Thursday, January 17, 2013

W48-in-1: Franconia Ridge Traverse & Garfield Overnight - 1/12/13

This winter hike started out as anattempt at a solo Pemi Loop in winter, but it actually turned into a Franconia Ridge Traverse plus Garfield overnight with some twist and turns along the way that surely made it another nerve-wracking but exciting outing. I had wanted so bad for this single-season quest to include a 12-peak extended winter-Pemi Loop overnight, but simply, the mountains didn't want it to happen that way, and maybe this wasn't the weekend to do it. Despite the weather forecast for possible freezing rain and warmer daytime temperatures, I decided to attempt as planned and I set off up the Osseo Trail at 2:50am.

Lincoln Woods footbridge
Things were going smoothly as the Osseo Trail was pretty well packed out before me. For the 4th time in the middle of the night, I've hiked the Osseo Trail. I've never hiked it during the day, but I find it to be one of the easiest ascents to a 4000 footer. I reached the summit of Flume in three hours and Liberty in four hours. All was great until I went to descend Liberty en route to Little Haystack. Just like my last failed attempt of the Pemi Loop, I had descended the wrong direction off a summit, and didn't realize it right away, again. Last time, I was affected by low visibility on Lafayette, but this time, it was because I was trying to hard to get as far into this as quickly as I could. After quite a while I realized I had not gone past the rock face of the Liberty summit, and felt quite stupid. Despite having been up on Franconia Ridge in summer and winter and in the dark before, its just too easy to make mistakes up there in the dark, and since I wasn't wearing snowshoes on the packed trail, I had no way to pick up that I was traveling in the wrong direction until I remembered what it should have looked like going off Liberty. I think I simply snapped a picture, turned around, and went in the direction of the cairn. Stupid, stupid.

Faintly in the darkness you might the Liberty summit cairn
With it being still near sunrise time, I decided that I still wanted to continue. I headed back towards Liberty as quickly as I could, and I passed right over the summit, as I should have originally, pressing on towards Little Haystack. The Franconia Ridge Trail travels 1.8 miles between Liberty and Little Haystack. The trail corridor was generally well defined as I trekked through the completely untouched unbroken snow of this section. However, I hit a wall about exactly halfway through where the corridor seemed to just end. I began walking circles trying to find the trail ahead, and after about 10 minutes, I started to get a bit nervous that I'd completely lose my sense of direction again because I now had 3 circles of snow shoe prints in all directions. Although I could tell with my compass which way I needed to go, North, in order for me to finally find the trail corridor, what I did was go backwards (south) on my tracks and twice, re-approached the spot of where I couldn't see the trail ahead. Come to find out, heavy wet snow had created a series of leaning trees directly in front of me. Once I figured that out, I started knocking the snow off trees with my poles, and trees started flying upwards left and right like curtains were opening, and I was again on my way, having again been delayed quite a bit with a lot of added stress.

At this point, I was feeling pretty bummed. It was getting close to mid-day, and when I should have been well on my way to Garfield or more, I was just getting to treeline on Little Haystack. Being behind, I ended up taking very few photos on this hike. My spirits livened for a short period of time as I began the always impressive trek over Lincoln, North Lincoln, and Lafayette. The clouds presented a partial undercast among a mostly overcast sky. The snow on the ridge was surprisingly thin to begin with, never mind it was softening by the minute, but the trail was well trodden, and I found it easy-going over Lincoln and to the summit of Lafayette. This was my 7th time to the summit of Mt. Lafayette. There were a few groups enjoying the summit upon my arrival.
Mt. Lafayette 
Looking back south from near Mt. Lincoln summit 
Mt. Lafayette summit 
View towards the Kinsman Range from Franconia Ridge Trail
After a couple of quick photos at the summit, there was no delay in me continuing on forward as day-light would be quickly on the decline. I was well aware that once I passed over Lafayette's shoulders that I could be dealing with another 2+ miles of unbroken (and now completely water-logged) snow. As I descended into the trees, indeed every step from here on out sunk several inches and sometimes a couple of feet down into the deep, wet snow. Immediately, every step I took lifted about a pound or more of the wet snow with my next step forward. I began to count like this: 20 steps break, 20 steps break, and I found myself moving at a pace of about less than one mile an hour. In addition to the laborious effort required because of the ground conditions, the excessive amounts of snow that the Whites have seen thus far was rapidly melting off the trees. It may as well have been pouring rain at anytime I was hiking within the trees. Every step came with a swish of the socks in my boot, and my gloves rang water with every grip of my trekking pole. I knew I would be able to make it to Garfield by sunset regardless, therefore I could keep my focus on hiking rather than worrying - plus it was warm and my gear was doing its job despite being wet, so I was not worried in that regard.

I did the 20 step count process the entire time. It seemed FOREVER to make it to the Garfield Pond, and then after that, the rest of the ascent also took forever. One thing I'm thankful for was that trail was very easy to follow, but I think I just may officially label this as the worst 3 solo miles I've ever hiked. Around 4pm, as the sun was starting to descend towards the horizon, I reached the summit of Mt. Garfield for the 1st time in winter, and 5th time total. I dropped my pack and walked the last several feet up to the high point to snap a couple of photos. Despite feeling quite defeated and cold as the wind sucked the warmth from my body, I took in, so to forever etch in my memory, the sunset view from my first winter ascent of Garfield.
Cloudy sunset on Mt. Garfield 
Completely drenched on my first official winter summit of Garfield
Sunset silhouette from Mt. Garfield
After that, I wasted no time in descending to the Garfield Ridge Campsite, which was one of the possible camping locations I had planned for on this hike, although I had hoped I'd make it closer to Guyot campsite or the Twinway area. I had never been up the spur to the Garfield campsite, but I knew there was a new shelter there which I was anxious to scope out. After butt-sliding down the .2 to the campsite spur, I was not a happy camper (yet) to find myself needing to trudge up this never-ending spur to the campsite! Again, I was doing the 20 step count, but knew soon I would see some sort of wooden structure. When I finally did, I was elated, as the new Garfield shelter looked like a heavenly and palatial abode to me.
Garfield Ridge Shelter (taken the following morning)
After I had quickly changed into to my heavyweight base layers and was unpacking my gear to get comfy, two hikers of similar age as I, who I had passed on the summit of Lafayette came along. They too had braved the ridiculously difficult stretch of trail, and I was informed that my broken path provided them great company, but not much help for them, as they only deepened the steps that I had broken out. While I was mostly settled, they too unpacked their dripping wet gear and we got down to cooking our dinners and preparing everything for the night.
Plenty of hooks for hanging gear 
Top bunk of Garfield Shelter
The Garfield Ridge shelter is awesome. A top bunk provided plenty of room for all 3 of us to sleep up top. The temperatures were warm overnight, so there was never an issue with being cold. Because I had broken out the treacherous section of trail, I was treated to the first shot of whiskey by my new shelter-mates. A tough, brutal day in the mountains by all of us was somewhat forgotten as we chatted mountains and cooked our dinner on our stoves. Although I will admit to not enjoying anything up to that point, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the night here. While I shared my passion for the peaks in the Whites, they talked about their Adirondack adventures on Marcy, Algonquin, and the like.

Now, how does the rest of this crazy adventure go? Well, I had asked my new companions if they would be kind enough to let me hike out with them in the morning and give me a ride back to Lincoln Woods. There was no problem with that, and after a few more swigs of Glenlivet 18, we slept about 12 hours until morning! As we were getting ready, we learned there was another local resident, Mr. Gray Jay, who was hounding the heck out of us! Anyways, we geared up and started down the Garfield Trail.
Gray Jay at Garfield Ridge Shelter 
South Twin from Garfield & Garfield Ridge Trail junction
Now, here is where things get a little interesting again for me, but I'll try to keep it brief. We were headed down the trail, and I had been assuming they were parked at the winter Route 3 lot at the end of Gale River Loop Road, but they were describing to me that they had parked somewhere off a forest road. When we arrived at the end of the Garfield Trail, and they noticed their car was not parked there, I began discussing with them the possibilities. Knowing the road was supposed to be closed, I tried to use my experience to think of the possibilities of where they could have parked. This was a spotted car, and they had left it over here somewhere before sunrise as their plan was Lafayette to Garfield with the overnight, and out. After talking with a couple out for just a walk, we decided that we'd walk out to Route 3 to see if anything became familiar to them. If we didn't we'd wait at the couple's car for a ride back to their other vehicle. Knowing the road is closed in winter, I was doubtful that this would end soon for us. When we arrived at one of the last bridges, where there are two horse barricades that indicate the start/end of the plowed portion of Gale River Loop Rd, it dawned on them they were parked on that road, up near the logging site. The only problem now was that after speaking with the couple out for a walk, we knew for certain the gate was closed. However, it so turned out that super early Saturday morning, they had the luck of finding an open Gale River Loop Road gate. They told me a logging truck had passed them on the way in, but that it never stopped to inform them that the road is normally closed. How would they get their car out? Well, when we arrived at the gate, it was unlocked. They couldn't seem to re-lock the gate, therefore we are unsure if it was kind gesture on the part of the loggers who may have seen them come in behind them, or whether it is often left unlocked. Being familiar with the closed roads in winter, and the location, I couldn't believe that I had actually found myself in this situation, but we all completely laughed it off, and I was brought safely back to my car. Despite all of the mayhem, it all adds to my depth of experience venturing through these mountains in all seasons. I will happily take these 5 peaks, and use these events, again, as a reminder for myself of all the ways that things can go wrong. With MLK day and a long weekend coming up, look for me on the trails (Or on my SPOT) again Saturday through Monday! 
Stream crossing on Garfield Trail
Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Osseo Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Garfield Trail
Distance: 19.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,150 ft.
Actual Book Time: 21:30 (total time of outing)


  1. New shelter looks great!

    1. Hi Scott, Its definitely a sweet shelter. I will camp here again at some point. Thanks!

  2. Wow, that was some kind of adventure! The spur trail *up* to Garfield campsite is not a fun sight, no matter what time of year. They also should have a sign telling you to get your water first, then go up hill to the campsites! It is a nice new shelter, though. Sounds like you had a quite the trip and gained some more winter experience, getting you ready for that trip to Baxter.

    1. Thanks Summerset, it was definitely an adventure, and the shelter was the best part of it! Good point on the sign for water.