Friday, February 8, 2013
Bonds/Zealand/Hale Traverse 2/7/13
Working title: "Two words. Weather. Window"
Peaks: Bondcliff, Mt. Bond, West Bond, Mt. Guyot, Zealand Mountain, Mt. Hale
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Bondcliff Trail, West Bond Spur, Twinway, Lend-A-Hand Trail, Hale Brook Trail, Zealand Road, Rt. 302
Mileage/time: 24.5 miles, ~6800 feet of gain, book time of 15:40, actual time of 16:25
Where to even begin! This was an epic day, in an epic setting, with epic weather, and epic company. Epic to the 4th power! I'll be the first to say that it took all I had to finish, and all I had to get my ass home after it was all said and done. But sitting here today, resting on my laurels as it were, I'm happy and feeling a great sense of accomplishment, along with aches and pains.
The day was definitely my fault, and if the question were asked, "who planned this hike?", I'd have to raise my hand in guilt. I suggested it out of the blue over last weekend, saying something along the lines of, if the weather holds, we should totally do this. It was agreed, and our super early meet time was set. 4:30am is an ungodly hour to meet at, and we ended up meeting at 4:15. Punctuality, we have it. We drove around to Lincoln Woods, and got our boots on the trail at 5:15.
Judging by recent reports, we didn't bring crampons or snowshoes, but I'll get to that later. Lincoln Woods Trail was its usual, flat, and boring self, with a light dusting of snow on a firm, hard-packed base. We covered the 2.9 miles to the wilderness boundary in about 40 minutes, and with the sky brightening, we saw the crescent moon starting to set from the bridge.
Now came another couple miles of near flatness, now in the wilderness. The trail was all messed up from the horse teams the forest service brought here the other week to drag bridge debris out. All the debris is stacked alongside the trail by the bridge at the boundary, but the trail itself is very lumpy thanks to many postholes. We negotiated it well enough, and soon made the left turn onto the Bondcliff Trail proper. Not long after we started climbing, we put on spikes for added traction. The weather was beautiful, clear skies, and golden morning light began to penetrate the woods.
Up, up, up we went. Soon getting some views up to the peak, which still looked a long way off. There was a crossing that was, we'll say interesting, but I'll let the picture speak for itself. No worries, this was the view from the crossing, which was safe.
Switchbacks were the name of the game as we climbed, side hills are always torturous on the legs. Sooner than later, we crested the summit of Bondcliff, and were greeted to mostly bare rocks, and some ice. Also, the views were fantastic.
After the requisite pictures, especially shots of each of us in the classic "standing on the edge of the cliff" pose, we climbed down on the lee side, out of the wind, and had some eats. Then began the long climb up to Bond. There were incredibly mixed conditions along the way, mostly bare rock, some icy sections, and some minor drifts. Mostly we stuck to the rocks, and the winds weren't that bad, considering the temperatures, which we estimated to be around, if not below zero. Once back in the trees, the snow returned, but the spikes stayed hanging from the pack. We then reached the summit of Bond, and were again treated to fantastic views.
Here's where the trouble began, and our pace slowed significantly. Just off the summit of Bond, we started to run into drifts, minor at first, increasing to knee deep in spots, interspersed with hard packed sections. Of course we didn't have snowshoes, and of course the trail wasn't packed out, so we were "breaking" trail for the next several miles. The West Bond spur was in better shape, and we made good time out to the peak. The clouds that were forecast for the afternoon, were conspicuously absent!
Back to Bondcliff Trail, we hung a left on the unbroken trail, and slogged our way over to Guyot through more drifts, where the conditions again improved, with a lot of exposed rocks, making for much improved footing. Hale still looked a long way away, and mileage wise, it definitely was. We dropped off the east side of Guyot, and headed towards Zealand. Here's where snowshoes would have been extremely helpful, as there were many areas of severe drifting, and we ended up postholing often. Mike ended up going in nearly up to his hips in a spruce trap. As any good friend would do, I stood back and laughed. A better friend would have taken a picture. The climb up to Zealand was rough, as both of our legs weren't feeling it, but we soon reached the top, and got down the spur. It was a mighty exciting little summit, what a nice sign.
We then took a break, and assessed our situation, and the time. The decision was made to make it down to the hut, and see what was what from there. Before then, we stopped for a while on Zeacliff, and watched as the light slowly faded.
Quickly now, down to the hut. I was nearly running, and Mike behind me yelled out that I should be careful. I didn't find out until later, that he had stepped in a nicely placed posthole... I'm apparently lucky I didn't, because I might have snapped my leg off! We reached the junction with Lend-A-Hand, and saw tracks! That was exciting, because we had discussed that if the trail wasn't traveled, we may well have bailed. Down to the hut, where we met the caretaker, a girl who introduced herself as Link. She gave us hot water and tea, and we relaxed and chatted with her by the stove for a while. It was weird to feel so warm, yet still be able to see your breath.
By now, it was nearly dark. We made the decision to go for it, as we didn't want to have to come back for Hale... like we have to go back for Garfield. Spikes were donned, and we started back to the junction by headlamp. Following the tracks in the dark was interesting, mostly because we couldn't see when the trail was going to pitch up. It made the climb easier, even though at the end of such a long day, no amount of climbing is easy. We lost the trail at one point, but soon found it again. False summits came and went, and before long (though it felt like forever) we popped out on the summit of Hale, and the giant cairn. Handshakes and congratulations were had, then we started down Hale Brook Trail.
The last 4.9 miles of the trip was kind of a blur. Being so tired, exhausted really, didn't help. But we soon made it down to Zealand Road, put our heads down, dug deep, and made it happen. Lots of ice on the road made for slow going at times, but we soon started to hear traffic, and then saw traffic. A short walk on 302 to the parking lot, and we were done. Get me out of these boots!
What a fantastic day to get out before the storm, and knock another 5 peaks off my winter list. That just leaves 15 to go!