I had an urge to go on a big hike, so this is what I came up with. Again, I posted a plan too late, and couldn't tempt anyone into doing a traverse... so I was alone, and was forced into an out and back. Worse things have happened.
Up super early (see 3:15am), got out of the house late, and ended up pulling into the Zealand trailhead at 5:30, when I wanted to start the hike. I got geared up, and rolled out of the lot at 5:53am. This is important, as I told myself I was going to do this hike in 10 hours (versus the 12 hour 50 minute book time). Headlamp on, cruising up the Zealand Trail. Good thing I'd been here before, as I couldn't see the blazes at all, and it got a bit confusing in the rooty sections near the beginning of the trail. It started to get lighter, and I saw clouds rolling over the top of Zeacliff, it was going to be a windy day! I made it up to the hut at 6:45, just before breakfast, and the hut guests were milling about, still sleepy I think. I rested on the porch momentarily, and blasted up the Twinway to Zeacliff. I remember this section being harder, then I thought about it, the last time, there was monorail and mucho postholing. It was just after 7:30 when I hit the viewpoint, and the clouds were still rolling over, but I did have some limited, veiled views.
After a short break, I set myself to the task at hand, on to the first peak! I took a side trip down to Zeacliff Pond, and in the cloud, it was a quiet little spot. It didn't take long, and I arrived at the stunning view of the Zealand summit sign at 8:25. Making good time so far, why stop it now! Pushing on, I soon arrived on top of Guyot, and the views were stunning.
Just after making the turn on to Bondcliff Trail, I ran into the first hikers of the day, who told me it was just after 9! Already on the ridge 3 hours into the hike, things were looking good. The winds had been steady while I was in the trees, and now they blasted across the alpine landscape, pushing me around a bit... nothing too serious, and a welcome cool down. What followed was nothing short of a miracle, at least as far as this hiker is concerned. I've never been the fastest, but I've lightened my equipment, and have been working on conditioning. So imagine my surprise, after hitting the 3 Bonds, the folks on the summit told me it was 10:45! I almost fell over, because it didn't seem that bad. While I was there, a cheeky English fellow showed up in a t-shirt, shorts, and had only a tiny Camelbak... the rest of us were wearing pants, several layers (including shells), and hats. He made it just fine, as I ran into him again just short of the West Bond Spur. I would have frozen my ass off!
After a well deserved rest break, which for some reason, I can never stay sitting down during, I gathered up my remaining energy reserves for the climb back up Bond. Ouch! It looks steep and long, and well, it is steep and long. Angular rocks made things tricky (especially going down it), but before long, I was back on top, and only had two other climbs to get me back to the downhill portion of the hike. After the "easy" hike out to Bondcliff, the remaining ups really took their toll, and by the time I reached Zeacliff again, my legs were shot and my right knee was starting to give me a bit of pain. There was a large group (pretty sure it was an AMC group) on Zeacliff, so I found a spot out of their way, took some pictures, and rested my knee up for the remaining descent.
The rest did my knee well, and I made it down to the hut and continued on to the trailhead. What I didn't expect, was the time. I left Zeacliff at about 1:45, and I reached the trailhead at 3:11. 3.8 miles in an hour and 26 minutes, not too shabby. That gave me a car to car time of 9 hours 18 minutes, beating book time by 3 hours 32 minutes. I never knew I had it in me! All in all, a fantastic day, color is popping all over the place!