Tuesday October 4: Greenleaf to Galehead
A Wretched Trail
I slept well. I had almost no stress. I got up around 3am to use the bathroom. I had taken a 4-hour antihistamine at bedtime, and another at 3. I woke up in the morning to a bright blue sky. The weather was perfect for that time of year.
The book said the hike to Galehead should take 6 hours, Amy thought maybe 5, and in reality it took me almost 7Ĺ, a really long slog. Iím pretty fast going up, but Iím dog slow going down, and there was lots of down.
I was picturing going along a subalpine ridge line, with lots of small ups and downs. I was wrong on just about all counts. It was more like hiking up a mountain, down the other side, up a second one, down the other side. Most of the time I was below tree line and had no sense of being on a ridge, never mind having any views.
The trail from Greenleaf starts out with a little dip next to a pond. Then it pops out above the tree line and grinds up to the summit of Lafayette.
My Achilles tendon felt a bit sore, so I put some moleskin on both of them. I started hiking with my long sleeve tee and soft shell. When I started going up, I took off the soft shell and strapped it on the back of my pack. When I was planning this, I was worried about being cold. However, most of the time I was OK or too warm with just the tee shirt on.
When I was putting my boots in the morning, I noticed a head lamp left behind on a bunk. Someone thought it was Kathrynís, who was going on to Galehead also, so I took it along. I was practicing how I was going to bring it up when I met her, but someone ahead of me spilled the beans. I caught up with them halfway to the summit, and before I could say anything, Kathryn said that someone told her that she had a guardian angel. Before I could ask if she wanted it now or when she got to the hut, she asked me if I minded hanging on to it until the hut. It was fine with me, although her friend Roslyn thought it was clever ploy by Kathryn to lighten her pack. I was slightly concerned about what would happen if they didnít make it by dark, but I figured that there was essentially no chance of that, and it had been her idea, so I kept the light.
Going up Lafayette had some awesome views of the Notch. I was surprised that we were much higher than Cannon, and in fact we were higher than anything on the other side of the road (and most things on this side. The only things larger are up near Mount Washington).
Apparently, just before I got to the summit, some clouds came up the valley on the far side, so the view in that direction wasnít as awesome as it could have been.
Hiking up to the summit was a small pain, as I was hiking straight into the sun, which was rising just over the peak. With the glare, it was sometimes hard to see the trail, and I went briefly off trail in a few places.
For some strange reason, perhaps because I was focused on the dayís hike, I never bothered taking any pictures of the ridge south of the summit.
Eventually, I turned left (north) and started on my own. Up to that point, there were lots of people on the trail, but very few of us were going left. I was reassured that Roslyn and Kathryn were behind me, so that if I ran into trouble, someone would find me before too long.
At first, I went down the subalpine ridge, had good views, and had a wonderful time. In hindsight, this segment (up and over Lafayette) was the best part of the trip.
Then I got below tree line, and it wasnít so great. There wasnít any views, and after a while I couldnít even tell that I was on a ridge. I was going down so much that I was almost wondering if I missed a turn in the trail, and I was about to turn the corner and come out on the highway. (Later I checked the map, and it seems I only went down about 1500 feet, but it seemed a lot longer.)
The trail was not great (an understatement). There were a lot of rocks and large steps, and I found it slow going. I had planned to eat lunch on Garfield, but 12:00 came and went, and I was still headed down. I had some M&Mís and slogged on.
As an echo of Kathrynís comment to me, I think I had my own Guardian Angel looking out for me. At one point, I stopped to take off a layer. I shouldered my pack and started off. I went probably about 20 feet only, when something told me to check my camera. I didnít want to take any pictures, but I suddenly thought of my camera, and I realized that I didnít have it! It was 20 feet back where I had left it.
Eventually I got to Garfield Pond and started back up. The trail just blasts straight up with lots of rocks. I was glad in places that I wasnít coming back down that way, but again it was probably no better on the other side. Eventually around 1:15 I got to the summit. It has some nice ledges to sit on, but they were right above some large cliffs, so I didnít go near the edge. There were great views of the valley to the east of the Franconia Ridge and Lafayette.
While I ate, I watched some crows (maybe ravens?) flyng/soaring on the updrafts. There were also smaller bird, maybe a Mockingbird or Junco? (Afterwards, Amy told me that it was a Gray Jay.)
It was just a bit too cool for long sleeved tee, so I put on my soft shell. About 1:50 I continued on. As expected, the trail just blasts straight down the other side, with steep large rocks and other yuck. Near the base of Garfield, I was again visited by my Guardian Angel.
There was a slightly ambiguous trail sign. I wanted to stay on the main trail, so I wasnít planning to turn off. While I was taking a layer off, a guy came up from behind me, and we chatted. Looking at his map, it became clear that going ďstraightĒ was the side trail, and that making a right turn was in fact the main trail. I donít know that I would have taken the wrong trail if he hadnít shown up. I was still undecided, but I had been leaning towards going straight, i.e. the wrong way.
I have to say that I could live without hiking the trail from Lafayette to Garfield again. I didnít find it inspiring, and in many places, the rocks were a real pain. It would have been awful to do it in the rain. (Later on, many people commented on what an unpleasant trail the Garfield Ridge Trail is.)
Other than Garfield itself, there were a number of small unnamed peaks that one had to go up and over.
I had pictured Galehead as being up on a ridge, but like Greenleaf, it is fairly far down the side (again, about a 1000 feet lower than the summit).
As I write this (at Galehead), I find my legs are tired and my shoulders are rather sore.
It is now about 5:30. I hope that Kathryn and Roslyn get here in time for dinner, particularly as the sun will be setting soon afterwards, and I still have her light. I offered to give it to her when I passed them, but she was just as happy with me holding on to it.
At the hut here, they have rows of bunks marked as handicapped accessible. It makes me wonderóif you are handicapped enough to need special accommodations in the bunks, how are you going to get here in the first place?
Originally, I thought that you could only get here by going through Greenleaf or Zealand, but (as makes sense) you can hike directly here.
My heels feel OK now, but particularly now that Iíve been sitting, my left knee is getting a bit sore. I hope it can hold out for tomorrow.
Dinner came and went, and there was no sign of Kathryn and Roslyn. I took some more star pictures, but unfortunately, they were all just so-so. A pair of hikers came in, but they both had lights. It wasnít my friends. Still later, around 8:30, Roslyn and Kathryn finally came in. One had a headlamp, and the other was holding a penlight in her mouth. I felt really guilty over not given them their light when I passed them, but at least they got in safely. Roslyn had slipped going down some of the steep rocks and had hurt her shoulder, which had slowed them down even further. She ended up icing it with frozen peas.
There was in interesting couple with us at Galehead. They were from Kansas and on their honeymoon. They went to York Maine to experience the ocean, hiked in to Galehead from The Highland Center at Crawford Notch (and back out the same way), and then the next day they were headed up to Burlington Vermont.