of those clouds over Garfield Ridge and up and over Galehead itself.  Truly beautiful.

Clouds spill over Mt. Galehead, New Hampshire
Clouds spilling near Galehead – 1
Clouds spill over Mt. Galehead, White Mountains, New Hampshire
Clouds spilling near Galehead – 2
Clouds continue to spill over Mt. Galehead, White Mountains, New Hampshire
Clouds spilling near Galehead – 3
Photographing clouds spilling over Mt. Galehead, White Mountains, New Hampshire
Me doing my thing on Mt. Garfield -photo Rich Scioli

It was warm, and not windy, so we stayed at the summit a good 30 minutes.  Then it was time to head back to the shelter and fight everything back into the packs to head home.

I’ve done it a million times, but I still hate forcing things into a full pack.  It stresses me out.  Usually by the time I’m 3 quarters full, I’m not caring anymore, but at the beginning, and just thinking about it, somehow still stresses me out.  No exceptions here, but about an hour after our return, we left the shelter with a cold breakfast (mostly chocolate and other things I didn’t want to eat at home) in the stomach.  It was nice knowing that after the initial climb away from the shelter, the hike should be cake.  And it was.

It was disappointing to not get another night out in the mountains, but there are lots of silver linings to that cloud.  I’d be back in Newburyport early – warm and comfortable, playing with themes and colors and photos for this blog and MGH Outdoor Photography.  And of course… planning and packing for the day hike we had decided to do the next day.

Getting up to Garfield’s summit “early”, was great.  It reminded me that these mountains and views change from minute to minute, not just day to day, and that a one night backpack to get in position to be on a summit early or even at sunrise is well worth it.  I’ll be planning the next single night overnight soon.

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