Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Twin Redemption - N Twin, S Twin, Galehead

After the trials of two weeks ago on Franconia Ridge it was time to get back to the mountains and redeem myself.  I needed to prove several things.  One was that if I prepped correctly I wouldn't have the knee problems (my theory anyway).  Another was that no matter what happened I would not let it spoil the day for me and even more so for those with me.  We just needed a plan - and fate brought one our way.  For the last several years we've been corresponding through the forums with Mike and Donna (a.k.a. Jimmy Legs and Little D).  We tend to spend time in all the same places (the Whites, Acadia, etc) and keep trying to find a time that would work for us to get together (hopefully for a hike).  Last week Donna sent me a note saying that they would be in the Whites for a week this month and wondering if we had any plans to be up there.  She suggested a couple of possible hikes (knowing which peaks we both have on our lists).  The first suggestion was the Twins and Galehead.  Mike and Donna needed all three of these for their list and we needed North Twin and Galehead (and really wanted to return to South Twin as I'll describe later).  This was one that I'd been thinking about all summer but knowing that we'd need to connect with someone for a car spot the logistics were a bit trickier than normal.  This was perfect!  We now had a plan.

The long range weather report for the week Donna and Mike were coming didn't look great and we decided to play the date by ear.  As last weekend approached the forecast for Sunday and Monday continued to improve and we decided to shoot for Sunday. Didn't look like much chance for sun and blue sky but we should at least be able to stay dry.  Little did we know the treat that was in store.

With a 12 mile 4000+ ft route in store coupled with extra time for the car spots we knew we were in for a long day (once again a day trip from RI).  We got up at 2:30am after a restless couple of hours sleep and were on the road at 3:30.  One nice thing about driving this time of day - no traffic.  With a couple of stops we were still at the Gale River trailhead at 7:15 and pulled in right behind Mike and Donna.  We quickly shuffled the gear around and headed over to the North Twin trailhead.  We made great time and were on the trail at 7:45 - well ahead of plan.  As we drove up the skies were cloudy and Franconia Notch was fogged in.  We did see a couple of small peeks of blue sky though.  Promising...

The hike up North Twin nice even though we were all sweating buckets with the abnormally warm and muggy late September day.  We took the "bushwhack" that is described in the WMG to avoid the first two river crossings, however it now looks more like a regular trail than the trail does.  When we got to the third crossing we found some of the remains of Irene - two large trees blown down completely across the river.  Turned out that they made for a good railing on the rock hop to the other side.  The crossing was easy.

Remnants of Irene in Little River

Mike, Donna and Nat contemplate a soggy section of the "bushwhack trail"

Fallen soldiers at the final water crossing

The walk up to North Twin after the final crossing was steep and rocky in places but overall was a very enjoyable ascent.  As we approached the ledges before North Twin summit the clouds began to clear a bit.

Nat on North Twin trail

Signs of clearing as we near the top

We stood on the ledges and talked to a couple of groups that were already on their way down.  The skies began to open even more and the views were wonderful.  South Twin lay in front of us with its head in the clouds.  I was really hoping it would clear since the first time we were on South Twin the visibility was about 6 feet.  It is the only 4000 footer that we haven't had a view on and since we've heard so many people rave about the South Twin view we wanted a chance to experience it this time.

Valley views beginning to emerge

South Twin emerging

Mt Washington pokes its nose out

We continued to the North Twin summit and took the obligatory summit photos.  #27 for us and #36 for Donna and Mike.  We then continued out to the "viewpoint" past the summit.  The views appeared to be a bit overrated today.

North Twin for #27

Not much to see from the "viewpoint" today

As we headed across the ridge to South Twin the clearing continued and the vistas to the north and east appeared in all their glory.  As we approached the summit the clouds had cleared completely and we prepared ourselves for what awaited us on top.

The vistas emerge from the ridge

South Twin summit ahead

Mountain Cranberry

Heads in the clouds

We made the short final climb to the summit and were greeted by one of the most amazing views that I've seen in the Whites.  I guess everyone was right!  Now I know what we were missing last time.

Nat and Mike on the ridge

Nat making her final way to the summit

Franconia Ridge and Garfield over South Twin summit

Nat on South Twin

Garfield emerging

Clouds rolling up around us

We hung out on the summit for a long time.  We knew that we had more than half the hike still ahead (and the drive home) but we really didn't care.  This was way too nice a place to leave.  We hung out, ate lunch, took lots of photos and rock hopped around the summit area until we finally agreed it was time to go.  South Twin had more than redeemed itself today!!

Mike prepping for the summit shot

Mt Washington in the distance

Mt Washington

North Twin (left) from South

Color in the valleys

Master at work

Heading over to the other side of the summit

Nat loving the day!

Taking it all in

Mike - "Is that the highest point?  Maybe we need to go up there"

Death defying leap over the chasm

Mike and Donna on South Twin for #37

I hadn't been looking forward to the next descent to the hut - 1100' in .8 miles.  We'd gone up that way on our first time to South Twin and I remember saying "I'm sure glad we're not going down this".  So far today my knees had been great - not a twinge - and I'd pretty much stopped thinking  about them.  This was going to be the test though.  We headed down and successfully negotiated the still slippery rock steps and ledges without incident.  My knees were still perfect.  Either my hike prep had worked or fate was just on my side today - I really didn't care which.  I was totally enjoying the day!

Starting down - Galehead and Garfield beyond

Steep and rocky

Galehead Hut nestled below Galehead Mountain

Interesting what passes for a trail here!

Mike negotiates the boulder pile

We were at the hut pretty quickly and glad to have a chance to refill our water and take a break on the porch.  It was now time for the next redemption.  Three years ago when Nat and I did our second hut-to-hut hike from Franconia to Crawford notch we had spent a night at Galehead Hut.  It was a wonderful day and when we arrived we discussed when we'd run up and tag Galehead summit - 1/2 mile away.  We sat on the porch in the late afternoon sun soaking in beautiful views and thinking about the two wonderful days we'd just finished and the two that lay ahead.  Lists didn't seem important and neither did viewless summits.  When we arose the next morning we still hadn't gone up Galehead and we still weren't interested.  We simply hiked on.  Today the list was only slightly more important, but we really wanted to visit the summit this time and share it with Mike and Donna.    We headed up and stopped at the viewpoint along the way and were treated to more great views of South Twin and the Twinway ridge and a unique birds eye view of the hut.  We continued on and tagged our final peak of the day.  The cairn in the woods marked #28 for us and #38 for Mike and Donna.

Orange Hawkweed near the hut

Views from the porch

South Twin and the Twinway ridge from the Galehead viewpoint

Galehead Hut with North Twin beyond

"Guess this is it"

"Really?  OK - I guess so"

Mike and Donna on #38

We headed back down to the hut and got our stuff together.  It was already late afternoon and we still had 4.6 to go down.  Even so, we couldn't stop from lingering a while longer.  It was really hard to end this day.

Nat headed back to the hut

Sumac wearing its fall colors

Time to pack up.  Wish we were staying for the night

Nat takes in the last of the views from the hut

The .6 miles down the Garfield ridge trail went quickly.  More slippery rocks and ledges though and before we were down everyone had taken at least one spill (with nothing more than bruised pride).  We turned down the Gale River trail and made our final push down the home stretch.  Just 4 miles to go...

Last trail junction of the day!

Pretty cascades on the Gale River trail.

I had heard that the Gale River Trail had been rerouted recently to avoid the river crossings.  We were hoping that this was true as the water was running reasonably high.  We soon came to the sign that confirmed our hopes.  The new trail had been completed in August and there are now no crossings other than one small easy brook near the bottom.  The new trail is very nice - a flat soft footbed with nicely placed log steps and bridges.  Yesterday it was also a mud pit.  None of us cared about the mud on our boots and even with the squishing and slipperiness of the mud it was a welcome relief on our feet from the last 10 miles of rock trails.  I'm not sure why, put the last two miles of trail seemed to go on forever.  It was flat, smooth and easy and we all agreed we were walking at a fast pace.  Somehow our time didn't prove that out though and when we finally arrived at the car it was nearly dark.  We headed back to our car at the North Twin lot, packed up and said our goodbyes.  We would have loved to stay and have dinner with Donna and Mike but we were already looking at getting back to RI around midnight.  We promised each other that we'd do that dinner next time - and that there would be many next times.  In the end it was one of the nicest days I've ever spent in the mountains.  The trails, the weather, the views and the good friends to share it with were just perfect.  What made me happiest though was that I had managed to cure both my physical and more importantly mental challenges from the last hike.  The final redemption.

Complete photo album:

Before we got far from the trailhead the day took a sad turn.  As we drove down Rt 3 through Franconia Notch we ran into a traffic delay near the Canon exit.  When we got a little further we found the reason - someone had hit and killed a large moose which was now laying on the side of the road.  We drove by feeling awful about the poor animal and hoping that whoever was driving the car was OK.  We continued on home and arrived around 11:30.  It had been a very long day and we had barely gotten cleaned up and crawled into bed when we were dead to the world.  This morning I awoke feeling groggy but good.  What a wonderful day it had been.  I had completely forgotten about the accident.  Around 9:00 my phone rang.  It was Mike.  My heart sank.  He asked how we were doing and said that they were feeling pretty good today too.  I felt relieved.  The next thing he said was "so, we totaled the van last night".  I couldn't believe it.  It turns out that we had actually seen their van on the side of the road 100' or so from the moose and hadn't realized it was them.  The moose must have run out from the center of the road and sideswiped their van, but the moose's head went through the windshield on the drivers side.  The impact was so severe that the steering wheel was bent.  Thankfully Mike and Donna both escaped unharmed (although Mike said he cut his hands on the glass trying to push the windshield back out).  They are now working on trying to arrange insurance inspections, car repairs (if possible), rental cars, etc. and surviving the remainder of the  week before they have to return to Maryland on Friday.  I hope everyone sends their good thoughts and prayers.  We surely are.