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Garfield Ridge Campsite, NH
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 6:45pm by Andrew
8 miles and 8 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay
I woke up this morning feeling awful - sore throat, congested sinuses, runny nose – the symptoms of my allergies that I am all too familiar with at this point. This wound up being a nuisance that plagued me for the next few days of our trip. Nik and I both woke up at one point in the night because of rain coming down on the tent that was making an incredibly loud noise – much louder than you’d expect to hear from rain. We both acknowledged the rain, acknowledged the fact that our hiking clothes were outside getting soaked, yet still did nothing about it, dozing peacefully back to sleep. However, come morning we were both pleasantly surprised to find our clothes perfectly dry. “Wow, that synthetic material really dries fast,” I thought to myself. We later found out from one of the caretakers at a shelter that it wasn’t rain pattering on the tent that woke us, but actually golf ball-sized hail, thus explaining both the mysteriously dry clothes and the unusually loud noise as balls of ice hit the roof of the Big Agnes.
We woke up at 6:30 with the alarm on Nik’s watch, stepped outside the tent, and found ourselves standing inside a cloud. Looking out from the platform through a clearing in the trees, we couldn’t see much more than 30 meters ahead. We quickly gathered our food from our pathetic bear-bag and started cooking breakfast – a few cups of French-pressed coffee and some oatmeal left us full of energy and ready to hit the trail. However, somehow between waking up, taking some pictures, cooking and eating breakfast, and packing our bags we allowed 2 hours to pass – it was now 8:30. Getting ready quickly in the morning is something we will need to work on in the future.
The climb wasn’t too bad this morning and we were up on Franconia Ridge in no time. Unfortunately, the overcast skies we woke up to had not yet cleared, and the theoretically stunning views from the ridge were completely blanked out. The winds were extremely strong as we continued along the ridge over Mt. Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette. The combo of the strong winds and the heavy packs made balancing on rocky sections somewhat difficult, yet much easier than it would have been had we not been using trekking poles. For the duration of our hike on top of the ridge, we wore pretty much the warmest clothing we had – long pants, fleece, jacket, hat and gloves. Once we descended the ridge we were surprised at how warm it was without the wind. We quickly shed some layers, ate some gorp, and continued on. Within 20 minutes of hiking below tree-line, the clouds cleared and the sun was shining – what unfortunate timing.
We ate our lunch at the base of Garfield Mountain in attempt to fuel up before starting another steep climb. The climb was painful and tiresome, but well worth the amazing 360 degree panoramic view we got from the top. The entire post-lunch section of trail climbing Garfield was beautiful, as was the weather. It’s amazing how clear the sky was and how far we could see given the cloudy conditions we had this morning. We soaked in the gorgeous view for a good hour or so – relaxing, eating gorp, studying the map, etc. We were even able to identify Camel’s Hump in the very far distance, by its unique shape. This mountain is the highest undeveloped mountain in Vermont, and was our first climb on our trip on the Long Trail last summer.
I was fortunate to snag a few Claritin capsules from a nice couple who we met at the top who faced similar allergy problems as I did. It turned out to be their first overnight backpacking trip, and as far as I could tell the girl wasn’t too keen on it. I could’ve probably guessed that it was their first trip 2 minutes into the conversation by the shin-high, black, leather army boots the guy was sporting, and his question asking us if we had any ideas how they could heat up their soup they were planning on eating for dinner. I guess they didn’t think to bring a camping stove.
We pushed on another ½ mile and headed down to Garfield Ridge Campsite, passing our first sighting of snow and ice along the northside of the mountain. The campsite looked nice, and we were both kind of tired so we decided to call it a day and relax, rather than push on another 2.6 miles to Galehead Shelter. We scouted out the area and found a lean-to, 3 tent platforms right next to each other, and then another 2 more private ones that were designated as “Large Group Sites”. These were by far the nicest, so we decided to take our chances. Being that it was only 4:00 at this point, we lounged around for a while in the sun before setting up the tent, hanging a clothesline, and cooking dinner. Our camping area was very luxurious with one platform designated as our “Cooking Platform” and the other as our “Sleeping Platform”. We both felt kind of guilty as we walked past the other platforms on our way to the water spring and found 3 groups larger than us, crammed onto the 3 platforms right next to each other. Oops. We didn’t want to say anything as they had probably assumed that we were a “large group” given the excessive amount of clothing and other crap we had lying around.
Tonight’s dinner was macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately the powdered cheese that required milk didn’t taste nearly as good with just water. Nonetheless, we were hungry enough that anything would have tasted good.
After dinner we cleaned up, and set the goal to be in bed really early – as the sun was setting so that headlamps wouldn’t even be necessary. We had a good 30 minutes before sunset to get everything packed up before bed. There was only one thing that could stand in our way – the bear-bag. And it nearly did. Tonight’s bear-bagging episode was by far the biggest fiasco we’ve had yet. It was ridiculous, and the hilarity probably cannot be summed up in words, but hopefully in combination with the included picture you can get an accurate feel of the episode. It started with a classic debate about whether we actually needed a bear-bag, to which I argued that there was no downside. We expected a visit from the caretaker at some point and we figured we could ask him if it would be necessary, but we decided to just go ahead and do it anyway. We spotted the branch – about 20 feet up in a spruce tree that was unfortunately surrounded by many other smaller branches that could potentially get in the way of our line. We needed a weight on the end of the rope – Nik’s flint fire starter seemed to do the trick. I gave it a nice hard toss and we both watched in awe as the flint soared perfectly over the desired branch, came to an abrupt hault (because I happened to be standing on the line), and then, to our misfortune, spun about 10 times around the desired branch (as well as within and amongst the smaller surrounding branches) until it became unbelievably tangled and knotted – impossible to yank down. We both stared for a minute, wondering what we should do next. Nik came up with the idea of using the extra rope we had dangling down at the platform to tie his trekking poles together, so that we would then have one larger pole that would be long enough to poke at the dangling piece of flint until it unwrapped so we could pull it down. I had no better idea, so we went ahead with it. In retrospect, the plan was pretty stupid and obviously flawed for many reasons. After using the extra rope to tie the two poles together as best we could, we started jabbing at the flint, but every time the extended pole hit something of substance they collapsed. Even if we had attached the poles together firmly, there’s no way we would’ve been able to un-do the knot that had formed up in the tree. We felt pretty stupid stabbing at a dangling piece of flint 20 feet up in a tree with a pair of trekking poles tied together. I couldn’t imagine what the caretaker would’ve thought had he seen this. The sun had now set, and we couldn’t believe that we were going to be stuck bear bagging in the dark again. Eventually Nik decided that there was no other option than to scale the tree and untangle the thing by hand. As he began climbing very flimsy-looking dead branches in his fluorescent orange long johns, I suggested that he do the job as quickly as possible as I couldn’t imagine that the caretaker would be very pleased if he saw this fiasco. He managed to get within an arms-reach of the the tangled mess and began his job of untangling. He realized that he needed the other end of the rope to pass through the knot in order to get the untangling job done. As he began to pull the rope up and get ready to situate the line over the correct branch, I saw a pair of trekking poles tied together being pulled up as well. SHIT! We had forgotten to untie them from our first attempt. I quickly start yanking at the line madly trying to undo the knot holding together these trekking poles so that Nik could pull the line up and get out of his precarious position up in the tree before the caretaker came. Unfortunately this knot wasn’t easily undone and it took a good 5 minutes with my Leatherman before I was finally able to free the line for Nik, who was still balancing up in the tree. Finally, the line was untangled and set up, and Nik was able to climb down and the bear-bag was able to be hoisted up. Even so it was only 2 feet or so away from the trunk of the tree, and any determined bear would’ve laughed at us as it took our food, but we didn’t care.
We were ready for bed. Fortunately the caretaker never came, so we were saved from the embarrassment of trying to explain our actions. We quickly crawled into the tent, making it in just before dark. While we were both pissed at the time, we quickly realized the hilarity of the episode and shared a good laugh about it before hitting the sack.
Garfield Ridge Campsite location map