Garfield Ridge Trail Finish

July 16, 2017.

The trail I was supposed to do two weeks ago, Garfield Ridge Trail. I met Andy and Nancy on July 4th at the Lafayette parking lot to spot a vehicle. I was going to join them up to Garfield and then head across Garfield Ridge Trail to Lafayette as I needed that section of trail for my redlining. As I started to load up my stuff into his vehicle it hit me like a ton of bricks that I had forgotten something. My hiking shoes! I had left them in the garage to dry out after doing the very wet Landing Camp Trail. I had everything else except for that one essential item. This is only the second time in six years that I have forgotten my shoes with the last time being in March of 2014. So the new plan without the car spot is to head up Skookumchuck Trail and then over to Lafayette. Return back to the junction and continue on to Garfield with a return back down Skookumchuck. A quick Google search on the word Skookumchuck reveals it is of Chinook origin meaning strong water. Not sure how that made it to New England as the Chinook's lived in the Pacific Northwest part of the States!

With an early start of 6 AM the skies already look promising for a great day as across the way Cannon was all lit up with the rising sun. I haven't been on this trail since January of 2013 when I attempted the same hike and turned back at the top of Skookumchuck Trail due to the weather. A short five minutes into the hike and I cross a trail I do not remember. It is very distinct and quite wide almost looks like a snowmobile corridor.

 

On the opposite side is a sign showing it is the Heritage Trail. What is the Heritage Trail? Well it seems it was a proposed system of trails leading from the Massachusetts border to Canada. The info online is not that great and there does not appear to a complete map. The state does have a site dedicated to it as can be seen here but nothing I could find in regards to the Franconia Notch section which surprisingly was the first section built.

 

Where the trail crosses Jordan Brook a look upstream and the old logging bridge is still intact from when I was here over four years ago.

 

Soon the trail parallels Skookumchuck Brook which drowns out all the noise from the nearby highway. The trail turns off to the left eventually climbing up away from the brook for the first real steep section. For the most part the grade is fairly gentle and I move along at a pretty good clip.

 

About half way up I come across a tent off on the right side of the trail in a beautiful spot. The odd thing is I was the only vehicle in the parking lot when I left. There has been a missing hiker from NJ who was last seen in late June in Conway. But the likelihood this was him was pretty slim. Moving up the trail and I reach the plateau where the grade really lets up.Just under three hours and I am at the end of Skookumchuck Trail sitting on this rock atop of Garfield Ridge soaking in the sun and views.

 

A look out into the Pemi Wilderness from my break spot.

Off to my right is the next destination, Lafayette with the North Peak visible. Chased away from this fantastic spot by the lingering blackflies and I start heading up Garfield Ridge Trail. A look back and Garfield sure seems like a long distance away.

 

Towards the top are a couple of rock features. One is a single monolith standing straight up. The other is a boulder resting on a boulder creating two thirds of a rock snowman.

 

Reaching North Peak and all is quiet here. A zoom on Lafayette shows a different story as it is not even 9:30 yet!

 

The wind is brisk but not bad as I walk across the ridge over to Lafayette. The clouds are being pushed up from below and pass by in front of me adding another element to this great day.

 

It is not long before I join the crowd on top of Lafayette and find my own little spot to sit down and enjoy the view directly south to Lincoln and beyond. I have to say that this is probably one of my favorite spots in the Whites regardless of the hordes of people who flock here.

 

A short break and then it is time to get down to business as I still need to get to Garfield which is 3.5 miles away. Back down to the junction with Skookumchuck Trail and just before dipping over the ledges and into the woods Garfield is still almost three miles away. The trail from here over is reminiscence of the section between Garfield and Galehead. Rough and up and down with some descent spots in between.

 

The varying terrain doesn't help my hiking time as I slowly make my way across the ridge. Some spots allow me to move along while others put me at a tedious crawl.

 

While crossing these slow sections I start reformulating my plan. It's not just the terrain that concerns me it is all the elevation gain to get back to Skookumchuck that is going to make for an even longer day than I was expecting.

 

At one spot along the trail I get a look back to where I have come from and the spot I need to return to is so far away. Plus Garfield is not looking any closer as I see the summit poking out ahead.

 

There is one spot where I get a good look at Garfield Cliff which rises out of the Pemi creating a formidable obstacle if someone ever bushwhacked up from that direction. Finally after what seems a long time I reach Garfield Pond as I am down to half a liter of water. Another factor that changes my mind on trying to recross this ridge. Heading down to the pond's edge and there is no place to get close enough for some clean water. Along the edges it is stagnant and algae lines the shore.

 

The summit is just a few tenths away now as I head up. To think it would be easy is quickly erased as I run into a vertical wall! As I make the final climb a couple is heading down and we exchange hellos. It is steep and unrelenting as I climb up the boulders knowing I am definitely not returning this way.

 

Just below the summit is an opening out onto a ledge with the same great views minus the crowd. Up at the summit an open shot into the Pemi Wilderness with the Twins and Bonds dominating the scenery.

 

A short break and then time for the long trudge down the Garfield Trail. As I am coming down the summit spur to the main trail a guy asks me which way the blue trail is. I look at him quizzically and retort "Blue Trail"? There is no trail by that name here. Then it hits me what he is looking for. All connecting trails to the AT are blazed blue hence the "Blue Trail". I point them in the direction I am heading and tell them to take a left at the very next junction. I pick my way down the Garfield Ridge Trail and reach the junction and decide to wait for the couple in order to make sure they head down the correct trail. When they arrive I point the way down and then recognize them as the couple that I had met when I was coming up from the pond. They had taken the wrong turn off the summit and realized their mistake and turned around when they reached the pond. I asked them if they were heading south once they reached the road and if so would they mind giving me a ride back to the trailhead I was parked at. Without hesitation they said they would and I was saved from thumbing or a long 5.4 mile road walk back. Hiking out at about the same pace we made it out in a little over two hours and then an easy ride back with a huge thank you as they dropped me off. A nagging section of trail is finally done as I only need the piece from Galehead Hut to Guyot to finish the NH portion of the AT. After it's just the short section between Guyot and West Bond to finish the Franconia tab on my redlining spreadsheet.


Final numbers: 13.6 miles, 9 hours 30 minutes.

Redline Miles: 3.5, Total to Date: 1352.0