Climbing the White Mountain 4000 footers gets more difficult in November with the onset of colder weather, seasonal and fire road closings, cold water crossings, and fewer daylight hours. But the show must go on if you’re hiking The White Mountain 4000 Footer Grid, which requires hiking all 48 of the 4000 footers, once in each calendar month of the year, totaling 576 summits. I’m shooting to finish 100 more 4000 footers summits this year (2021), which will get me about 2/3 of the way through the 576 summits required to finish The Grid. This is a multi-year project, but that’s half the fun of working on a big peakbagging list.
- North Twin Trail – 4.3 miles; 2900′ ascent
- North Twin Spur – 1.3 miles; 300′ ascent
- Twinway – 0.8 miles
- Frost Trail – 1.0 miles (out and back to Galehead summit); 250′ ascent
- Garfield Ridge Trail – 0.6 miles
- Gale River Trail – 4.1 miles
- Cars at North Twin Trailhead (Haystack Rd), Gale River Trailhead (Gale River Loop)
The first of the fire and seasonal roads in the White Mountain National Forest were gated this week and others will soon follow. This makes it more difficult to travel from one end of the forest to the other and to access some of the more remote trailheads. There’s no set schedule for these road closings, which are dictated by multiple state and federal agencies, and no public announcement of them either. TrailNH’s Forest Roads and Gates Status has a crowdsourced list of the road closures that’s very up to date, but it’s always good to have a plan B in late autumn, winter, or early spring if a seasonal or fire road you were counting on to be open has been gated closed.
The fire roads leading to the trailhead lots we needed for this hike were still ungated, although one nearby road is now closed. I expect that will change soon and probably before Thanksgiving.
The first part of this hike travels on the North Twin Trail alongside The Little River. We hiked up it to the first stream crossing, before passing it on an institutionalized bypass (dare I say bushwhack) that skips it and a second as well. When we came to the third crossing, my friends, Ken, Karen, and myself used Wiggy’s Waders to cross the river. That’s the biggest challenge in cold weather on this route, that third stream crossing.
I crossed first and then rolled up the gaiters, put a rock inside, and threw them back across to Ken and Karen on the other side of the river. Karen crossed next, and we threw the gaiters over to Ken, who came over last. Ken and I experienced a small leak, but Karen got across perfectly dry.
I’m repairing the leak with a tire repair patch and rubber cement and I expect we’ll be watertight again. I fully expected having to patch them at some point, so this wasn’t a complete surprise. They’re very lightweight and therefore less durable than I’d probably prefer. Still, we’ve used them on a few hikes with cold stream crossings (Carrigain, Owls Head) that would have been much more difficult without waders.
Once across, we started to climb, and climb, and climb. The trail climbs at a steady grade that gets gradually steeper as you get higher. The surface of the trail started off just being rocky. Then it was covered with running water, then ice, then a dusting of snow, increasing to 4-6 inches of deep dry powder when we passed 3600′ of elevation.
We reached an east-facing viewpoint at treeline and paused to eat. It was a beautiful clear day with 50+ mile views. Mt Washington and the Presidential Range looked grand bathed in sunlight. Ken could even identify Old Speck and East Kennebec to the north, quite far away.
We continued through the Krumholz (dwarf trees) that protect the North Twin Spur Trail from the wind to another viewpoint on the east side of the mountain. From there we could see Franconia Ridge, Mt Garfield, and the Galehead Hut far below. That view never gets old.
We passed the North Twin summit and continued another 1.3 miles to South Twin. The winds were much calmer than expected, which was a relief because South Twin (4902′) can get nasty on a windy day.
Next up was the steep descent to the Galehead Hut, dropping about 1100′ in 0.8 miles. The top of the trail is protected by Krumholz and was easy to hike in deep powder. But as we got lower, we put on our microspikes, because the lower half of the trail is a bit of a scramble, with ice, slush, running water, and snow filling the gaps between the rocks. Until that point, we’d barebooted.
We met a few friends who were climbing up on our way down and shared trail and beer beta. Ed Hawkins, a famous local hiker who’s hiked The Grid 8 times, was going to leave a six-pack of beer under my car for when we finished our hike. We’d run into him earlier that morning at the Gale River Trailhead, our final destination. He’d been hiking to Galehead with a few of our other friends. Ed always brings a cooler or two to hikes in his truck and gives aways drinks, both alcoholic and not, to the people he meets. I often run into him on mountains. The guy is in his 70’s, has two fake knees, and can still hike us all into the ground!
The hut is a short distance from the bottom of the climb. We stopped there and dropped out packs on the front porch before climbing to the summit of Galehead Mountain which is only a 250′ climb in 0.5 miles. There’s a good view of South Twin near the summit, but it’s a pretty anti-climactic peak with a dumpy cairn at the summit surrounded by spruce and no view.
From the hut, it was a 4.8 mile slog along a forested trail to the Gale River Trailhead and my car. I hadn’t been on that trail for a few years and it’s been rerouted quite substantially, although everything looks different in late Autumn when there are no leaves on the trees. We hiked out quite quickly, getting back to the trailhead just a few minutes before sunset, which was 4:15.
Ed and our friends had just returned from Galehead so we were able to share their company over our drinks, before taking off and reversing our shuttle. This had been a wonderful autumn hike in winter conditions with a great crew. Winter is on the horizon, as you can see, with lots of great hiking left in store.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 31st ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine