Mt Galehead, Bethlehem, NH. 2018-04-24. (Tuesday)
Via Gale River trail, the Garfield Ridge trail, and the Frost trail, plus Gale River Loop road. Approx 13.4 miles.
60 dF +/- at the trailhead, 65 dF at the summit, with negligible winds.
Mix of clouds and sun.
Gale River Loop Road: 0910; Trailhead: 0945; Galehead Hut: 1300; Summit: 1330; back at car: 1700. (Approx. 7 hours.)
This was a day that I’d have been upset to have missed. The weather was spectacular, and while the trail on the lower half was messy, and while the snow on the steep upper bits was unconsolidated and slick, it was still a great day out. I had the mountain to myself. Ah, solitude.
To be true, the water crossings (and there were many, as the mountain sheds the snow) were at times very thought provoking. Indeed, the Gale River is roaring, and in the next weeks, I’m not sure how some bits will be crossed safely. The numerous streams make for some damp tramping, and to that end, Gore-Tex boots are my friend.
I’d started out wearing K-10s on my feet, and they did well for the first few miles. But as the elevation rose and the snow got a bit deeper, I found myself breaking through the crust, and that gets annoying quickly. Snowshoes deployed, and I made better headway. (They’re very certainly on the list of gear upgrades that have been game changers.)
After a couple hours, I was well and truly warm, and converted my pants to shorts. Wow, what a feeling, to be free from layers of heavy clothes, and so early in the season. This was indeed a gift. Fresh air, copious sunshine, and very warm temperatures… wow! Occasionally, I’d get a refreshingly cool breeze out of a shady spot, and that was nice.
For hours and miles, the Gale and its brooks and streams were a constant audible companion, bubbling over rocks and logs, making their way to the sea. Occasional songbirds filled the air. Once in awhile, a jet plane overhead, going somewhere important. But throughout, the peace and calm of the woods.
Finally, I reached the Garfield Ridge trail, and excitement for the summit took hold. The trail ran aside the slope for a bit, and the unconsolidated snow made for some slippery travel. I was unquestionably going up, and looking ahead, the breaks in the trees showed more and more of a deep blue sky. And then, the Galehead hut was visible, and on its other side, epic views of the Twins, and in the distance, Mt Flume, where I stood a couple weeks ago.
Onto Frost trail, a short spur to the tree-covered (viewless) Galehead summit. There was a small stand of dead birches early on, in a “col” like area. Not sure what happened, and maybe that answer will need another trip in the summer, where I can actually see the ground. Up a very steep trail, and then on a bit more, to the summit. There was supposed to be a cairn and a sign, but I was able to sink the full length of my trekking poles into the snow in various places, so I’m imagining I stood over the summit by a couple feet. There is still substantial snow on those peaks…
Turning back, I stopped again at the hut for some refreshment, and then bid it farewell. I slid down a fair bit of the trail on the way down, as the warm weather loosened the snow. At the crossings of the Gale River, the way back felt a bit more treacherous. I can’t quantify if there was a greater flow, or an ice bridge was a bit more unstable, but it felt like I was spending more time figuring out a way across than before.
Back down the muddy part of the trail, I took a few moments to saw up some blow-downs and move them to the side. There weren’t many, in contrast to some of the other trails I’ve done (Carter, I’m looking at you!) and it felt like just a few swift licks with a saw was all that was needed. Most of the forest seems to have been left alone in that regard.
It was a beautiful day to be outside. Warmth, sun, a remarkable reduction in layers. There’s something wonderful about standing in snowshoes on top of a snowy mountain wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. Only a few insects. It was a perfect day on a lovely mountain.