Garfield and Galehead on the busiest day of the last decade – Sept. 11, Day 8

(This is the third of four short Trip Reports from last weekend’s campaign. We’re breaking down each day into a separate report so our friends at TrailsNH can more easily tag each individual hike. Enjoy!)

Cliffs of Garfield: The enormous bulk of Owl's Head Mountain rises in the center of the Pemi Loop. We'll be there sometime in the next two weeks.


Thousands descended (or ascended) the mountains this day to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9-11. Flags on the 48 is an annual tradition in the hiker community that has grown in strength since that day ten years ago. Teams of hikers (or in some cases non-hikers) fly flags atop each of the 48 from noon until two as a commemoration of those lost on 9.11.

There were firemen and policemen who climbed in sneakers and jeans. There were vets who dug out their old external packs and military logos who quietly dignified the memories of those lost. There were construction workers in work boots and union tees. There were packs of young hikers, who themselves may have been 5 or 6 years old in 2001. And there were mobs of red, white and blue wearing flag wavers, eager to fly their own old glory from a mountaintop.

It was by the busiest day on the trails I have ever encountered. Not bedlam, but close. Meena and I had been invited to join several of these groups on various mountains, but our eye was on the prize of finishing our campaign, and we needed to complete the Pemi Loop, so Garfield was the choice for that day. And, we got a late start because we were planning on staying over at Galehead Hut. As a result, we caught most of the Flags-on-toppers going down, not up. We passed or were passed by 50-60 people over the course of the 4.8 miles up to the summit of Mt. Garfield.


The Flag: We arrived at the summit just before two, in time to see the huge flag at the top. We could also see the flag at the top of Galehead. Regardless of one’s feelings about the meaning of Patriotism, as a pure display of national pride, the Flags on the 48 can’t be beat. Ten years ago, a lot of first responders had to do a lot of climbing over rubble, and a lot of victims had to do a lot of climbing to recapture their lives. Climbing a mountain is the least we could do to remember.

Trails: The Garfield Trail was an old tower road that led to the fire tower once atop the mountain. It’s wide and moderate and the recent weather appeared to have little effect. The trail was clear and mostly dry the entire way. The Garfield Ridge Trail over to the Galehead Hut, however, was another story. Under the best of conditions this is a bear of a trail and when wet can be downright dangerous. Near the Garfield Tent Site is a steep ledgy section which is now a waterfall. The rest of the trail has countless PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs.) Despite a day of only about 8 miles, we were beat when we reached the hut.

After-effect: Once the Flags on Top stuff was over, the mountains became ours again. The hut only had 10 other folks staying there that night, and we relished the quiet and beautiful setting of Galehead Hut. It sits on the shoulder of Galehead Mountain, in the shadow of South Twin and the view looks straight down the Pemi Valley’s east side. Dinner was green beans, cheesy pasta with sausage, salad and soup. Desert was cheesecake. We met folks from St. Louis and Mass. We made friends that night and sleep well.

Galehead: After dinner I once again hiked in the dark up the .5 miles to the wooded summit of Galehead. In 10 years of hiking the Whites, I had never been on a summit after dark. Now, in less than 72 hours, I had stood upon two. About half way up to the summit is a viewpoint that looks down on the hut. I stood there and flashed my headlamp on the folks down below, and Meena returned my signal with a flash of her own. Pretty cool!

Complete untouched and untoned pictures from the day can be found here:

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