Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pemigewasset One Night Backpack

Summit of Mt. Garfield, White Mountains
Jenny and I took off for a early fall weekend in the White Mountains.  Only having the typical work weekend, we searched for a one night backpack that would offer moderate terrain, AMC shelter, and a summit view.  Our prescription was filled by a one-night backpack up the Mt. Garfield trail.  This 10 mile round trip out-and-back hike took us through a unique hemlock forest, along rivers, and to one of the best views in the Whites - the summit of Mt. Garfield. 

Here is how to recreate this adventure...  
Hemlock Forest - first mile of trail

Adventure:  Mt. Garfield One Night Backpack

Getting there:  The trailhead to Mt. Garfield Trail is located off Route 3 in Bethlehem, NH.  We drove up I-93 through Franconia Notch State Park and took exit 35.  From here, we took Route 3 about 5 miles to the first right.  This is the Gale River Loop Road.  Take the loop road (closed in winter) about 1-2 two miles to the trailhead parking area.  The trailhead is marked by a "hiker" sign and trail map.  There is no charge for parking and there are no bathrooms at the trailhead. 

Trail: This is the perfect 4,000-footer for a timid backpacker, family, or person with bad knees.  The hike lacks many of the rocky climbs and steep ledges of its other Presidential counterparts.  The trail begins by climbing a gentle, needle-padded trail through a forest of large hemlocks.  I love this part of the trail because it reminds me of the Oregon trails of my childhood.  The trail here is easy and pleasant.  At around 2 miles, you have a fun little river crossing.  On the way up, Jenny and I easily crossed the gently brook, but after a night of torrential downpour, we had a hard time finding a path back across.  As a result, we got some wet toes, but it made a fun little challenge. 
Stream Crossing on Garfield Trail

After the river-crossing, the trail ascends gently and easily through the typical hardwood forest of New England.  The trail is even and steady - with a few stones in the trail but nothing horrible.  The last 0.2 mile of the hike is really the only part I'd call "moderately challenging".  Here, you reach the junction of Mt. Garfield trail and the Garfield Ridge Trail (AT).  Jenny and I dropped our packs and scurried up the last 0.2 miles to the summit of Garfield.  This bare peak at 4,500 ft offers 360 degree views of the Pemigewasset, or "Pemi" wilderness.  To the east, the Bonds, scraped and scuffed by rock and glacier, give me a glimpse of one of my favorite White Mountain Hikes.  To the west, the Franconia Ridge rises magnificent, with many of the tallest peaks in the area.  In the center of the bowl is Owl's Head Peak - another one of the beloved 4,000 footers. Lastly, to the northeast, you can even get a glimpse of the summit of Mt. Washington. 

View from summit of Mt. Garfield - Pemi Wilderness
Jenny and I enjoyed a reward of "trail mix cookies" on the summit, took photos, and reveled in the view.  We sought shelter behind the rocks and in the old foundation of a fire tower since wind gusts were reaching 70 mph!

After our well deserved break, we descended back to the AT junction, grabbed out packs, and detoured onto the Garfield Ridge Trail.  This rocky path, takes you down another 0.2 miles to the Garfield Ridge Campsite where we spent the night. 

Our morning hike was just the reverse of our previous day, taking us back down the 5 miles of the Mt. Garfield trail to the parking lot. 

This is an easy to moderate trail - and in my opinion, the easiest 4,000 footer ascent in the White Mountains (although not the shortest).  It was the perfect pick for a leisurely hike to a magnificent view. 

70 mph gust winds at summit
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate - the only moderately challenging section is the last quarter mile
to the summit. 

Distance:  5 miles to summit/ Total backpack was about 11 miles. 


Trail - This is an easy to moderate trail.  I recommend this as an excellent first time backpacking trip for someone looking to get into the hobby.

The stream crossing was probably the most challenging part on the rainy descent.  It was very helpful to have trekking poles here to steady myself across. 

Campsite - The Garfield Ridge Campsite is excellent.  This large AMC site offers tent-platforms, views, water, bear box, privy, and a superb four-sided shelter.  Jenny and I decided to stay in the shelter to reduce pack weight and avoid the predicted evening storm.  We were very comfortable inside - sharing the space with eight other people.  We loved the experience of meeting the other hikers.  One group of over-50-year-old-men were tackling the Pemi Loop, while the other group of the three were from upstate NY and had decided to forgo the Adirondacks to experience their first White Mountain hike. 
Comfy Hiker Shelter at Garfield Ridge Campsite

The Garfield site is manned by an AMC shelter caretaker through Columbus Day weekend, and we had to pay $8 a person to stay there.  Since we were visiting in September, the campsite had plenty of space for all, but having been there in August in the past, I can advise that the beloved site gets crowded and even fills up in the summer.  If you are planning on staying here, it's best to get to camp early or plan on finding alternative camping in the busy summer months. 

In the Pack - the shelter offers a privy, bear box, and water source, but first time visitors should be aware that the tentsite does not offer toilet paper nor "filtered water".  Plan on purifying your water with chemicals or by boiling, and bring some TP for the privy. 
This one mile backpack offered easy to moderate trail, great views, and comfy camping accommodations,- all while ascending over 3,000 feet and hiking over 10 miles.  It's a great choice for a weekend in the Whites. 

Another great friend trip in the wilderness!

Please leave comments and questions below!