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
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
Clouds rolling up around us
Mike prepping for the summit shot
Mt Washington in the distance
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.
Complete photo album: https://picasaweb.google.com/114856685929776719960/TwinsAndGalehead92511
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.