November 14, 2015.
First the back story to this hike. Phil contacted me earlier in the week asking if I wanted to hike Garfield with them this week. Sounded like a good idea and I figured maybe I could get the missing section of trail between Lafayette and Garfield for my redlining at the same time. The next day he asked about doing Eisenhower and Pierce instead since one of the girls that was going to hike with us wanted an "easier" hike due to recent surgery she had. The reasoning was that on paper the hike seems easier but in reality it isn't. I already knew what the weather forecast for Saturday (very windy and snow) and it wasn't good. Garfield is a relatively easy hike even though it is five miles to the summit. It is never steep due to some switchbacks and just the last two tenths are the toughest with some steep scrambling. Also the trail is protected by the trees all the way except for the last scramble to the summit. Eisenhower and Pierce on the other hand are not protected once breaking treeline below Eisenhower you are exposed on that ridge all the way to just below Pierce. That wasn't something I was comfortable taking people up to with no bail out options if things got as bad as the reports were predicting. So, finally convinced, Phil stuck with the original plan and agreed to pick me up at the Old Bridle Path trailhead and we would hike up to Garfield and then split up and I would head over to Lafayette then down from there.
Heading up I kept hitting snow squalls and the wind was already blowing quite good so I knew I would have to scrap my plans and headed straight for the Garfield Trail head to meet everyone. There was no way I wanted to cross that ridge exposed with the wind blowing directly into me. I want to finish my project but I know my limits and Mother Nature can have this day. A couple of Phil and Jen's friends would be joining us today and by 7:30 we are heading up in the spitting snow. The wind is tolerable in the woods and the bare ground soon becomes snow covered as we make our way up.
This is one of the easiest approaches for a 4000 footer as it gently climbs up from the valley of Route 3. Further up the trees are laden with snow as well making for a picturesque scene. It takes two hours to reach the first of the switchbacks. This keeps the grade at a tolerable ascent helping to maintain the pace but adds to the mileage. Truth be told this being the third time up this trail I realized how boring this trail can be as there isn't anything to see historically. At one of the switchbacks there is a herd path leading off towards Garfield Pond and I wonder if this is the old trail that runs between here and Garfield Ridge Trail.
At one time there used to be a shelter on the southern side of Garfield Pond. It was removed back in the 70's. At the last switchback there is another herd path/trail to the right and after checking the GPS coordinates with the time stamp on the picture this is the actual old trail that goes to Garfield Pond. Another item to add to my future to do list. Further up is the junction with Garfield Ridge Trail and a quick break before attacking the final two tenths to the summit.
The climb up is the most rugged part of the whole hike as we head up without incident and then get hit full blast with the winds. There is no more protection from the trees as we climb the rime covered exposed mass to the old fire tower foundation.
The winds on Mt Washington, at the time we summited, were 70 mph with gusts in the 80's. My best guess is we were in the 20's to 30's as they were pushing us around as we made it up to the top. Taking the glove off to snap a few pictures didn't last long as the fingers numbed up quickly. It is probably one of the worst times I have been exposed to the weather in the four years I have been hiking.
The views? Well there would be none unless you call the inside of a cloud a view. If you use your imagination...try really really hard...this is what you will see.
A hasty retreat back down to the junction and a break for food and water before making the long exit back to the parking lot. Even though it is a good month before the calendar winter begins this will be one of my most memorable "winter" hikes. One for the good company and conversation along the way and the other for the extreme weather experience. Someone else (Jen) might disagree as she swore off winter hiking after this taste of as bad as it gets. I would have probably stayed home due to the conditions if I was hiking alone or hiked a trail that stayed low. I'm sure everyone would agree that they are glad they did not do the Eisenhower-Pierce hike just as I am glad I did not continue across that ridge over to Lafayette.
Final numbers: 10.1 miles, 6 hours and 40 minutes.
Redline Miles: 0, Total to Date: 1005.5