I wanted one last New Hampshire 4000-footer before turning my attention towards my Adirondack Winter 46-er climbs (given that by the next time I go hiking, it'll probably be officially winter). Pu was interested in joining us, and made a clear request for some open, alpine hiking. I hummed and hawwed, and eventually settled on either Mount Flume or Mount Garfield. I'd try and combine either of those with a little bit of alpine hiking in the spectacular Franconia group.
I eventually settled on Garfield, and plotted a fairly ambitious hike involving both the summits of Lafayette and Garfield. Either we'd do it as a there-and-back, or we'd follow a loop route that I'd seen documented on the net.
We waited for the best possible weather (which turned out to be Sunday, December 10), and headed off up the Skookumchuck trail at a good and early 5:30am. A goodly amount of fresh snow had just fallen, and, after a couple of very cold days, the temperature had moderated. It wasn't too cold at the trailhead.
We trudged up under headlamplight, making good time. Pu and Jenn had an unscheduled 20-minute break when I discovered that I'd lost my brand new hiking pole, and waited while I jogged back to find it (which I did, fortunately). We made our way up the steepening Skookumchuck trail, opting for snowshoes when the snow reached a marginal but sufficient enough depth for them (many people had been barebooting it; we chose to switch to 'shoes to get more grip on the steep trail and to groom the newly snow-covered trail.
It dawned clear and beautiful, and, as we got higher, we could hear that it was windy up above. We got a couple of glimpses of Lafayette's north summit, and we decided to summit it first before atttempting Garfield.
Upper Skookumchuck junction
We reached treeline just as we got to the end of the Skookumchuck trail, as it intersects with the main ridge trail running north from Lafayette. The wind was much fiercer than it appeared from below, and we quickly donned many protective layers, including full face coverings. Since we were coming back this way after the summit of Lafayette, we decided to stash our packs here at the junction. The exposed terrain had also had most of its snow cover blown away, so we also left our snowshoes behind.
The ascent was challenging! Although the weather was beautifully clear and sunny, the wind was somewhere between the level of a strong gale and storm force (somewhere in the range of 50 to 70 mph, or 80 to 110km/hr), with perhaps stronger gusts at times. It was tricky to find footing on the bouldery terrain when the wind was pushing you all over the place. It was a wild and exciting, though, and added to the alpine feel. Views in all directions were fabulous: we had an excellent view of Garfield, the Bonds, Cannon Mountain, the Kinsmans, and the distance Presidentials.
The 1/2 mile ridgewalk to the summit of Lafayette took quite a while, given our stumbling around in the wind. Occasionally, we'd find a little sheltered pocket out of the wind, and we marvelled at how nice and pleasant it was in these spots.
Distant Northern Presidentials
We arrived at Lafayette's summit and quickly exchanged congratulations. However, with the wind shrieking and spindrift flying past, we weren't going to dally around and have a pleasant food break up here!
The walk back down to the junction was just as challenging as the way up. If anything, the blowing snow from the wind seemed a little worse, and everyone had to walk 'slanted' against the wind, which was blowing perpendicularly against us. You may notice a few shots of Jenn where her parka seems to be dented. That's no dent - that's the wind!