Hiking Garfield and Galehead in Winter
Hike Date: February 21, 2021
For our longest winter hike yet, we did a 17+ mile loop over Mt. Garfield and Galehead Mountain on a cold February day.
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at the West end of Gale River Loop Road|
|1.2 mi||1.2 mi||Gale River Loop Road to Garfield Trailhead|
|4.8 mi||6 mi||Garfield Trail to Garfield Ridge Trail|
|0.2 mi||6.2 mi||Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit of Mt. Garfield|
|2.9 mi||9.1 mi||Garfield Ridge Trail to Galehead Hut|
|0.4 mi||9.5 mi||Frost Trail to the summit of Galehead Mountain|
|0.4 mi||9.9 mi||Frost Trail back to Galehead Hut|
|0.6 mi||10.5 mi||Garfield Ridge Trail back to Gale River Trail|
|4.2 mi||14.7 mi||Gale River Trail down to Gale River Loop Road|
|2.3 mi||17 mi||Gale River Loop Road back to parking area|
On a chilly February day, we set off to complete the longest winter hike we’ve ever done. This route was long, but with only about 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 17.2 miles, it was a perfect “mild” hike to start upping our mileage. Since the roads to the trailheads are not plowed in winter, this route added over 3 miles of flat road walking. At 8am, we parked at the west end of Gale River Loop Road. There is a small parking area before the gated road, closed in winter, and we’ve heard that people also park along Rt. 3. We threw on our snowshoes and began the 1.2 mile road walk to Garfield Trailhead. The road walking was easy. We moved quickly, turned left onto a snowmobile road and then saw the trailhead on our right.
The majority of the 4.8 mile trail leading up to Garfield was surprisingly gentle. There were incredibly long and gradual switchbacks (a rarity in the White Mountains), allowing us to really get into a walking rhythm. Throughout the entire ascent, we were blown away by the marshmallow-esque trees, the snow glimmering in the sunlight, and the rays of sunshine streaming through the trees. Every time the wind blew, powdery snow fell from the branches, showering us with shimmering snowflakes.
Before we knew it, we came to a trail juncture and turned right on Garfield Ridge Trail to hike 0.2 miles to the summit. This last short stretch was very steep, but the televators on our snowshoes helped with the traction and balance. When we got to the top, we found the summit completely socked in. Garfield usually has incredible views of the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness, as we’ve seen during our Pemi Loops. But, alas, mother nature had other plans on this day and the clouds stayed put. Knowing we had many more miles to hike, we turned around and headed back to the trail juncture and continued on the Garfield Ridge Trail, part of the Appalachian Trail, to Galehead Hut.
The 2.9 mile section between the juncture and Galehead Hut was definitely less-traveled, but not less beautiful. After a quick steep descent off Garfield, which we butt slid down much of, we came to an undulating trail covered in thick, powdery snow. The boughs of the trees were laden with snow, making us duck underneath branches left and right. We did not pass a single soul in this section and relished the silence of the woods. About a mile away from Galehead Hut, there was a clearing in the trees and we could see both Galehead Mountain and the hut through the clouds in front of us. It is a mild climb, but after about 10 miles, our legs were absolutely fatigued. Slowing down a bit, we were relieved to get to the trail juncture for Gale River Trail which we passed and continued the last 0.6 miles to Galehead Hut. When we got to Galehead Hut the sun was just starting to peek out from the clouds. Basking in the tiny bit of glow, we had a snack, dropped our packs at the hut, and made the quick 0.4 mile ascent to Galehead.
Just before the summit, we stopped at an overlook with views of the hut and South Twin. We spent little time at the actual Galehead summit since it is rather underwhelming, just a cutout in the woods. From there, we knew it was all downhill for the rest of the day! We descended back to Galehead Hut where we were pleasantly surprised with blue skies and sun shining.
After another quick snack, we grabbed our packs and made our way back to Gale River Trail for the hike out. The first two miles were moderately downhill and the last two miles were relatively flat and monotonous. Once we emerged from the woods, we turned left out of the unplowed parking lot and headed up the unplowed road. After almost 15 miles of hiking, this section felt very long. Snowmobilers passed us as we hugged the side of the road, lumbering along. Passing Mt. Garfield trailhead, we knew we had about 1.2 miles left, and most of it would be off of the snowmobile road. When we got to our car at about 4pm, we realized we were the last ones hiking out. At the end of a long day, we felt incredibly proud of this 17+ mile winter hike! We celebrated hiking our 26th and 27th winter NH 4000 footers and started immediately planning our next big winter adventure.