Mt. Garfield (winter hike)

Round Trip Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4810-6780 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Mt. Garfield
Fee: none
Attractions: Fossils, views

I was on-call this weekend so I had to find a hike around the valley that was close in and withing pager and cellphone range. Mt. Garfield satisfies both of those requirement. I already made a post for Mt. Garfield last summer but this post will include some new information and of course, snow. Mt. Garfield received a fresh covering of snow just 2 days ago. Because of its steep south facing slopes the snow disappears quickly. Most of the water runs off the mountain before it has a chance to soak in much. For that reason the trail can become hikable sooner than you might imagine. There are some places that aren't steep and do hold moisture and can become pretty sloppy.

After setting out from the trailhead there is about a hundred yard stroll over to the base of a hog back where the climbing begins. This first part of the trail climbs at an incredible pace. It only takes about half a mile to gain the first 1000 feet of elevation. Although I used to run this trail now days I choose to walk up at a slow but steady pace.

It seems that no matter where you look in the Little Bookcliffs you will have no trouble finding plenty of fossils. The flat surface of this particular rock was riddled with fossilized worm burrows. The tracks are a little hard to make out with this low resolution photo but if you notice this rock beside the trail, on your way up, you can examine it for yourself.

There are a lot of artifacts left over from the Gearhart Mine that provided coal for valley residents. The cables and other debris that are strewn around the mountain are the remnants of the coal breaker and delivery system that carried the ore to the base of the mountain where customers could purchase what they needed to heat their homes. These relics are now all part of the unofficial Gearhart Mine museum. (It's easier to think of it all as a museum than as an irresponsible job of reclamation.)

The trail levels off after a half mile of climbing and crosses a grassy bench area below the mine. This rock is one of many that contains the fossilized remains of what appears to be a small bush.

Sometimes plant matter becomes petrified rather than changing into coal. There are several places along the Mt. Garfield trail where you can notice plant matter several inches thick sandwiched between slabs of sandstone.

After examining the various rocks I got back to hiking the trail. After crossing the first bench area I gained another 150 feet of elevation hiking up through the boulder field to the second bench area that is on about the same level as the mine. This hidden field is a favorite hangout for wild horses at times.

After crossing the snowy field the trail climbs slightly as it crosses under the steep cliff to the last saddle on the east side of Mt. Garfield. One section of this part of the trail crosses a coal seam. Through this section the trail is broad enough to hold some of the moisture from the melting snow and make obtaining sure footing a challenge at times. If you slip off the trail you aren't really in much danger of falling a great distance.

From the saddle area the trail starts climbing with a little more earnest. The slope through this section faces more to the east and harbors a lot more snow. This point is about 1.5 miles into the hike and the crucial crux of the trail during winter months. I chose the penitent approach and crawled up the snow covered rocks on my knees.

After conquering the last section of the trail I was within a half mile of the summit. There was still about 200 more feet of elevation to gain but spread out over a half mile it is a walk in the park compared to the start of the trail. The walk across the rim displays some terrific views.

The summit at last! The flagpole seems to be listing a bit and it is also missing its star spangled drapery. Flags, once hung, don't last very long on this windy cliff before the wind shreds their linen stripes. Even then the tattered flags fly as testaments to the 'land of the free and the home of the brave'.

I continued on past the summit and followed the ridge for another hundred yards or so. From this point I cut back towards the north east, through the trees, across the backside of the mountain. I was headed to a ridge that provides an alternative route down the mountain.

I didn't take this route because it is easier. The snow was up to 2 feet deep and I got pretty wet up to the knees. Snowshoes would have been good through here and gators would also have been useful. But it was only a mile through the snow going this way and I often see deer and wild horses.

I rejoined the main trail at the saddle and made my way back across the section below the cliffs and down the mountain. On the way down the trail I stopped to examine a rock that had a pattern of bones that looked a lot like a 4 foot long lizard. There are a lot of pieces missing so I was probably using way too much of my imagination.

The rest of the trip down can go pretty quick if you run down the hog back to the bottom. I was wearing a pair of hiking boots and they don't fit tight enough around the toes so running was out. I had a nice view of a pair of bald eagles that were flying along the lower cliffs along the interstate. I took a couple of pictures but they aren't much to look at.

Once I made it back to the bottom I had to navigate around some muddy spots to the parking lot. The temperature at the bottom of the hill felt about 10 degrees colder than it did about halfway up. There is a lot to see on Mt. Garfield and it can be enjoyed anytime of the year. It's a great place to both get in shape and stay in shape for the summer. If you would like to explore it for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.