Mt. Garfield for Flags on the 48 and the JP Hiking Group's First 4K!
Flags on the 48 is an amazing event held annually to honor all of the lives lost in the tragic events of 9/11/2001. Every year groups of hikers summit the 48 4,000 footers and raise a flag for two hours to show our support for everyone affected. This event goes on rain or shine, and every single year there are hundreds of hikers that participate. I was part of the team that raised a flag on South Hancock last year, and it was such a great experience that I've been really looking forward to it since. I also just started JP Hikers, a hiking Facebook group for Jamaica Plain, the Boston neighborhood in which I reside. It's been growing steadily for the past few weeks, so I figured it was a good time for our first big hike! Feel free to join if you're in the Boston area (or even if you're not) for more info on our coming hikes.
The past few days were really tough for Lucy and me. My grandmother passed away on Thursday, Lucy struggled with some bad behavior on Friday, and I had my first big exam on Monday, so with all of that going on I was stressed to the max. I thought about cancelling this hike to try to get some studying done, but with everything going on I knew I needed the escape. Hiking has always been my best form of therapy. Whenever I'm stressed or feeling down, a nice long solo hike always has a way of making everything better. This hike was anything but solo, but it was nice to get out there and enjoy the day a bit.
I decided on Mt. Garfield for a few reasons. It was the first long group hike for JP Hikers, so I wanted to do something that was relatively easy since I wasn't completely sure about the group's hiking ability. I figured Garfield Tr was pretty tame, climbing at a very gradual incline until the last half mile. If anyone didn't feel comfortable, they had lots of time to realize it before we got to the final ascent to turn around. I hear the views on Mt. Garfield are pretty great as well, so we were hoping to see some of the other flags on the surrounding peaks. This plan worked out pretty perfectly with the only exception being the weather.
At the trailhead I was surprised to see that eight of us showed up for the hike yesterday. The forecasts weren't looking good with rain and high winds and though I thought that would deter some people, we had a big group! I've never hiked with more than one or two people before, so I knew trying to keep track of so many people in the wilderness would be a challenge. I also had Lucy with me, and although I love hiking with her, she's an additional source of stress added when I'm hiking. That being said after a quick gear check we all hit the trail in good spirits around 9:15.
The first portion of Garfield trail was a cushy dirt path with lots of pine needles. The ground was almost bouncy beneath my feet making for a great warm up to get our legs going. I love these wooded paths because they're such a contrast from the rocky granite climbs I associate with the Whites. After a mile or so we graduated to a rocky riverbed like trail that lasted almost the entire way up to the final summit climb. It was full of little ankle breaking rocks, making it difficult on the ankles.
One of the members of the group was having a little trouble and decided to turn back at this point. Usually I would be opposed to this since the rule is to start and finish a hike with everyone in the group together, but with his extensive experience in the Whites and appropriate gear we all decided that it would be okay as long as he was communicating with us. He had also driven one of the other members of the group, so he planned to hang out and wait for her before leaving. I knew that we would see him again before the end of the day, so it made me a bit more comfortable letting him turn back on his own.
Setting up group hikes is a whole different animal than just hiking solo or with friends. There are so many unknowns when hiking with people you've never met or hiked with before. It's great to meet new people and have new hiking buddies, but sometimes it can be difficult to balance a group with many people. Eight people is hands down the most I've ever hiked with before and I have no experience leading group hikes, so I anticipate it being a bit of a challenge going forward. Luckily, there are many people in the JP Hikers group with much more experience leading than me, so I think they'll be a great resource for me in the coming months.
After an ankle breaking rock section that seemed to last forever, we finally got to the part of the trail that was a typical White Mountain experience. The rocky granite boulders were easy to climb over, not requiring use of our hands at all. It was still pretty gradual until we got to the sign marking the junction of Garfield Ridge Tr. The weather had been deteriorating throughout the hike, with the temperature dropping into the 40s and cold raindrops falling here and there. All we could see at the junction was thick clouds above us, and we could hear the wind howling at the summit. Right at noon we heard loud cracking and flapping noises coming from above. It was no doubt the flag being raised, so I got really excited! The noise was louder than I expected, sounding like stones being thrown down the rocky face at the summit.
From there we started the quick climb up the summit cone. It was a bit steep, but the footing was good and the rocks were placed so that the step up was never higher than waist level. Lucy had no trouble at all, hopping up on the rocks excitedly. The rain had freaked her out a bit, but now it seemed like she was used to it. We only stayed at the summit for a minute or two, but unfortunately the flagpole broke before we had a chance to see the stars and stripes flying. Luckily a fellow hiker sent me some pictures afterwards so that we could see the flag up and in all of its glory. We had a quick moment of silence, minus the howling wind, to remember everyone who lost their lives in the tragic events of 9/11.
As we descended alongside the team that brought the flag, I was secretly a little sad that I hadn't signed up to be part of the team this year. Hiking up for the memorial was incredibly humbling, but I missed really being a part of it like I was last year. Next year I will definitely sign up to help carry up a flag! The descent was the same as the ascent, but it went by slowly it felt like. That excited anticipation that motivates you to climb up the mountain and reach the summit is gone, but with the trail being relatively tame it wasn't unpleasant. We met back up with the man we had been hiking with earlier and finished the descent with him before meeting at Black Mountain Burger Company in Lincoln for lunch.
It was another great hike in the Whites despite the difficult conditions. Unfortunately, I still haven't seen any views on Garfield after this hike, but I'd say that the first JP Hikers 4,000 footer hike was a success! It was great hike with some new friends and a very important day to summit a 4,000 footer. Flags on the 48 is an amazing cause and I'm super excited to hike for Flags again next year.
Mt. Garfield (4,500 ft) for Flags on the 48 via Garfield Tr and Garfield Ridge Tr [10.18 mi, 3100 ft, 6:10].