The New Hampshire Appalachian Trail from Mt. Garfield to Mt. Guyot features views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness you’ll lose your train of thought in, along with calorie-busting terrain to make amends for that last trip to Five Guys & Fries. In other words, par for the course. Let’s begin this AT adventure at the intersection of the Garfield Trail and the Garfield Ridge Trail:
From here those heading north will descend a rock staircase for .2 of a mile before reaching the side trail to the Garfield Ridge Shelter. This shelter is a good one with a fairly new two-level lean-to and seven tent platforms. As with the other designated camping sites in this region, there’s an AMC guest fee of $8 and it can get overcrowded, especially on weekends and holidays. Not to worry, though. Go into it with the expectation of meeting new friends and the caretaker will find a place to squeeze you in.
The shelter’s water source is an excellent stream located at the side trail’s AT intersection. Any NoBos considering filling up at the small pond on the ascent of Garfield should hold off until here if possible. Same goes for the SoBos who will cross at least one unappetizing stream on the way up.
Going north from the shelter the AT descends several steep rock pile ledges. Exercise caution here as the rocks are often wet from a trickling stream. After this the trail eases up for a stretch passing the Franconia Brook Trail intersection.
There are a couple of open ledges prior to reaching the Gale River Trail with scenic views. If you look closely at the photo below, the Galehead Hut is visible in the saddle between the mountains.
The approach to the Galehead Hut is a rugged but (relatively speaking) pleasant climb, the surrounding forest a natural homage to Kermit’s favorite color.
The Galehead Hut is worth a visit for a snack break, a refill of fresh water, and, of course, more scenic views of the Pemigewassett Wilderness. The wall shown here is South Twin Mountain and The Twinway traverse to Mt. Guyot.
My stay at the Hut was just long enough to snap a few photos. In hindsight I wish I’d hit the pause button and rested a bit, and I highly recommend that any NoBos do so here. On paper the climb from the Galehead Hut to South Twin Mountain, the opening act to The Twinway trail, is only .8 of a mile. In reality you’re going to need to snap into a Slim Jim.
This mere .8 of a mile gains 1,122 feet in elevation. What’s more, the trail composition is a motley collection of rocks and boulders ascending straight up the mountain. Upon starting the climb I met a hiker on his way down who said, “It just never ends. You think it’s almost over, but the rocks keep coming.”
I took what he had to say with a grain of salt. He was coming down, after all, which can often take longer when climbing over large rocks, especially late in the day when legs are tired and joints sore. Plus, in a masochistic way, I often enjoy these stretches of trail. The rocks are fun and the rapid elevation gain means I’m reaching the top faster. In theory, anyway.
About half-way up I met a Katahdin SoBo who greeted me with, “Dude, you’re going the wrong way.” Coming from someone who’d just completed the most difficult state on the Appalachian Trail, and was well on his way to conquering the second toughest, this wasn’t the good type of foreshadowing. As it was my opinion on the ascent was already beginning to sway. By the time I got close to the top my leg muscles were cramping with each step. In fairness this may also have had something to do with my pre-hike conditioning program, which consisted of no real hiking since the end of February.
The South Twin Mountain summit was ample reward for the effort. In fact, it may offer the best 360 degree view of any peak in the White Mountains. The photo above shows the scenery to the north, looking over Crawford Notch, Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. Not to be outdone, the southern view shown below presents the Franconia Ridge and its collection of pointed peaks for aesthetic wonderment.
In between there’s only the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Ho. Hum. In terms of hiking highs, the South Twin summit is akin to a ten year old without parental supervision in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
The traverse from South Twin to Mt. Guyot ducks back into the trees and is fairly easy going for a ways before emerging onto a rocky stretch in the open. Two miles from the South Twin summit is an intersection that can be deceiving. The Appalachian Trail turns left at this junction and ascends the slightly covered north Guyot summit while the Bondcliff Trail continues straight across the open south summit.
What’s tricky is the Bondcliff Trail is actually more heavily travelled, which could be misleading to someone not reading the signs carefully. The Bondcliff Trail is the correct direction for AT hikers looking to stay at the Guyot Shelter. In this case follow the Bondcliff Trail over south Guyot and down into the woods for .8 of a mile to the shelter side trail, which descends .2 of a mile further to the campsite.
The Guyot Shelter equals the Garfield Shelter in popularity. I arrived around 6 PM and the tent platforms were all taken, leaving overflow tenting and the shelter. In hopes of saving time in the morning I chose the shelter. It officially sleeps fourteen, but we had seventeen in it that night—two people were staying outside on the deck—along with two dogs.