Cowboys on Mt. Garfield

Cowboy camping on Mt. Garfield.

Kite flying on South Twin.

This is what happens when plans change several times over a period of 24 hours and expectations are left behind. I’m not naturally one to let go of expectations, subconsciously or consciously. But this trip turned out to challenge my status quo in a great way!

My dear friends Richard and Chris and I had put a two-night backpacking trip in our calendars months before. Unforeseen circumstances meant Chris wouldn’t join us, so Richard and I made the last minute decision to reroute to the White Mountains in New Hampshire instead of the Bigelows in Maine. We both wanted a relaxing, somewhat low mileage weekend – pretty different from the norm for either of us. We ended up with another unforgettable weekend in the nearby Whites, which are never to be underestimated.

Richard and I left Boston mid-afternoon, hit some traffic, housed some burgers, and pulled into the Mt. Garfield trailhead at dusk. We had about 5 miles to hike in and we weren’t positive where we’d stay: maybe the Garfield Ridge Tentsite, or maybe a stealth spot that Richard knew. All we knew was that we’d be in the dark for most of it. After watching the sky all around us turn all shades of orange, coral, magenta, and violet, we hiked quietly for a few hours, our headlamps creating narrow tunnels of light before us. A cut-through to the stealth site beckoned and we took it, only to lose the trail about 10 minutes in. There were several downed trees and the unmaintained trail simply disappeared. We had a few Blair-witchy moments where we tried to find the trail again. We got turned around and lost our direction for a bit, but we also knew we were oh-so-close to being able to take out our tents and finally rest. Though reticent, we decided to backtrack and head up towards the tentsite. That trail brought us close to the summit of Garfield, and we decided a quick spur was worth it since there was a completely clear sky above.

At the top of the summit, which we reached around 10pm, we got one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. The moon hung low to the west, a neon red sickle about to descend below the horizon. The milky way was glowing brightly overhead. The big dipper loomed mightily to the north. Several planets greeted us with their blue, white, and red sparkling light. It was too good to pass up this quiet, peaceful respite with a view of the heavens. We ended up cowboy camping: We set up sleeping bags inside the foundation walls of an old fire tower, cooked up a late dinner, had a little whiskey, and found joy in reliving our days of Earth Science classes as we picked out all the constellations and planets we could.

Scotch & leftover Five Guys is the perfect reward for hours of hiking in the dark.

Waking up on the summit to a clear, crisp morning was incredible. I got out of my sleeping bag and stood up just in time to see the sun cresting over the ridge a few miles away, which we would go on to hike later that day. To the south, the Pemigewasset Wilderness stretched out before me and the Franconia Ridge’s sharp peaks loomed to the west.

White Mountain Sunrise

We had breakfast and chatted with some AT thru hikers from all over the country. We took our time. It was wonderful not to have to get up, rush to pack, and get moving.

Breakfasting with new friends

My perch for some morning reading and coffee, with a view of the Franconia Ridge

Pemigewasset Wilderness & Owl’s Head behind us.

Eventually, we got moving. We carried our packs down to the Garfield Ridge Tentsite, left them there, packed our day packs, and headed out towards the Galehead Hut. We figured we would do some day hikes and then head back to the tentsite or the summit again for our second night. It was refreshing not to do a standard backpacking trip and I loved moving swiftly and unencumbered through the trails. Once we got to Galehead Hut, we quickly summited Galehead Mountain, which is one of NH’s 4,000 fters but has no view from the summit. When Richard declared, “We’re here!” I actually thought he was joking. But it was great to tick another one off my list!

Back down to the hut we went, and we decided to lounge in the sun on the hut’s grounds as long as we wanted. There were plenty of other hikers taking breaks, rehydrating, and chatting. It felt a little like free time at summer camp. We each picked out spots on the porch or rocks and I’m pretty sure we both fell asleep in the sun for a bit. Once we had a good rest, we decided to take on South Twin. It’s 0.8 miles to the top from the hut, but the grade is incredibly steep. It’s my favorite kind of trail! Richard ran it (!) and I trotted behind. At the top, we reconnected and ended up meeting a group of men, one of whom was flying a kite, which he does atop every mountain he climbs. He gave us each a turn with it – a very unexpected addition to the day.

Resting after running up South Twin

Kite flying on a mountaintop

At the top of South Twin. The peak by my left elbow is the Garfield summit, where we camped both nights!

We headed back towards Garfield and arrived there in time to catch a magnificent sunset.

Sunset & Franconia Ridge

We also met a few new friends at the top. One was a through-hiker named Avocado who shared the fire tower remains with us that night. The other two guys were from Somerville and didn’t camp at the top, but stayed and hung out for a couple hours. Dinners were cooked. Whiskey was shared. We stood in awe of the beauty of the fading day.

Although every picture here so far is from the top of a mountain, there was, of course, plenty of time on the trail, too.

This trip marked my 11th, 12th, and 13th 4,000 footers in NH. And though the fall is truly upon us now, I hope to sneak in a few more before the year is up.

I love living in the city and the opportunities it affords me, but weekends like this revive and restore me. It was my first time cowboy camping and my first time hiking more than a mile or so in the dark. I’m grateful for crazy friends to adventure with and the way unexpected changes in plans can sometimes work out better than you could ever imagine.

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