The anvil-shaped spire of Mount Garfield stands an isolated sentinel at the north-western end of the Pemigewasset Wilderness with excellent views of the other peaks that ring the 182 square mile forest. Blasted by winds, its rocky summit provides meager protection to hikers, except for the bunker-like foundation of an old fire-tower.
On Saturday, 11 of us hiked the 12.4 mile round trip (with 2900′ elevation gain) in very cold winter weather, with temperatures in the single digits at the trail head. Normally a 10 mile hike, an additional 2.4 miles of road walking is required in winter when the gates to the Gale River Loop Road are closed and the road is impassable.
Led by my friends Kevin, Carl, and Keith from the Boston AMC, we had a very strong and experienced group of winter hikers and we made great time completing the round trip in 7 hours. Trail conditions were bare ground at the lower elevations, thick ice in the middle, and packed snow beginning at about 3000′.
Earlier in the week, there had been a freak one-day melt-off in the mountains with temperatures rising to 60 degrees and the loss of a foot of snow. The subsequent re-freeze resulted in thick ice on the trail, which is an old lumber grade by the looks of it. Additional traction was required, but microspikes were borderline on the ice. I was wearing a newish pair of Kahtoola K10 crampons made for soft boots, which proved perfect for the trail ice and descending the steep summit cone.
The trail up to Mt Garfield is not particularly challenging although there are two stream crossings along the way. These were still fluid due to the freeze-off but Jen, a member of our group, knew about bushwhack around them that crosses two snowmobile bridges. Incidentally, this was Jen’s 144th peak in her White Mountain Grid: 25% down and 75% to go!
For myself, this was #30 on my winter 48 x 4,000 footers, and while I don’t expect to finish that list this year, I’m hoping to make a big dent in it. Climbing the winter 48 is a challenge, no doubt, especially the above treeline summits, but the thing I like the best about winter hiking in the Whites is the camaraderie and friendships that you form with other hikers. The hiking population is much smaller in winter, everyone knows everyone else, and I enjoy seeing old friends and hiking with them. Hiking a challenging route together just makes the reunion that more enjoyable and memorable.
When we got to the summit, we sheltered behind the foundations of the old fire tower. There was a light wind and the peaks were starting to cloud up due to an incoming front that was predicted to bring snow to the higher summit. Still the temperature had only risen by 8 degrees since we let the trail head, reaching a balmy 14 degrees! So while we shared some summit cookies and drank some water, we didn’t linger long and beat feet back to the shelter of the trees.
This was my first winter hike up in the Whites since hiking the Kinsmans in January, but I felt pretty good despite the cold weather and the mileage. Family obligations, business travel and illness really hammered my hiking schedule in January, but I hope to make it up to myself and the mountain gods this month and next. I really like hiking in Winter and have a lot of hikes scheduled for the remainder of the season. Should be a blast!