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Mount Garfield via Lafayette and Garfield Ridge Trail

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  • Mount Garfield via Lafayette and Garfield Ridge Trail

    With an extra day off for the Memorial Day holiday, I decided to head out to the Whites to grab one of my orphan peaks: Mount Garfield. This was my first solo trip to New Hampshire, as my fiancÚ had to work over the weekend (boy is that drive lonely!). Since I would be traveling alone for this trip, I decided to book a bunk at the AMC Greenleaf hut. This would lighten my pack not having to lug around a tent and camping gear. To my surprise, the hut was still in “Self Service” season, which meant cheaper price for that beautiful view of Lafayette (score!). I decided to set out Friday afternoon in the rain, as it is only a 2.9 mile hike to the location of the hut via the Old Bridle Path. This hike in was relatively easy other than some slick rock scrambles. The wet rock slowed me down slightly as I did not want to re-injure a healing knee, but I did not mind as I decided to poke around and explore a bit along the way. The trail tends to ascend a bit, level off, ascend again, level off again, and then moves into a semi-steep ascent to the hut. There was some blowdown mid-way up but this was easy to navigate around. Also, there were several great open lookout spots, though I was not rewarded for my hard work – completely socked in. I kept telling myself my reward would come on the hike out when I get to enjoy these views going down. When I reached the hut, I met the very friendly caretaker and her volunteer assistant, Mike, who was extremely helpful and informative during my stay. I settled in after chatting with them, excited to get an early start.

    Saturday, I got up a little before 4am, hoping to grab a Lafayette sunrise. However, weather would not be on my side that day. It was extremely windy (about 50-55mph) and temperatures were closer to 40. Of course, this is not horrible, but I had packed minimally and was not sure I had a proper change of clothes to be on an open ridge walk, alone, in possible white out conditions. So, I decided to wait it out until 8am hoping things would clear up. They did not. I checked the caretaker’s forecast for Sunday and decided I would postpone my hike for the better day (this was a hard decision, but I did not feel comfortable going up as I had heard the Garfield ridge is rugged and I imagined the wet rock would do me in somewhere along the way). So Saturday ended up being a lazy day relaxing and socializing with the other hikers who were now arriving at the hut and preparing for Sunday hikes. The weather took a turn for the better around 2pm, which raised my spirits for a successful Sunday hike.

    Sunday arrived, I awoke about 4am again ready for a sunrise. It was back to being a little cloudy and rainy so I waited around until 6:30am then made the decision to head up Lafayette. By now, the sun was rising and it was beginning to clear up (hurray!). I reached Lafayette a little after 7am, tired from that steep 1.1 miles. One other person was on the summit and we chatted briefly before she headed towards Lincoln. I sat for about an hour on the summit enjoying breakfast and congratulating myself on getting up there early enough to have Lafayette to myself (this would not be the case later in the day on my return). I saw Garfield was pretty far away – only 3.5 miles but it LOOKED far away. Around 8:10am I finally got up and headed in that direction, half cursing myself about what I was possibly in store for. Within a half hour, I made my way across the ridge to the junction with the Skookumchuck Trail. The walk to this point was completely exposed, crosses several “bumps,” and had views of several mountains I have already recently climbed. Here, though, is where the fun begins. The trail starts to descend steeply down towards Garfield Pond. It is very remote and rugged, though I did run into a few people backpacking a full Pemi Loop. There was some blowdown, patches of snow still holding on, wet rock galore, and MUD MUD MUD. This made for an exciting adventure and almost felt like a trail in the Adirondacks, not the Whites. When I reached the pond, I found a giant bird guarding the trail (later I would do research and find that this was a Spruce Grouse). It did not want to move or let me pass, it was pretty big. I had to make some noise and waive my arms a bit before it decided to let me pass. From the pond, it is a steady ascent right to the summit of Garfield, sometimes steep in sections. Shortly before 11am, I reached the summit and sat down to eat my lunch and triumphantly text my fiancÚ. I spent awhile poking around and taking photos, knowing the hike back would be more brutal as it is up, up, and more up.

    Shortly after noon, people started arriving from the direction of the Garfield trail so I decided to pack up and head back to the solitude of the Garfield Ridge trail. Surprisingly, the hike back was not as brutal as I had thought. It definitely gave my legs some moments of burning but overall went quicker than I thought, and I arrived back to the Lafayette summit a little after 2pm (now filled with what seemed like hundreds of people). After chatting again with a group I had met on my way to Garfield, I left Lafayette and made my way back down to the hut, weaving in and out of “tourist” hikers as they tried to balance on the rocks. Since the hut had a last minute cancelation, I decided to take advantage and stay the night to enjoy a sunset and relax with everyone. Right before sunset, clouds rolled in over the summits along the range and I thought how lucky we all were to have had such perfect weather that day for our hike.

    I had initially planned to do a smaller hike Monday morning back up Lafayette and over to Lincoln and Little Haystack, but when I awoke at 5:30am the clouds and wind had beat me there. I packed up and bolted at 6am before anyone was up and was to my car a little before 8, thankfully beating the rain that would come within the hour. Overall, this was a great first solo trip and a relaxing weekend. I did not get to do everything I had planned, but getting to experience that ridge trail was amazing! This is definitely my favorite hike in the Whites thus far. For number purposes, this moves me to 21/NH48 and 71/NE115. Looking forward to my next trip to NH!
    Last edited by daniamber1281; 06-01-2017, 06:39 AM.
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