Monday, July 16, 2007

Secluded Hawthorne Falls

It has been a humid summer up here at Galehead, which makes cool clear days all the more coveted for hiking. On one such day a couple weeks ago, George Heinrichs, one of our first-year croo, and I took off for Hawthorne Falls, another beautiful destination in the Whites that is inaccessible by trail.

From Galehead, we hiked west along the Garfield Ridge Trail to its junction with the Franconia Brook Trail, which cuts south into the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Here, we took a right (north) into the underbrush. Skirting beneath Garfield’s summit cone, we entered a ravine which eventually drains into the Gale River.

What with a rainy week, the ferns and moss were exceptionally verdant. After a half-mile or so, we dropped into a small canyon fed by a cascade at one end. From here until the falls, we kept to the stream bed and its banks—the sides were steep, and indeed the vegetation, still mostly balsam fir at this elevation, was dense and prickly. The stream’s descent is quick and spectacular on a small-scale. Chains of cascades, even small waterfalls, are interspersed with clear and calm pools. Wide ledges, hinting at much greater flow in springtime, made for surprisingly easy walking, though the steepness of a few drops slowed our progress and made for a few scrapes.

The landscape reminded me of southwest New Zealand. While rain levels around here do not approach that of a true temperate rain forest, it is decidedly wet at higher elevations. As I tell guests who come on my Mountain Weather program, it isn’t simply bad luck that hikers so often find themselves in the clouds up here. As mountains push air masses up and over their flanks, the colder temperatures associated with higher elevations cause the moisture in the air to condense into clouds and, if the dew point is reached, rain.

The original Gale River Trail (it now runs to the hut) ran past Hawthorne Falls on its way to the trail junction below Garfield. At some point in the mid-twentieth century, however, it reverted to woods. The Hurricane of ’38 likely had something to with the AMC’s decision. What is now the Gale River Trail was originally the Galehead Trail, but for reasons which again elude me, it was renamed after the original Gale River Trail was discontinued. There were several other trails near Galehead (one ran up the west ridge of North Twin from the current Gale River Trail) which also reverted to woods. In many ways, the Galehead area is a good wilder than it was 75 years ago.

We found no trace of the old trail on that trip, though George, who has been back since, says he spotted some faint traces of it on his subsequent visit. We left plenty of tracks behind us, unfortunately. The luxuriant moss was impossible to avoid—a fragile reminder of how easily we disturb the wild solitude of a mountain landscape.

Hawthorne Falls itself was well worth the visit. While its volume of water is not great, the falls are taller than I expected, perhaps forty feet high. They are flanked by a series of steep granite ledges, making entrance to the amphitheatre at their foot difficult. But from the bottom, we could gaze up at the layers of flow and the play of the sunlight on the drifting mist.

The entire trip probably took only four or five hours. Shortly beyond the Falls, on our way to the intersection between our brook with the Gale River, we stopped for lunch on a wide, sunny ledge. We were stretched out to soak up the sun, having polished off some cheese, pepperoni, and crackers, when two middle-aged fellows wielding hiking poles slowly emerged from the woods downstream. After a quiet but friendly exchange, they passed on, seeking the falls. I had thought bushwhacking the most sure way of finding solitude, but I am finding that in the Whites, even the most remote features have their visitors.

1 comment:

Dean Goss said...

Nice! I've had my eye on Hawthorne for a long time, but between wife, kid, dogs, and work, I don't get out as much as I did when I was single. Funny how that is...

Dean Goss