Mt Hancock & South Hancock

One day after Andrew and I returned to the White Mountains in New Hampshire we decided to take on the Hancock Loop off the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway.  Sarah had made her way up here late the previous night to join us on the rest of our trip.  We woke up at around 6:30 in effort to be on the road by 7.  Andrew was curious about Tripoli Road and insisted that we take it to 93 North.  I knew it would eventually get there, but knowing the road is closed during winter I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  Turns out there a good reason for the road being closed in winter as the majority of it is unpaved and sketchy as all hell.  It seems to be a common theme for us trying to navigate some sort of potential disaster every single time we go hiking, but at this point its just part of the fun for us.  Anyway after a few miles of slower travel we got by the road and made it to I 93 where we would continue into Lincoln for our breakfast.

We stopped at Flapjacks in Lincoln for a big breakfast.  I always remembered this place from when my parents would take me as a child.  It was pretty much the same as I remembered with some kick ass pancakes and toy trains moving in the rafters.  After loading ourselves with starch and carbs we headed off to the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus where we would come to our trailhead.  The trailhead parking just seemed to be filling up as we got there.  Fortunately we were able to find ourselves a spot before the lot got full.  From there we threw on the gear and got ready to start our hike.

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The weather seemed like it may or may not hold off for us that day but I’m not overly accustomed to caring too much about some minor weather.  Nonetheless the three of us took off down the trail towards the Hancock’s.  We would follow the Hancock Notch Trail for a little over a mile before reaching a trail junction that would head toward the loop.  The hike up to that point was about as easy as it could get with the trail being very flat and very well maintained with pretty much no notable obstacles to speak of.

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Before long we came to a sign for the Hancock Loop Trail which we would ultimately follow to both of our peaks for the day.  At this point we knew that the climb would start to gain elevation pretty quickly so we decided we would get a little fuel into our systems before making our way up to the summits.  Eventually we reached the actual loop portion of the trail where we had to make a choice of either hiking the South Peak first or Hancock.

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We figured we would take the trek up to the South Peak first that we would be able to accomplish in .5 miles.  The trek up to South Hancock was about as steep as it gets for hiking standards.  We found ourselves sucking wind and pausing frequently on the way, not to mention I was hacking up a lung from the cold I had the previous week.  Before too long though we made it to the summit of South Hancock.  The summit area had a nice outlook where we did manage to get a nice view, but other than a height of land the was no real feature there marking the summit.

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We spent sometime on the summit getting a bite to eat and socializing with some other hikers.  While on the summit we noticed some Gray Jays were lurking around us.  Rumor had it that these little guys were pretty bold little birds and are known to eat right out of your hand.  Knowing this I had to give it a go and see if one of them would take the bait.  Sure enough after holding out some granola long enough one of those little guys perched itself on my finger and took a beak full before taking off to enjoy their little snack.  As amusing as this all was we knew we needed to get going to our second peak of the day Mt. Hancock.

We got going down the trail which looked to be a 1.4 mile ridge hike we no real exposure but fortunately the drop in elevation was not going to be too over bearing.  It was a pretty straight forward walk with some slightly muddier sections along the way but I wasn’t too long before we started approaching our second summit of the day.  We noticed the trees thinning out a bit but never any bald portions until we ultimately reached a sign which signaled that we were at the summit.  Much like the last summit there wasn’t really any obvious area to observe the surroundings other than a small outlook just off the summit.  Once again we took time to get a bite to eat and feed some Gray Jays.

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After taking about a half hour to rest we figured it was about time to head back down the mountain.  According to the trail junction it was going to be .7 miles down point where the Loop Trail split.  The trail going down to the split was very steep and treacherous.  The trail gave me flashbacks of the Macomb slide with a lot of loose rocks and gravel on a very steep gradient.  We took it slow on the way down to ensure we didn’t injure ourselves at least until we reached the loop.

We gathered ourselves once reaching the loop before making our way out as quickly as we could.  The trail going out was just as easy as it was coming in although when you have no more summit to look forward to it always seems like its longer.  We eventually got back to the road and once there we were all in shock about what we were witnessing.  Let me start by saying that I love hiking at this time of year but there volume of cars out there blew me away.  Why people come in droves to watch leaves die I guess I’ll never understand.  Anyway we knew we had one day of hiking to go so we headed back to get some food and rest.

Recommendation to Hikers:  The Hancock’s are a fun day with nothing too challenging getting in your way.  While the views aren’t outstanding you do get an opportunity to get a few nice pictures out on the trails without hiking too many miles.

Views:  South Hancock – 4   Hancock – 5

Difficulty:  South Hancock – 4  Hancock – 4

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Liberty & Flume

After a bit of time off from climbing, Chris and I set off for New Hampshire on a Friday morning in October to start a long weekend of climbing. After finishing up the Adirondack High Peaks in the summer, we thought it would be a cool idea to try to dive a little deeper into the New Hampshire High Peaks list by trying to grab 5 or 6 of them in one trip. I drove into Boston the night before like I had a few times before so we could get an early jump to the morning hike. We left a little bit before 7 AM with our eyes set on climbing Liberty and Flume in the Franconia range of the White Mountains. These were climbs Chris had his eye on, and I thought they would be a good place to start the trip, given its relatively short mileage (10-11 miles round trip, depending on the route) and reportedly excellent summit views. I was pretty pumped to get away for a few days and hopefully double my peak count in New Hampshire in one quick trip, so there was a little extra motivation to get back out on the trails and see some new peaks!

We got into Lincoln, New Hampshire bright and early and stopped for a second to grab some food for the trails before heading north to try to find our trailhead. From what I could see from the map, it looked like we were basically going to start our climb from the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, so that’s where we decided to pull in to park. We grabbed our packs and Chris started filming as I decided to take in the surroundings a little bit. I didn’t see anything in the parking lot that indicated a trailhead towards where we would be going, with the exception of a bike path heading in the right direction. After a while of walking, I decided it would be best to try going up the road a little ways as there might be an obvious parking area down the road. My intuition was right, and we noticed the real parking area signed just down the road from where we parked, and we decided to drive down there instead. We got going a little bit after 10 AM, walking the Whitehouse trail from the parking area for about a mile until we reached the Appalachian Trail, where we started our true ascent.

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We started the steady ascent up towards Liberty and Flume, witnessing some unique carved graffiti on trees as we started off. In all my time climbing I can’t recall seeing trees defaced the way we did on that particular trail, and it was kind of disappointing to see. Nonetheless, we continued on after making a point of this on the vlog, and quickly reached the fork in the loop trail. Going straight would take us up steadily towards Liberty, while the right fork would level out and head towards the Flume ledges where we would have a quick and dramatic ascent up to the summit of Flume. Even though it was going to add some mileage to the day, I decided it would be best to take the steady approach up to Liberty and then walk over to Flume and back instead of going up the steep slopes because I wasn’t sure if I was in the greatest shape for that after not climbing for a month and a half. After taking a quick break at the junction we worked our way up the Liberty Springs Trail, crossed over a few small streams, and started our ascent in earnest.

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The real ascent begins

 

I quickly figured out that my hypothesis about my hiking form was right on the money. I felt like my legs were pretty dead after about half an hour of steady, unrelenting climbing up towards the Liberty Springs Campsite. I was glad we took the steady approach because I would’ve been struggling badly trying to work my way up the Flume ledges. While I would’ve preferred a bit more of a staggered approach up to the summit, the Liberty Springs Trail was at least consistent and easy on the feet, with very little mud or loose rock in the trail. Overall, from our experiences in Maine and New Hampshire, it is very enjoyable to hike along the Appalachian Trail segments because they are usually well-designed and steady in approach. It may have taken me a bit longer than I would’ve liked, but we did eventually reach the summit ridge, where we took a quick right turn and headed about a quarter mile down the trail until we reached Mount Liberty.

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The dramatic approach to Mt Liberty

 

Liberty was really quite a fantastic summit area, and its dramatic features were evident just before we reached the top. The summit itself is on a very steep ledge that features a large slide that basically starts from the edge of the trail. It’s a harrowing look down from the slide at the base of the summit rock, as it probably drops down a hundred feet or so. Once we topped the summit rock, the views were outstanding all 360 degrees around. We could see the whole Cannon, Kinsman area on one view and then the Lincoln, Twins, and Owls Head view on the other side. Liberty is a very rewarding summit, and combined with the foliage and nice autumn weather, it was one of our best summit experiences of the year 2017 so far for sure.

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Mt Flume from Liberty

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By the time we had worked our way off Liberty and headed towards flume my legs had started to feel a little more adjusted, so I made some quick work down towards the col between the two peaks. I waited there for Chris to catch up, and we made our way quickly up to Flume. From Liberty, Flume is not really a challenging hike at all, and we ended up on the summit a lot quicker than we had anticipated. From the Flume summit we still managed to get the same spectacular views towards the west, and could even get a nice reference point of Lafayette that we couldn’t get from Liberty. What was even more interesting was the clear view you get of the Flume ledges and just how steep the trail ends up climbing up to the summit from the Flume Trail. Flume really looks like one hell of an adventure to get up, and a bit of a dangerous proposition to try to get down. Once we stopped to get some pictures and a snack, we decided to double back over Liberty on our way out, since that trail looked liked an accident waiting to happen.

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We took another second to take in the sights on top of Liberty the second time, and then continued on our way down. The hike down was fairly uneventful, but it was fairly easy thanks to the large sections of smooth stone steps on the Liberty Springs Trail. Seriously, I can’t recommend this trail enough, it’s really easy on the joints, offers a nice hiking challenge that doesn’t take too long, and offers wonderful views up top. Once we got down past the loop junction, it was just a quick walk back, first down to the bike path that doubled as the Whitehouse trail for a section, then on to the rest of the trail that lead us back to the parking area. All-in-all the day hike only took about 7 hours, and it was definitely a fantastic way to start off a full weekend of hiking!

Views: Liberty 10, Flume 7

Difficulty: Liberty 6, Flume 6 (from Liberty; climbing the ledges would make it more difficult)

East Osceola & Osceola

After finishing up our 46er quest earlier in the month, Chris and I wasted very little time setting our sights on our next hiking conquest, the Northeast 115. I headed on out to Boston to meet up with Chris, and we set off for New Hampshire to get a couple more peaks off the White Mountains list. We decided on doing a smaller day hike in the Whites that day, tackling East Osceola, and Mount Osceola which would get us two more peaks with only a 7 mile or so roundtrip. We initially intended to do this climb in April, but opted for a less rocky trail for our first early spring hike, so these peaks had been in my sights for a while, so they seemed like the right ones to check off the list that day!

We left around 6 AM in the morning and headed north towards Lincoln, NH where we would start our climbing. It was a Sunday, so the traffic wasn’t too bad getting around, and we were able to start at a reasonable hour. Finding the trailhead wasn’t terribly hard either, even though we managed to get just the last parking spot at the trailhead. We took a quick look at the map at the trailhead just to get our bearings, even though we knew this would be a super straightforward day.

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From the trailhead we were going to make our way towards Greeley Pond, before taking a right at the trail that climbs up to East Osceola. From there it would only be about an extra mile to get to Mount Osceola, which from all accounts had some pretty nice views. The first mile and a quarter toward Greeley Pond was basically flat, and relatively uneventful. There were a number of small stream crossings in that beginning section of the trail, but those were the only points of note along the way to the trail junction.

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At the junction we took our first break of the day, and I decided to grab an energy chew from my bag while we stopped. I bought a Gatorade chew instead of the normal Clif ones I usually get just to try it, and that turned out to be a bad decision. I did not like the taste of that at all, so needless to say I’ll be going back to my usuals from now on. Once we got back going we started ascending as we head towards East Osceola. We knew it would only be about 1.5 miles or so uphill in the segment, so we would be going uphill at a good clip. Still, it was a bit of a shock to the system just how steep the climb up to East Osceola got. In certain segments it reminded both of us of our Dix Mountain hike, with the unrelenting steep walls of earth to climb up. We made our way steadily up the climb, segment by segment, taking breaks on the flat spots and keeping a steady pace as the trail made its way up to elevation in very short order.

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Small lookout on the way to East Osceola

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The trail eventually leveled out and we knew we were getting close to peak. Based upon everything I’d read about the climb, I knew this peak would basically have no views and would instead just be a peak noted by a large cairn. The peak itself didn’t really even seem to be a height of land, more or less just a spot on a large plateau, but nonetheless it was pretty hard to miss the summit of East Osceola. We took a break at the one lookout we could find on the summit, even though there really wasn’t much of a view at that spot either.

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What a summit…

 

After maybe 10 minutes, we continued on our way to Osceola, which we knew would be a greater spot to take an extended break on anyway.  The trail started descending at a good clip down from the plateau of East Osceola, and did so until we reach the col between the summits. It was there where we encountered one of the more interesting spots on the trail, the famous Osceola Chimney. It really didn’t disappoint at all, it was a very steep, sudden wall of rock that we had to get over as the trail started climbing again. There were 2 options on the Chimney; going straight up the steep way, or going up a bit more steadily around the side of the cliff. I chose the steady shortcut, and Chris decided to go straight up.  Realistically both ways take just the same amount of time considering the shortcut is a little longer, but I happened to like the way I went, so the choice is really up to you when you hit that spot of the trail. From the Chimney on, the rest of the climb up to Osceola seemed pretty easy and uneventful comparatively, and in just a few tenths of a mile we ended up on our second summit of the day, Mount Osceola!

 

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Happy to bag peak #2 and get a view

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Upon arriving at Osceola, we noticed two things; 1) the summit was very large and had spectacular views on one side looking down towards Waterville Valley and 2) there were a lot of people climbing that day. For the past few years we’d been used to climbing on weekdays, and climbing some of the more remote mountains in the Adirondack High Peaks, so it was a bit different to run into a crowd on a summit, but we were able to enjoy a nice view nonetheless. Just as much as climbing east Osceola reminded me of climbing Dix, the summit of Osceola reminded me a bit of Giant in Keene Valley since both have a similar size and view from the summit, and both seem to gather a crowd on a weekend! Osceola was definitely worth the trouble of getting over East Osceola for, it’s a very nice peak to summit on a late summer morning!

We probably spent about 20 minutes up top admiring the scenery and grabbing a bite to eat, and then headed back the way we came. Going down Osceola seemed like it would be a relatively uneventful thing to do, at least until we got to the Chimney section, but as I pushed on ahead, maybe about 5-10 minutes after leaving the summit, I heard a well-pronounced cry of pain behind me. Turns out Chris managed to roll his ankle over on an unstable rock, and was in some pretty good pain. It was really kind of a bad spot for an injury, right in between two peaks, but, as we’ve experienced before, sometimes the mountains reach out and grab you just to remind you that Mother Nature is still the boss. We kept on going (because what choice did we have anyway), maybe a little bit slower than we were going before, and despite his pain, we managed to keep going without any other incidents. We stopped for one more second to get a picture on the actual summit of East Osceola, since we basically spent no time there on the way in, and cruised on through to our last descent of the day.

The way down East Osceola was just as unrelenting as it was going up, only now we were both watching our steps a little more than we normally would. Since it was a relatively short day of hiking for us there was absolutely no need to rush things on the way back. We just walked down cautiously and carefully until we got to the trail junction around Greeley Pond again.

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View of Greeley Pond on the descent

 

One interesting thing we did note was how seemingly inaccurate the maps were on the trees noting the protected forest area around Greeley Pond. The way the first map we saw was drawn made it seem like we were a full mile away from the trail junction when we were actually only about 5 minutes away from it. So the lesson there is obviously don’t believe randomly drawn maps on trees, keep your own bearing and carry a map instead!

The last mile and a quarter out from the junction seemed like forever as we both really wanted to just get off our feet and grab some lunch. It probably didn’t take us anymore than 25-30 minutes, but it kind of felt like eternity as we made our way over the bog bridges and small stream crossings until we got back to the roadside trailhead. It was another one of those days where it started well, but after someone gets banged up you just kind lose a little bit of your zeal afterwards. Either way, we still managed to get another 2 peaks in the books, and I got myself about halfway to my goal of 115 peaks in the northeast, so it was a pretty productive day when all was said and done!

Recommendations: Osceola and East Osceola make for a relatively short day, but there are a few tough sections going up to either mountain. The views are well worth it on Osceola, but I would mainly recommend the climb to people already familiar with 4000 footers (basically don’t make this someone’s first climb, otherwise, yeah, climb it – it’s a fun one to do for sure).

Views: East Osceola – 1; Osceola – 7

Difficulty: East Osceola – 6; Osceola – 5

Mt Garfield

 

After yet another long winter Andrew and I were tired of waiting and decided to go out for our first ever April climb.  The weeks leading up seemed to just drag along with us messaging different hiking plans back and forth almost every night.  Andrew arrived at my place in Chelsea the night before and we decided to go with none of the other ideas we discussed and hike Mt Garfield instead.  By the looks of things we figured a 10-12 mile day (depending on the parking situation) and a pretty gradual ascent seemed like the way to go.  All things considered we made our way up to the White Mountains pretty early leaving just after 6:00 a.m.  I had a general idea of where I was going although really I probably could’ve used a GPS, but the 5 seconds required to enter the coordinates seemed like far too much effort at the time.

We arrived at the Gale River Loop Road (after passing it) right around 9:00 a.m.  We realized we were going to have to add 2 miles to our day since the gate to the actual trailhead was still closed.  This was not much of a concern as a mile walk down a dirt road reminded us to walking down the AMR road near the Ausable Club in Keene Valley.  We would ultimately reach the trailhead after a quick 20 minute walk where we saw a nice map of the trail we would be taking.

 

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Trail Register for the Garfield Trail

 

 

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5 Miles to the summit

 

After checking out our route (which had already done the night before anyway) we began to make our way up the Garfield Trail.  We knew it was only going to be a quick 5 miles to reach the summit and by the looks of the contours on the map we did not expect the hike to be all that steep.  Surprisingly things were incredibly dry at the start with leftover foliage from last fall littering the trail and nothing else.  We were moving along pretty quickly until we came to our first stream crossing.

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With little to no trouble at all we made our way through that first stream crossing in the process hopping said stream in two places before heading up the trail again.  Still the trail conditions were dry and relatively flat as we made our way to yet another stream crossing which we expected to be the last one we would encounter on our ascent.  After yet again making our way through with little to no trouble we just kept on going.  We continued along for about 2 miles before finding a nice place to sit down and take a break.

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Andrew approaches another crossing

The break was short, just enough to catch our breath and intake a little nourishment.   The day the far had been a piece of cake with not much in the way of an incline, mud, or really any sort of obstacles so we were pretty happy, but also reserved with the though being something is eventually going to get in the way.  It wasn’t too long before that thought came to life in the form of winters unfortunate excrements scattered along the trail and surrounding areas

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sigh…

Facing what we knew had the potential to be a major nuisance the rest of the day we continued down the snowy trail with our snowshoes ready to go just in case.  We found ourselves walking on top of the snow with relative ease.  Assisting this was a nicely packed “monorail” a term I learned the night before reading various trail reports.  We continued our walk along the snow noticing that it was gradually getting deeper as our elevation increased.  The trail itself however was not overly steep as we began to approach the switchbacks we saw when looking at the map.  This portion of the trail reminded me of the Ridge Trail on the way to Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks with the zig-zagging along until reaching higher elevation versus just going straight up.  After navigating this portion we noticed the trees were beginning to thin out so we stopped to peak through the dwindling trees.

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Shortly after stopping we noticed the elevation gain was starting to get a little more rapid, making the traction on the bottom of my boots get a little less reliable.  It wasn’t too long before we noticed a little sign marking our location in relation to the summit and the campsite that is just .2 miles from said summit.

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Andrew and I continued along at no point post-holing but slipping a little more frequently with the steeper gradient.  Eventually we reached the trail junction for the Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit and the Garfield Ridge Tentsite.  We knew from here it was just under a quarter of a mile until we would reach our first summit of 2017.

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The sign was a little confusing as there was nothing that really just said Mt Garfield.   Fortunately common sense and the fact that we had already seen the map earlier we knew that we wanted to go towards Mt Lafayette as the summit of Garfield is along the same trail.  The last stretch was by far the most challenging part of our day.  The trail was steep and the snow was very slick and despite having snowshoes we did not really feel like putting them on for such a short distance.  In our typical fashion we were just winging it.  As we approached the summit I had begun to gain on Andrew and if not for me doing so we may have had a situation.  While trying to navigate the steepest portion of the trail Andrew lost all traction and began to slide down the mountain.  If not for me being there to break the momentum there wasn’t too much stopping him from sliding down another 75-100 feet through a bunch of trees.  Long story short we should have worn traction for this part.  Fortunately we broke through the snow and got to bare rock and from there it was just a quick easy walk to the summit of Mt Garfield.  Mt Garfield marked my 50th peak and for Andrew his 46th.  The views were spectacular offering a full 360 degrees of White Mountain wilderness to admire on top of a foundation of what used to be a fire tower.

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Nice Panorama looking towards Owls Head, Liberty, Flume, Lincoln & Lafayette

 

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Andrew On Garfield

 

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Enjoying my first ever April climb

 

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Nice panorama to the North of Garfield

After thoroughly enjoying the summit we decided to make our way down the mountain.  This time however we were not going to leave the traction devices on the pack.  Andrew affixed his microspikes to his boots and I did so with my snowshoes.  I liked this for a couple reasons, the first being it would certainly be safer than what we attempted going up and the second being we would get a nice comparison between the two.  Andrews spikes seemed to be the winner as he was able to get down much quicker than I wearing snowshoes although the teeth on the bottom of my shoes provided plenty of added friction in the snow.  After about a mile of hiking with the snow shoes I took them off as they were only slowing me down and we were well past the worst of what Garfield was going to throw at us.  We made our way down until we reached the end of the snow line and stopped to get a quick drink before making our way out.

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Andrew fuels up for the final push

 

 

At his point we reached that point we do in almost every hike where we just wanted to go full speed back to the trailhead.  That was just what we did stopping only when we reached the trailhead only slowing down to hop over the streams which were surprisingly not much higher than they were at the beginning of the day.  We walked back to the car feeling pretty good about the day with nothing more than some wet boots to fuss about.

Recommendation To Hikers:

Mt Garfield is about as easy a hike as I can remember as far as the trail conditions go.  If there wasn’t snow there wouldn’t really be anything to stop us.  Given the conditions we found out that traction devices would be highly advisable but even so the hike would have been plenty possible without them.  You really get the bang for your buck with a beautiful summit offering 360 degree views.

Mt Garfield:  Difficulty:  5 (3 without snow)  Views: 9