Member Trip report
Galehead & Garfield Modified Loop Hike
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
On Saturday, June 17th, I arrived at the Gale River Trailhead at 6:40AM. I was surprised that the parking lot was nearly full, but since this trailhead serves the Galehead Hut, it probably was to be expected. It was sunny with blue skies. As it had rained the day before and was warming, it was pretty humid already.
I quickly got ready and hit the trail by 6:45AM. The trail started out easy in grade as it paralleled the Gale River. It wasn't long before the clouds blew back in and the view points along the trail were obscurred. At about 8AM I reached the point in the trail, where it steepened and I continued up to the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail...which I made by 8:30. I turned east and in 20 minutes I had popped out of the woods at the Galehead Hut. The sun had reappeared and there was a beautiful undercast covering much of the Pemigewasset Wilderness below. I took a break at the hut and had some breakfast. Only staff personnel were in the hut, as it had been reserved for an AMC function and everyone had already left. I relaxed for a bit before heading out again at 9AM for the relatively short trek up Galehead Mountain. The climb was fairly easy and there were good views of the Twin Mountains from the view point halfway up the mountain. I reached the wooded summit (4024') at 9:15. As there was not much to see here, but the summit cairn. I immediately turned around and reached the hut again by 9:35. I backtracked along the Garfield Ridge Trail to the junction with the Gale River Trail (9:55) and continued along the ridge on my way over to Mount Garfield. Along the way, I encountered a few guys who were already halfway along the Pemi Loop, as well as a few northbound through-hikers. There was quite a bit of up and down along the ridge with a few vantage points southward into the Pemigewasset Wilderness as well as eastward across the ridge. The wilderness was still covered in a blanket of low-lying clouds. I reached the junction with the Franconia Brook Trail at 11 and I began to pay attention to the openness of the woods to the north for later in the day. It wasn't long after this point, that the trail dramatically steepened as the trail made a final push towards the summit. Luckily, along here there were a couple of natural springs, as I had been already gone through a couple of liters of water with the heat and humidity. As I ascended the mountain, there were other folks descending who were doing the loop in the opposite direction. It was funny that everyone seemed to be complaining about the black flies on Garfield (I hadn't seen any flies all day). I reached the Garfield Trail at 11:40 and in another 10 minutes I was standing on top of Mount Garfield (4500'). It was absolutely beautiful and there were probably 20 others up on the summit. As clear as the summit was, some of the surrounding peaks along with the Franconia Ridge were still clouded over. There were indeed black flies up here, but they didn't seem too bothersome. I had a little something to eat and then I decided I would venture off of the western side of mountain to explore Garfield Pond. The descent was rather steep with a couple of views over to Franconia Ridge. It took almost 20 minutes to hike out to the pond. It was absolutely beautiful and well-worth the extra effort though. I was going to explore the shore of the pond, but it was flooded and I couldn't go very far. There was an old, abandoned trail, which partially encircled the pond and descended directly back to the Garfield Trail, but I didn't immediately find any signs of it (perhaps, I'll look harder on a future trip).
I backtracked to the summit and by the time that I reached the summit again, the surrounding peaks were finally out of the clouds. It was 12:50PM and I didn't linger long. I continued to descend back along the Garfield Ridge Trail to the east. This was steep and I refilled up on water at the spring along the way. Just before reaching the col and the junction with the Franconia Brook Trail, I crossed a significant brook, which flowed to the north. The woods to the east of the brook didn't look too bad, so I headed off trail into the woods (1:25) in search of Hawthorne Falls.
Hawthorne Falls was once alongside the Gale River Trail, which connected the present day Gale River Trail with the Garfield Ridge. This old trail was severely damaged by a hurricane in 1938 and was never restored. The waterfall is an impressive 40-foot falls tucked into a steep, rocky ravine on the West Fork North Branch Gale River northeast of Mount Garfield.
The woods weren't exactly open, but it was fairly easy to trek through them. I stayed within earshot and to the east of the brook. As I heard the sounds of heavier cascades, I would make my way over to the brook. There were a couple of really nice drops through narrow rocky ravines. I figured this brook matched the description for the brook, where Hawthorne Falls was. After about a half-hour of bushwhacking I was encountering significant blowdown, but by temporarily heading away from the brook these areas could be easily circumvented. At 2:30 I reached an open ledge in the brook with views out into the wilderness. It wasn't until I approached the edge that I figured that this was it...Hawthorne Falls. I had to descend through the woods to reach the bottom of this narrow ravine. Once at the bottom, I was treated to the spectacular sight of Hawthorne Falls. It was really amazing with its dramatic drop through the narrow ravine. This was so worth it as it has been one of the most beautiful falls, that I've seen in the Whites. From here I continued to follow the brook back to the Gale River Trail. Along the way there were some other smaller cascades and some ledges with views out into the wilderness. At 3:15 I reached one of these ledges and as I headed into the woods around this, I encounted a small piece of trail, which ended at the brook (presumably it was washed out at that point). That was the only sign that I found that a trail had ever been along the brook, but it was clear from the terrain that the trail must have followed the brook to the south. In about another half-hour of bushwhacking, I finally found the Gale River Trail. This gave me a better sense for all this, as it rejoined the trail at the only significant brook crossing on the trail. Back on an established trail, I followed the Gale River Trail back to the parking lot, which I reached by 4:40PM.
What an amazing day of exploration around the Garfield Ridge! It was an absolutely beautiful day and it was so worth the extra effort to finally visit the beautiful Garfield Pond and the stunningly spectacular Hawthorne Falls. The bushwhack was not too difficult and it was great to follow the brook between the trails with the falls and its numerous narrow rocky ravines and cascades. It all made for a very interesting alternate loop around the two peaks.
Total mileage and elevation gain: 13.6 miles with approximately 4750 feet in cumulative elevatin gain.
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