Friday, January 4, 2013

The Twins and Galehead 1/3/12


Working title: Who has two thumbs and shaves off their beard and most of their hair before the coldest hike of the season? This guy.

Peaks: North Twin, South Twin, Galehead

Trails: Snowmobile trail, Haystack Road, North Twin Trail, herd path, North Twin Spur, Twinway, Frost Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Gale River Trail, Gale River Road

Mileage/time: 14.8 miles, ~4200 feet of gain, book time of 9:30, actual time of 9:50

So, here it is, a new year. Time to get at it! Mike, Wayne, and myself had planned this same loop, with the addition of Garfield, for 12/21. That hike never went down, but we determined that it would have kicked our collective asses. Sans Garfield, this one went off without a hitch.

We set an early meet time, so as to get the most out of the day, and I dropped the ball. My alarm went off at 2am, per usual as of late. I remember shutting it off, then the next thing I know, I'm waking back up and it's 3:15! Rushing to get out the door, I managed to grab everything I needed, make a coffee stop, and get to 5 Corners just after 5:30. Of course, Mike had been there for a while (but I did text him to let him know I'd be a bit late), and after rolling down his window with a grin, he says, "you're late!". On with the boots, then Mike jumped into my car. Once we reached the end of Little River Road, and began final preparations, I noticed my cars thermometer was reading -14 F. It's the kind of cold that sucks the heat right out of you.

We went for it anyway. Putting snowshoes on in the bitter cold was interesting, but we both managed to get them on well enough, that we didn't have to even touch them the rest of the day. The snowmobile trail is easy enough to find and follow, and was broken out by previous hikers. What an easy way to get to the summer trailhead, and gets you there in about a mile. As we were trudging along by headlamp, we noticed that the moisture from our breath was forming rime on our jackets... it was that cold. After the short walk up Haystack Road, we kept going on North Twin Trail, as light slowly bled into the sky above. From an opening along the trail, we got a nice view up to North Twin, bathed in alpenglow.


We avoided the first two crossings on North Twin Trail by taking the unofficial herd path. I saw that one older set of tracks had gone out to the first crossing and come back at the second, but the packed trail followed the herd path. There were two places where the track split, going left and uphill, I'm not sure which of those leads to the old Firewardens Trail on Mt. Hale, but I aim to find out. Soon enough, we were back on North Twin Trail, and made the third crossing easily, as it was completely ice-bridged.

The climbing began in earnest after the crossing, though never really steep, just relentless. The heel lifts on our snowshoes went up and down throughout this section, but we got really good at using our trekking poles for such things. The higher we climbed, the more snow there was, not on only the trail (still broken out), but on the trees. The snow and ice on the trees had the consistency of concrete, you could shoulder check a branch on the way by, and not only would it barely budge, but no snow or ice would come off of it. These trees are super strong! Not only that, but in some sections, the snow and ice was blown in so thickly, that it was like walking in a dark corridor, with brilliant blue skies and sun above.



Now, I don't recall much about my last time on North Twin. It was June 3, 2011, and a couple friends and I were trying to catch sunrise on South Twin. When we arrived on North Twin at 4am, the winds were raging (Washington was reporting 80 mph gusts), the temperature was hovering around 30, and we were in a cloud. Needless to say, we turned around. This time was so much different, brilliant sunshine, light winds, but a lot colder, likely hovering in the low single digits. We took the turn onto the view spur, and soaked it all in.

Willey Range et al from North Twin

Loon ski slopes, Flume, Liberty, Owl's Head, and Galehead from North Twin

Franconia Ridge and Garfield from North Twin
Now for some redlining! I'm absolutely shameless, and have managed a new section of trail on each hike for some time now, much to my companions chagrin I'm sure. North Twin Spur was beautiful, snow clad trees, some drifted in sections of trail that we broke back out. The fresh blue blazing helped keep us on track, though the blazes were about chest high. Soon we were popping out into the scrub just below South Twin, and were greeted with slightly more wind, which was bitingly cold. It was a veritable moonscape, everything covered in snow and rime. The cold and the views were absolutely breathtaking.

Moonscape

Presidentials from South Twin

Pilot/Pliny Ranges from South Twin

North to Guyot and the Bonds

Garfield with Camel's Hump in VT on the right horizon
After we clambered up to the highest rock on the summit, we retreated down the Twinway, out of the icy wind. This part of the trail was so much fun. It had been broken out previously, but had since drifted in. That meant plenty of snowshoe skiing, and big jumping steps into feet of powdery snow. I estimate that we got to Galehead Hut from South Twin in about 15 minutes, so fun and so fast! Here, we took a break. We broke out the stairs, the handicapped ramp, and the porch of Galehead Hut, and brushed off a bench. The sun was beating down on the porch, and being out of the wind, it was a very comfortable break, even if the temps were likely in the single digits. I threw on an extra layer after the break, and we went up to Galehead with out packs.

The Frost Trail was just as brushy as I remember it being, added to by snow laden branches. We got some nice views from the view spur just shy of the summit, and then took in the 360 degree trees. On descent, I saw Mike take a laughing spill down a steep section, and just as I started to laugh, I went down too! Classic. Back to the hut in one piece, we picked up our gear, and headed towards Garfield Ridge Trail.

The steep east face of Owl's Head, with Flume and Liberty in back

Galehead Hut while descending from South Twin

The hut from the Galehead outlook

South ridge of South Twin from the hut
On the way to the Gale River Trail junction, we discussed options. Mike felt good, and was feeling up to Garfield. I felt good, but absolutely was not up for the bunch of ups and downs that would accompany the slog over to Garfield. Down Gale River Trail we went. After some initial steepness, the trail was mellow all the way down to Gale River Road. Just before reaching the summer trailhead, we heard snowmobiles, the first of the day. When we got there, we sat on the bench by the road for a minute, joking that if some snowmobilers came by, we'd ask them when the hiker shuttle was coming.

Snow shelves
Now for the 1.6 mile roadwalk. It passed uneventfully, we stopped and read a sign, which explained about the concept of forest succession, pretty neat. Once we arrived at Mike's truck, his thermometer read 10 degrees F... I believe it!

Fiery colors through the woods on Gale River Road
We then discussed vittles, and went to retrieve my car. Honestly, the coldest I was all day, was in my car, with it running, changing out of my boots. My fingers didn't warm up until I was almost halfway home! Dutch Treat in Franconia was our destination. They weren't really busy, the service was good, the coffee hot, and the food delicious. Food coma on the ride home.

What an awesome way to start out 2013, thanks Mike!

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