As U.S. Presidents go, James Garfield is barely remembered, but he seemed like a decent guy. He fought for the Union primarily to eradicate slavery, and is the only President to be elected from a seat on the House of Representatives. So he should be viewed favorably and as an American success story. Unfortunately, his tenure as President lasted a mere six months, as he fell victim to an assassination attempt, dying a few months after being shot from complications. That you and I don’t remember much about Garfield has as much to do with his short and tragic life more than any flaw in his character His mother Eliza was born in New Hampshire, so it seems fitting that there’s a mountain named after him. This morning I climbed that mountain.
Mount Garfield is known for the view from the summit. There would be no view this morning, as rain and low cloud cover announced from the start that this wouldn’t be one of those days when you could see for miles. I decided to hike it anyway, and to do it solo. The Garfield Trail is a relatively easy hike, and I was able to get to the summit in 2 1/2 hours. As a wet hike, the Garfield Trail leaves a lot to be desired. You feel like you’re hiking in a stream in stretches, and on the verge of getting bogged down in mud in some others. But it’s a classic New Hampshire hike, with a cathedral of mature trees lining the ridge in the first third of the hike, and rocks for much of the rest of the way. This is the type of hiking I’ve grown up with, and I quickly settled into my rhythm for the climb up. For all its wetness, there were no bugs for the duration.
Beginning at 7:30, I found little company on the trails. I passed one father and daughter pair early on, and was in turn passed by a woman who flew past me after the first hour of hiking. I’ve long checked my ego at the door when it comes to my pacing on hikes, and when I go solo I’m very deliberate with footing. I’d see her again as she flew down the mountain at almost the same pace. And that was it for company on the ascent. It seemed most people were saving Garfield for a sunny day. But the descent proved me wrong, with a steady parade of hikers streaming past me, most wondering about the view at the summit. Not much of one, I’d tell them, but even as I spoke those words the day was beginning to change, with sunlight burning through the cloud cover and warming up the forest. I was grateful for having done the ascent in the cool rain, even if the view didn’t cooperate.
Mount Garfield is considered one of the easier climbs of the 48 4000 footers, but with that big payoff of a magnificent view waiting for you on a clear day. If I wasn’t pursuing the 48, I might have saved this hike for better day, but I don’t view it as a waste at all. 20,000 steps later, I’d finished another 4000 footer and began my drive back home. Garfield is a mountain I’ll do again a few times, certainly in autumn but also in winter when it becomes a longer hike as they close the gate on the access road. Maybe my timing wasn’t good for a view, but it was an excellent 4 1/2 hour round trip anyway. I’ve got my second notch on the 48 (I started over again from the beginning this year, since I rarely logged hikes previous to pursuing this goal) 4000 footers, and I got a decent workout in before lunchtime. I’d call that a great success.
A side benefit of hiking the 48 is learning more about the people the mountains are named for. Other than knowing he was President and that he’d been assassinated, I didn’t know much about James Garfield until I chose this hike. I’m glad I took the time to look back on his life a bit. He only lived to aged 49, but managed to accomplish quite a bit in that time. He was a classic rags to riches story with a life cut short too soon. The White Mountains are dotted with more famous Presidents, but that doesn’t make Garfield a bit player. Just a guy who ran out of time before he could do more. I think he’s had a lot of company in that club. A good reminder to get busy already, time waits for no one. And with that in mind I’m considering a peak bag for my next hike, which involves summiting multiple peaks in one day’s hike. I have another couple of former Presidents in mind for that one.