We decided on Garfield about a month ago, so weren't real sure what the conditions would be when we got there this late in the season (no snow season). We turned onto the road to the trailhead just after 7am and the gate was closed. We didn't want to see that. We decided to go around and check the other end of the road and that gate was open! I would have been really upset if we hadn't checked and walked in only to find cars there!
We got on the trail just after 7:30am. There was a man and his young son (I assume) when we got there, and another car showed up as we were heading to the trail. Throughout the day we saw a lot more hikers. After the initial scramble over the bank from the parking lot, the trail is a nice little meander through the woods over some exposed roots. The river/stream crossings came before we knew it, and we got over those with little trouble. Everything was still fairly frozen, but there wasn't any ice on the rocks or trail, so it was easy going. The grade was great and really easy. The only way we could tell we were gaining elevation was to look back behind us through the trees.
We started to notice a dusting of snow on the plants on the side of the trail, which got heavier as we moved along. There was a little mud under the wet leaves, but it was still kind of cold. As we got closer to switchbacks, we started getting snow on the trail. It never amounted to more than an inch or so on the trail, except in spot places. We started getting some icy spots, so I put on some 'creepers' and we ventured on to the summit. The last .2 miles were a scramble, and icy. Uncle Rick made it barebooted though.
The summit was in the clouds, so we stood looking down over snowy rock ledges, knowing there were beautiful mountains out there but we weren't going to get to see them. There was a group of 17 hikers that passed us on the way and were all over the summit. The left soon after we got there and we had the place to ourselves for a minute when another couple hikers came along. We did summit pics and chatted for a few, then I couldn't feel my feet and thought it was time to go. There was no wind to speak of at the top, but it was still cold once you weren't moving. This is the one thing I hate about winter.
We headed back down with the microspikes on and made quick work (for us) on the way down. The hikers from the summit has left before us, but we caught up with them once one of them had fallen. He was ok, so we passed them and kept going. We played leapfrog all the way down the mountain and kept the same pace more of less on the way down. On the way down, the mud that was barely there earlier in the day had turned into giant sloppy mud holes, and the going was just aggrevating. If it were just mud, we could slop through it, but there were rocks mixed in and it was deep in spots. We figured through the course of the day, a lot of people had come in and out, and it warmed up just enough. I had had enough of the mud by the end of the hike, but was happy with our time and the trail grade itself. Will definitely try to do this one again in the fall when all the birches are changing color! I'd post photos, but there's wasn't anything to see!!