We left from Nashua around 8:00 and were at the trailhead before 10:00, which is a great start for this crowd. The trailhead parking was a little crowded but we found some spots and off we went. The Garfield trail is better than I remembered, very evenly graded for most of it's 4.4 mile length. There's not much in the way of views, but the sunny and cool weather made for fast and pleasant hiking. We hit the Garfield Ridge trail junction in about 2 hours, and climbed the steep but short section to the summit. There were only two people there when we arrived and they left soon after.
The views from Garfield are some of the best in the Pemi. Only the Bonds offer a better view IMO. We could see the entire Pemi: North and South Twin, Galehead Hut, Franconia Ridge, and a full Pemi panoramic . The Presidentials were in clouds, but that was about it for the day. The summit of Garfield has some bare rock with the concrete foundation of an old firetower. It was quite windy, so we put on jackets and looked around for a while, before settling down in the foundation for a bite to eat. Here we developed a plan to hike the ridge over to Galehead to bag another 4000'er. If I had know they were up for it I would have suggested stashing a car at the other trailhead, but it was only a 1.6 mile road walk and we decided to go for it.
From the summit, the trail drops rapidly to the ridge, passing the Garfield Ridge Campsite along the way. It's rocky and wet it places, making for slow going. After the Campsite, the trail obviously gets less use, and there were many uncleared blowdowns from the winter. It's about 3.5 miles from the summit of Garfield to Galehead hut. Along the way there are a few very nice views back to Garfield, over to Galehead and the Twins, and down into the Pemi. We made it to the hut and decided to grab the peak, then eat lunch. The Frost trail leads from the hut to the summit, passing a nice outlook along the way. The summit of Galehead is wooded with no views, so we had to make due with what we had.
Back at the hut we ate lunch on the picnic table outside and took in the views of Garfield and Galehead, then got ready for the descent down the Gale River trail. It's about 4.5 miles and the top part is steep with lots of excellent rock steps. Allison was game to go ahead, so we gave her my car keys and she agreed to do the road walk and get the car. The bottom part of the trail is much longer than it appears, travelling along the Gale River and by the time we hit the trailhead and started the roadwalk, we were beat. Fortunately, Alisson showed up soon after we started walking. Ching and Andrew headed north and the rest of us went to the Common Man in Ashland for a fine dinner before heading home. The peak bagging continues, semper fi.
The Galehead trailhead is located on the Gale River Loop (FR 92), just off NH Rt 3. The loop leaves just .3 miles south of Five Corners, and the trailhead is 1.2 miles in, on the right. To get to the Gale River trailhead, continue on the Gale River Loop for 1.6 miles or take the other end of loop where it hits Rt 3. The hike is 14 miles and there are two sure places to get water along the way: Garfield Ridge Campsite and Galehead Hut. In the winter, the hut is closed and the roads are gated, so this loop is really only a summer day hike.
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