Sunday, August 06, 2017

Hiking the Whites Day 2 - From Greenleaf to Galehead (and the trials of Garfield Ridge)

At the end of the first day, we came down off of Franconia Ridge to our first hut stay at Greenleaf Hut. Greenleaf Hut is popular due to a convenient trailhead, so it was already packed with hikers for the weekend. We snagged our bunks and settled in for dinner.
Dinner with 40-50 of our close friends
The huts offer more than just meals and a bunk. Each evening after dinner, one of the "croo" will give a naturalists talk about some aspect of the local ecology. In our case, we attended a well-done talk about the history of logging in the Whites. The hut system is worth an entire post on its own, which you'll get shortly!
Our naturalist prepares for her talk
One nice thing about the huts is a strictly enforced "lights out" at 9:30. And in five nights at the huts I was never disturbed after nights out. If you don't count snoring, that is.

Our goal for Day Two was to hike back up to Mount Lafayette, then head north along the Garfield Ridge Trail to Galehead Hut. Aside from a rocky 1000 foot ascent at the beginning, the elevation profile looked pretty smooth. But we'd been warned the night before not to underestimate the challenges of this section of trail.

Sunrise over Mount Lafayette
While we stepped off under blue skies, by the time we reached the summit of Mount Lafayette, clouds had rolled in - a reminder of how quickly the weather can change in the mountains. Fortunately it cleared as we descended, and we enjoyed ideal weather for the rest of the day.
A view back towards Greenleaf Hut

Hiking in the clouds
I've hiked over a 1000 miles of the AT, and seen a lot of trail -- both good and bad. The trails of the Whites presented some of the toughest hiking I've ever encountered. The trails are well-maintained, but constantly throw challenges at you. Rocky footing is the norm, along with steep ups and downs, with a healthy dose of bouldering thrown in as well. Topographically the Garfield Ridge Trail didn't look like much, but it was a constant challenge. Hats off to the hardy New Englanders who get to enjoy these trails on a regular basis!
Carmel scoots down a section of steep rocks.

Yet another dicey section of trail.
The one significant bump on the topo map for the hike was Mount Garfield. After passing a lovely pond at the base, we inched up a steep climb to the summit. The 360-degree views were totally worth the effort, and the summit was a fine place to take a break.
Garfield Pond, a lovely sight at 3000+ feet of elevation

Carmel takes a break on Mount Garfield. That's Mount Lafayette in the background, with Garfield Ridge extending to the right. 

Looking south from Mount Garfield towards Franconia Ridge. The foundation is from an old firetower.
From Mount Garfield, we still had about 3 tough miles to go to Galehead Hut. The combination of tough terrain and climbing meant we got in after 6 PM - dinner time - but the very accommodating crew at the hut was happy to serve us late. 

Galehead Hut was quite a different experience from Greenleaf. It's more remote than Greenleaf, and smaller, with a more relaxed vibe than the somewhat frantic environment of Greenleaf. There was plenty of room to stretch out and relax after dinner, and even catch up with some north-bound AT hikers. With less than 400 miles to go, they were anxiously anticipating getting into Maine to finish their journey.
Traci and Carmel chat with NOBO thru-hikers. 
Next time - I'll talk about the hut experience, and then we get our first taste of bad weather.

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