This past Sunday, October 1st, I reached my 20th New Hampshire 4000 foot peak. For more than half of these peaks, I have reached the summit while on a solo hike. For the other half, it was with other hikers who were as, or much more experienced, than myself. Sunday would be different. For the last few months, a few friends have asked to join me on my next hike. They have all either never hiked in The Whites, or haven't hiked in a very long time. One thing lead to another, we picked a date far in advance, and hoped for decent weather.
It would be my responsibility to pick the peak. I wanted to pick one that I haven't done before. One that would be challenging - but not too challenging. A peak with a trailhead within a certain one-way distance from our home town. There are many 4000 footers that fit that criteria, but after a little self-deliberation, I settled on Mt Garfield. For a month I shared emails, links and information on what to wear, what to bring and what to expect.
And, while our original date was Saturday, on Friday afternoon we switched it to Sunday in favor of a much better forecast. As the photos will prove, this really was the best decision, and a major contributor to making sure everyone really enjoyed the experience.
We arrived at the Garfield Trailhead at approximately 7:15, and we were on our way shortly after 7:30. For those of you who have hiked this route to Garfield, you've experienced this easy, gentle ascent to the summit. Other than a tiny bit of elevation gain at the very end, the trail is wide, well-maintained and never steep. Here is what most of the slightly under 5 miles looked like.
There are several places along this route where the trees are covered in moss. I haven't seen this before on any other trails so far in my previous hikes.
And, as is the case with most White Mountain trails, you start to get those sneak-peak views past a certain point. I've always loved how just around the time I'm getting really tired and wondering where the summit is, the mountains give me just enough of a view to help boost my energy to reach the summit.
Shortly after this picture was taken, we arrived on the cold and windy summit of Mt Garfield. While I was once again blown away by the beauty of a view from a New Hampshire 4000 peak, I also somewhat knew what to expect. There are many things I enjoy about my solo hikes, but the looks on my friends' faces when they looked south to Owls Head and the Pemigewasset Wilderness, west over to the Franconia Ridge or east towards the Twins and Bonds, was absolutely priceless. As I'm trying to convince them to add those hats, gloves and warm layers I begged them all to pack, they just couldn't take their eyes off of the amazing views. As you can see from these few shots, the skies were perfectly clear, allowing for layered mountains to be seen for miles in all directions.
Once we moved to the south facing side of the summit, there was essentially no wind, and plenty of warm rocks to hang out on. We enjoyed some much needed food, rest, and of course, some red wine, courtesy of the surprise bottle one of our friends had bubble wrapped and stashed in his pack!
And as if the day could not have been perfect enough, we were treated to a visit by a few Gray Jays. This would be my third time experiencing these awesome birds, but another first for all my friends.
I decided to take a small detour on our way back and lead the group down the AT towards Lafayette with the intention of visiting Garfield Pond. These high-elevation ponds fascinate me, and never disappoint in providing another great photo opportunity. This photo was taken on the north side, looking back to the south, with the Franconia Ridge just barely visible over the trees in the distance.
An unmarked trail leads around the pond, and meets back up with the Garfield trail, and ultimately back down to our vehicles.
Our round trip would be about 10 miles long and take about 7 hours, including breaks and quite a long time enjoying the summit.
This was the first time I was able to act as the experienced one in the group, and lead others on an amazing day-long adventure and introduce them to what can only truly be appreciated in person. I still love my solo hikes, and I will be doing another one soon, but I also will definitely enjoy paying the experience forward again someday.