Twins, Zealand, Hale Loop + Galehead

Overdoing it for the the foliage peeps

Peaks
North Twin (4761ft), South Twin (4902ft), Galehead (4024ft), Zealand (4260ft), Hale (4054ft)
Trailhead
N Twin Trail
Trails
N Twin, N Twin Spur, Twinway, Frost, Lend-a-Hand, Fire Warden's Trail
Total Distance
20.8 miles, 7,036ft elevation gain
Time
Start: 9:00am, 10:30 Round Trip
Weather
Cool and crisp, foggy higher up
Trail Conditions
Dry trail covered in damp leaves (trail confetti) at lower elevations
Partners in Crime
Cody + Rye
Yellow forest on the trail up to Mount Hale
Yellow forest on the trail up to Mount Hale

When our weekend commitments suddenly got cancelled at 10pm on Friday night, we both over-enthusiastically jumped for this epic day in the northern Pemigawasset. We considered the holiday weekend during peak leaf peeping, and this loop fit the bill: a long day through what promised to be some colorful trees, off the beaten path and chose to ignore the fact that we were still recovering from a 50k and Cody was sick. So we packed our headlamps, acknowledging there was no way for us to finish before sun down, and went off for a full day in the mountains.

North Twin trail starts off very easy and wide through the woods along a flowing river. We passed a couple groups of backpackers, as we would see constantly throughout our hike. Unlike last time we hiked this trail last summer, we remembered to stay to the left of the river to avoid crossing back and forth several times. This time of year though, the water wasn’t so high, so we didn’t risk getting our feet very wet anyways.

After crossing the river, the trail climbs steadily all the way to the summit of North Twin. We passed through the layer of just-past-their-prime-color forest and into evergreens for most of the rest of the day. Though the weather claimed clear skies, we didn’t get too much of a view from the top as fog cloaked the forests below. On we pushed through green mossy forest to exposed South Twin for the first of two times this day. The second ascent would be much more punishing.

Foliage on North Twin Trail
Foliage on North Twin Trail

Though this loop could be fun/done without a trip down 1100 feet in 0.8 miles to Galehead Hut, we were set on our big plans, so down we hobbled, boulder to boulder, trying not to think about retracing our steps back up. Plus, the hut promised hot soup on this grey day. We had our comforting camp bowls of $2 hut soup — potato dill, plus some punch and a peach coffee cake (god bless the AMC huts). I had a funny exchange with this 11 year old boy who threw some shade at me ordering two bowls of soup. “Two soups?!” “Well, they’re not both for me…” I caught myself justifying my order to him, but I stopped myself. “Even if I were ordering both for myself, I’ve earned it hiking several mountains so far!” So judgemental. We ended up hiking up Galehead with Whistle and his 11 year old companion, Teal, who were on their 38th 4000 footer. They ran up ahead of us to the summit with gusto.

We took our time enjoying the views of the Pemigawasset wilderness down below from the lookout halfway up to the summit, said hi to some Grey Jays, saw the summit cairn, then headed back down to the hut, and onward back up the character building climb to South Twin. This was my third time making this climb, and I dread it less and less each time, but I do find myself muttering my HTFU mantra to get up there.

At this point, we could have made the decision to just head back down North Twin Trail and call it good. The arch of my left foot was complaining with each step, and Cody’s right knee that was hurting during the Vermont 50 was firing back up. But no; the good dry cool weather and the promise of more peaks and foliage to come blinded us to Good Sense and we pushed on down the gentle trail to Guyot. We passed a truly bizarre scene of guys throwing a tiny football around in the thick fog on the broad summit of Guyot, then back into the forest we went, where we would stay for the rest of our hike.

Foliage by Zealand Hut
Foliage by Zealand Hut

I always forget how long the down goes on to Zealand. I banked on the rest of the hike feeling easier than the first half given we’d done the majority of our tough climbing, but I was wrong. It was the down that really hurt. But we made it, and when we were finally nearing Zealand Hut and the turn onto Lend-a-Hand, we were reinvigorated by the explosion of color, leaves raining on the trail like confetti in the breeze. Lend-a-Hand offered a change of pace with a long steady climb and multiple false summits. Cody (in front) spotted a bull and a cow moose running through the woods and let me know just in time to see the huge antlers disappearing in a flurry of leaves. My second moose spotting in the Whites! ((Read about the other one here)).

We powered up as fast as we could, but daylight had just about run out by the time we reached the view-less summit of Mount Hale. We were disappointed we wouldn’t be hiking down the forested Fire Warden’s trail in the light, but by the time we finally got into the deciduous trees, we realized most of the trees had lost their leaves anyways. We hiked for what seemed like hours slowly through the darkening woods, trying not to twist ankles or further hurt our aching joints, Rye following me closely with her little orange light on. The last push out of the woods back on wide and sandy North Twin trail felt lovely with no more down or up and a straight shot back to our car. Even Rye was exhausted, trotting slowly behind me all the way down.

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