December 3, 2011. Another 3:30 morning wake up call and out the door by 4:30. Early starts on the trail are the best for me. I love the quiet time and getting in the woods first always insures that I will have some time to myself. No loops on this one, just a straight forward in and out on the same trail.
The drive up was nothing eventful and turning right onto Gale River Loop Road the winter gate was opened. This was a good thing as it would have added another mile each way to the hike. A slow drive down the dirt road and I finally reach the trailhead. It is dark and I am the only one there so far. Ten minutes later and I hit the trail with the headlamp on.
It's actually pretty cool being in the woods before the sun comes up. The only sound one can hear is the Gale River off to the right. As the sun starts lighting up the woods not far from the trailhead I can see the damage done by hurricane Irene. This is by far the worst area I have been through so far. Sorry for the lack of any pictures on this section of trail. Blow downs are abundant though in the flat area before the first brook crossing. This trail is probably the most laid back 4000 footer trail I have seen. No steep sections, just a beautiful trail that meanders through the woods gradually increasing in elevation. I would only wear longjohns, hiking pants, long sleeve undershirt, t-shirt and my long sleeve button up shirt the whole hike. Never cold or hot the entire way. When I reach the switchbacks, an unusual feature in the Whites, the Rime ice on the trees is awesome. Everything is white and crystallized and falls off as you brush by it.
Two and a half hours from starting I reach the junction with the Appalachian Trail. It is 9:10 in the morning and the only challenging part of the entire hike would be the last two tenths up to the summit. Large steep rocks covered in snow and ice but manageable and takes fifteen minutes to reach the summit. I bare booted it all the way to the top with no need for traction. Once on top there is a ledge outlook to the right of the peak that was incredible. A few pictures and I made my way a few yards to the actual summit where there is still a square foundation of the old fire tower. The tower is covered in rime ice, this trip is the first time that I have actually seen it and experienced its beauty.
Did I mention that it turned into a crystal clear bluebird day. The sun was shining brightly and there was absolutely no breeze on top. It was absolutely gorgeous and I felt so entranced with the sun warming me up. After spending twenty minutes on the peak and taking in all the views I was troubled with making a decision. I made it so quickly up to Garfield and a was such an awesome day that I did not want it to end. I seriously contemplated heading over to Galehead which is just a scant 3.5 miles away. I almost called home to let the loved one know of my change in plans. The only thing that stopped me is some earlier reports during the week of the condition Garfield Ridge Trail between Garfield and Galehead. It was supposedly icy but have since learned that a lot of reports and trail descriptions are overstated, just my opinion.
Anyways I would abandon all thoughts of heading over to Galehead and start back down at 9:45. A quick stop to put on my microspikes for the short steep section and off I go. I finally met up with another hiker as I was heading down through the zig zagging switchbacks and much later on a mother and daughter towards the middle of the trail. I was quite surprised at not seeing more people on this trail as it was such an easy hike and a wonderfully sunny no breeze day. Should have gone to Galehead. But alas I made it back to the car by 12:30, a quick 2 hours and 45 minutes, and even had thoughts of running over to Hale. Another small 4000 footer that is a short hike and short drive but opted out because I didn't know if the winter gate would be opened and I also did not have any printed trail maps for that peak. So in the car and off I go back home.
Final numbers: 10.1 miles, 5 hours and 50 minutes, 1 peak, # of peaks to date - 18.