Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Semi Pemi 6/1/13

Working title: Breathing through a straw

Peaks: Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Garfield, Galehead Mountain

Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Osseo Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Frost Trail, Twin Brook Trail, Franconia Brook Trail

Mileage/time: 28.7 miles, 8348 feet of gain, book time of 18:36, actual time of 16:03

Aggressive. That's how I would describe pretty much everything about today. The temperature, the sun (when it was out), the bugs, the humidity, and the air quality, not to mention the loop itself. Originally the plan was to do a nearly full Pemi Loop, just skipping North Twin, but the aforementioned things conspired to greatly diminish my faculties... but we'll get to that.

Who, in their right mind, wakes up at 12:45am on a Saturday morning, willingly? When there's mileage to be done, I'll do just about anything. I had moved to a new apartment on Friday, the hottest day of the year so far here in Portland (of course), so it had been easy to pass out early. Everything was prepared ahead of time, so I just had to grab it and go. The bars were just letting out, and it was a sticky, 75 degrees in town when I left. It cooled off some on my drive, and was a balmy 60 degrees at Lincoln Woods, which was dark and silent at almost 3am. I threw on my shoes, and started across the bridge at 3:05.

I was lulled by the roar of the Pemi to my right as I cruised down the trail, my headlamp cutting through the thick air. Before I knew it, I was at the Osseo junction, and it would be a long while until I saw it again. Onward and upward through the dark, I find it's much easier to keep your head down and just go, when there's nothing to look at around you. The original plan was to hit Flume by/near sunrise, and as I approached the "Downlook", the sky was lightening in the east, and I was able to take off my headlamp.

Then came the ladders, which I had seen this winter, mostly buried under the snow. I'd hear someone later in the day, complaining about them... I think they're pretty nice, and there's only a few of them!

A short push later, and I was on the summit of Flume, the sun having just crested over the cloud bank on the horizon. The views were hazy at best, but the breeze on the summit was a welcome relief.

Good morning Liberty

Here comes the sun!

Hazy Moosilauke
I didn't linger, and pushed on to Liberty. In the col, there were a couple patches of snow still lingering in the shadows, it's like winter might have finally given up. The climb to Liberty wasn't bad at all, and I soon popped out, and took a short break in the sun.

Liberty Shadow

Franconia Ridge
The bugs started to eat on me as I was breaking, so I sprayed myself down, and moved on. Moving beyond the Liberty Spring junction, I was on a section of trail I've only traversed in winter conditions. I like it better in non-winter, the trail is nice and soft for the most part (the airway is a little tight in areas), and the climb to Little Haystack isn't that bad. Upon reaching Little Haystack, I was greeted by a nice guy from Manchester, who was up early, trying to avoid the predicted afternoon thunderstorms. He wasn't expecting to see anyone either!

Where I was

Where I'm going
Parting ways, I jaunted on towards Lincoln. I've only ever done Franconia Ridge from north to south, but I liked it better from south to north, maybe it's a perspective thing. I was also flying, making awesome time, but the sun was heating up the day, and I had been a sweaty mess for some hours. As I crested Lincoln, the bulk of Lafayette came into view.

I want that perch!

Lincoln Slide
Beyond Lincoln is where my troubles began. The NH DES had issued an air quality warning, for high ozone concentrations, especially above 3000 feet. Between Lincoln and Lafayette I started wheezing a bit, and having trouble catching my breath. Breathing through a sponge is one thing, but breathing through a straw is another. After reaching the summit, I took a break, and checked the time. It was 8:23! The whole Franconia Ridge from Lincoln Woods, 10.5 miles, 5500 feet of gain, in 5 hours 18 minutes. If nothing else about the day, I can be proud of that!

Further troubles ensued. I descended to North Lafayette, and then dropped below treeline, still making good time. I had spoken with a USFS Ridgerunner on Lafayette, and he told me it would take me 6 hours to reach Galehead Hut. I rather scoffed at the notion, and thanked him for the information before continuing. At this point, my breathing had become troubling. I was wheezing, and having coughing fits, and any uphill sections (of which there were many) killed me. My pace slowed dramatically, and I realized I was running out of water. I had originally hoped to make it to Galehead before I would have to refill, but I did have my filter on me, so I started looking for running water sources. Trickles were abound, but trickles were all they were. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!

I thought about it, but couldn't get close enough
By the time I finally reached Garfield, I was out of gas, and nearly out of water. I knew the Garfield Ridge Shelter had a water source, so that was going to be my saving grace. Not sticking around long, I descended.

Owl's Head from Garfield, Flume is in there too
The steep descent ended when I heard running water! I fished out my filter, and got to it. Soon, cold, tasty water passed my lips, and I was refreshed. The caretaker came down to fill up some water jugs, and we chatted for a while, he said the section from there to Galehead wasn't that bad. In my naivete, I believed him, never having been on the section before. From the shelter, the trail drops very steeply, with water from the spring flowing in the trail. After that, it mellowed out considerably, but my lungs, and therefore, my body was not cooperating. My muscles, and my brain, screamed for oxygen, or at least more than my feeble lungs could pull from the air. All uphill sections were torture, and I would stop many times. At least there were some filtered views to be had from time to time.

The trail skirts over and around a few knobs along the way, and leaves you a few hundred feet below Galehead Hut on the north side of Galehead. There were wet, sideways slabs on the trail, that made for tricky going. It was nice to find another old AT marker, right at the junction of Gale River Trail (that makes 2 weeks in a row!). I must have stopped at least a dozen times between the intersection of Gale River Trail, and the hut. Torture. I reached the hut, a doubly sweaty mess, refilled my water yet again, and sat on the porch, eating and chatting with those who were there.

South Twin loomed over the hut, and was definitely calling to me. Unfortunately, it was just shy of 1:30 when I reached the hut, and here I had planned on being there closer to noon. After a good long rest of nearly an hour, I made a decision. I'd go up to Galehead, and if I was still huffing and puffing, I'd bail down Twin Brook Trail, and hike out to Lincoln Woods on Franconia Brook Trail.

Galehead did me in, many stops, unable to catch my breath. Decision made. Near the intersection of Twin Brook Trail, I stopped, looking up at South Twin. Curses, even double and triple curses, then I made the turn and descended. I was last on Twin Brook Trail the day before I finished my first round of the 48, and I remember it being wet and brushy. It wasn't the case this time, though there were tight sections, and plentiful blowdowns, but that's to be expected in a wilderness area. There were many small uphill sections along the way, that I don't remember from the last time, and they wreaked havoc on my body. Soon, the sound of roaring water reached my ears, and I arrived at 13 Falls.

The 13 Falls area was named, not for the fact that there are 13 falls (there are 5 that I know of), but that it was the site of Camp 13, a logging camp from years long past. I took a few minutes to check out one of the falls before continuing on.

From here, it was time for more redlining (I had finished up the sections of Garfield Ridge Trail on either side of Garfield), on a 3.5 mile section of Franconia Brook Trail. Off to the west, there were dark clouds building over the Franconia Ridge, and Owl's Head. Lo and behold, it rained on me here and there, never heavily, and it felt pretty good. The crossings were all running pretty high, and I just ended up wading through most of them... rock hopping be damned.

Nearing the southern junction with Lincoln Brook Trail, I saw movement. Sadly, no animals, just two people. I caught up to them before long, and as I was passing by, I stopped. I said to the guy, "your name is Joe isn't it?". It was, and it turned out to be Joe of JustJoe Hiking fame. He and his partner Becky had just come down from Owl's Head, leaving her with five 4k's left! I ended up hiking out to Lincoln Woods with them, sharing stories, and having some laughs. It sure made the remaining miles go a lot easier. It was great to meet both of you!

The long walk of shame was complete. Sure, I shaved about 5 miles, and 3000 feet of gain off my day, but at what cost? Well, my body is thanking me today, and believe me, that's a relative term. Though disappointed that I didn't do the whole loop, I KNOW (in my heart of hearts) that I can do it, and will be back in August to try it again. Between now and then, I'll be doing some more long days, and getting a couple 30+ mile hikes under my belt. So while the day may have been torturous, it was a worthwhile learning experience.


  1. Helluva try man. In cooler weather I have no doubt you'd make it.

  2. You slayed the Franconia Ridge! This weather has just been miserable :(

    1. Best part of the day for sure, it was fantastic to have it pretty much to myself. I saw five people total from Little Haystack to Lafayette. I'll definitely be taking humidity into account in the future!

  3. Bill . . . in my eyes, you have NOTHING to be ashamed of, especially considering the oppressive heat and humidity. What would have been shameful would have been to have continued and then ended up with a medical emergency. Instead, you made the wise decision to descend via the Twin Brook Trail and cut your hike "short" (if you can call a 28.7 mile hike "short").

    Truly awesome report, and your photos are terrific. Oh! And what a bonus it was to have that chance meeting with "JustJoe Hiking"!


    1. Thanks John. In retrospect, I should have bailed down Franconia Brook Trail from Garfield Ridge, but was feeling better after filling up at the spring. Miscalculations were made, as they so often are. Surprisingly, my body feels much better after this hike than it has after other, shorter, hikes. There will always be that yearning for the peaks I left unclimbed, but I'm glad I made the decision I did. It was a great bonus to meet Joe and Becky, awesome people! Odds are, you and I will cross paths someday, in much the same manner.

  4. Did almost this same trip last year in July in reverse as a two nighter. Best trip I've done so far!

  5. I have to agree with John - nothing shameful about this "shortened" Pemi Loop. It was an epic hike on a very sultry day. I always learn something when reading someone else's hiking experience. Spectacular photos and great trip report!