Peaks: Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Garfield, South Twin, Mt. Bond, Bondcliff
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Osseo Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Garfield Ridge Shelter Spur, Frost Trail, Twinway, Bondcliff Trail
Mileage/time: 31.9 miles, 10234 feet of gain, book time of 21:09, actual time of 18:13
Goals. I have them. If once defeated, you can rest assured that I'll be back to try again, and again if necessary. In June, the Pemi Loop eluded me, as my body resisted, and I was left with a long valley walk out from Galehead Hut. This day, my body resisted, but my mind willed it to keep going. Ahead of myself as usual.
I'd been eyeing the weather all week (my version of the week), and when Wednesday came around, the forecast held... I couldn't NOT go for it. To make matters worse (better), it coincided with a nearly full moon. Don't mind if I do! I made my arrangements, stayed up until the extremely late hour of 2pm, and then went to bed. Up again at 10pm to further prepare, then out the door. While driving through Westbrook to get coffee, I saw an unusual sight, and turned around. That sight was an open business (seeing as it was 11pm), and I stopped in. That business is (Dynamite) Don's Lunch, run by my former supervisor Jim. I chatted with him, had a burger (a pre-hike burger? Unheard of!), then got my coffee and headed north.
I pulled into a nearly deserted Lincoln Woods, and set about getting ready. The moon was basically full, and cast its silvery light over everything. Crossing the suspension bridge, I decided to try and get a picture. It was 1:09am. Waiting until the bridge stopped bouncing, I set the camera on the railing, focused, and took a 30 second exposure at f/4. The result was this.
Next up was the flatness. I was able to walk the first bit of Lincoln Woods Trail without my headlamp, up to the new reroute, and all was peaceful in the moonlight. It was chilly, and I had a hat and gloves on, though that would soon change. Turning up the Osseo, I soon shed the gloves, and rolled up my sleeves, there was work to be done. Sadly, all my attempts at night photography pretty much failed, I had the focus wrong for the most part. The views from the Downlook were fantastic, as the moon bathed the Pemi in its ethereal glow. The ladders ensued, then the final climb to Flume, which I reached at 3:45am. That time would prove to be significant.
Thanks to a biting wind, I got chilled on my short summit stay, and soon moved on toward Liberty. The hike through the col passed quickly, and I was soon on top. The wind was stronger here, but the views continued to be excellent. A thin ribbon of color had now appeared on the eastern horizon, a sure sign of the coming day. I again lingered a while, trying to soak it all in. To say it was amazing doesn't do it justice.
Continuing on by headlamp, I pressed toward Little Haystack, eager to get above treeline. The two mile stretch passed in what felt like no time, and I found myself on the peak around 5:45, the colors continuing to brighten.
Just before hitting treeline, I pocketed my headlamp, donned my shell jacket, and battened down the hatches, the wind was biting and gusty from the west. I checked my phone, and saw a message from my friend Tim, and it just so happened that he was doing a clockwise loop too! I sent him a message telling him where I was, and that he would probably catch up to me. Little did I know, that he started when I was on Flume. What I witnessed as I trekked across the ridge was beyond compare. The moon setting to the west, while the sun rose in the east. If I wanted a different perspective, all I had to to was look to my right or my left. It was absolutely unforgettable.
As I neared Lafayette, I saw a group on top, probably from the hut (I assume, because they weren't there when I got there), enjoying the sunrise. Once I reached the summit, I ran into my first hiker of the day, who had left Garfield Shelter at 4am to be there. I descended to North Lafayette and took a short break, before tackling the crux of the hike... the Garfield Ridge, which I'll now refer to as the Meat Grinder.
To be fair, I really like this trail. It's steep, gnarly, and ranks right up there with my favorite ridge walks in the Whites. This is a far cry from my first impression of it, when I hiked it in June. There are a lot, and I do mean a LOT of PUDS (pointless ups and downs), which is a misnomer, as they're only pointless if they go nowhere. I made much better time through here, and before I knew it, I was at Garfield Pond, and the steep climb up to the summit of Garfield. Fall colors are only just starting to pop!
The climb didn't disappoint, and my legs were feeling it by the time I reached the top. The reward was crystal clear views and warm sunshine. I took a seat, leaning up against the fire tower foundation, and basked for about 30 minutes. It was absolutely worth it.
Dropping down, I made it to the Garfield Ridge Shelter Spur. I set about filtering some water, and while it was doing its gravity thing, I redlined the spur trail. I spent a few minutes chatting with the caretaker, before heading back to retrieve my water. While I was packing up, a group came down from the shelter. I offered my filter to them, as they would have spent an eternity pumping water. Come to find out, it was Zaharra and crew from one of the Facebook hiking groups, it was nice to meet you guys!
I sallied forth, on the next part of the crux... yes, it continues. The entire 6.6 mile length of the Garfield Ridge is rough on the body, always up to go down, and vice-versa. Continuing to make decent time, I passed by several friendly groups, all were very surprised when they found out that I'd started just after 1am. There were some views to be had along the way, as the trail undulated between and around minor peaks.
I finally arrived at Galehead Hut around noon, much later than I anticipated. Apparently, talking to people slows me down, a LOT. No worries though, as I was breaking, a Tim appeared around the corner! He'd caught up, just as I thought, even though I had a solid 2 1/2 hour head start. It would prove to be nice, not only to have good company, but motivation to keep going, for the rest of the loop. After our break in the sun, it was time for the last big climb of the day, the ugly, 0.8 mile, 1152 foot, slog up to South Twin. I started to cramp a couple of times along the way, and stopped several times to let my muscles recover. This was only the second time I've made this climb, and it was just as rough as I remember it being, albeit less wet, but it got the job done as I soon limped up to the summit of South Twin, and continued cloudless views.
A short break later, we were on the move again, towards our last two objectives for the day, two of the three Bonds. Being a no-frills loop, and having already skipped Galehead, we may as well skip West Bond, and keep up the forward momentum. Uphill sections became my nemesis, as minor grades made my legs scream at me. I tried as best I could to keep it slow and steady on the ups, but it was a struggle. We took another short break at the "this doesn't suck" south summit of Guyot, and chatted with some WMNF rangers.
Passing by the Guyot Shelter Spur (which I still need to redline!) and the spur to West Bond, we headed up Bond. One foot in front of the other, keep moving, "pain is weakness leaving the body", these were the thoughts rolling through my head. It worked, as we shortly came up to the summit. Particularly prominent, were the old logging roads, especially on the Hancocks, but also on Carrigain, and (you're a) Nancy.
As not to stiffen up, we took only a short break, and then descended towards Bondcliff. We had another chance encounter, with another Facebook group member, Erik, during our descent, it was nice to finally meet you! Reaching the low point, the last major elevation gain of the day commenced. It won't go down as the easiest climb up to Bondcliff that I've had, but it will go down as having the best views. Some summit shots, and a final break, and we were ready for some downhill.
The guy we ran into at the summit with his dog told us that the upper crossing on Bondcliff Trail was running well, and we decided to stop there to fill up. Down, down, down to the brook, where we filtered delicious cold water. Tim even went so far as to dump out the water he got from Galehead, saying it tasted nasty. I didn't get any from there, so I can't speak to that... the water from Garfield Ridge is great.
Down we continued, not really talking much on this section, just pedal to the metal. On a leaf covered rock step, I slipped and went down. I felt a pop in my right ankle, a lot of instantaneous pain, and finally came to rest on my ass. Needless to say, the remaining miles were done gingerly, and footing became my number one priority. What is with me this summer?!?! I rolled the same ankle exactly once after that, and was greeted with a significant amount of pain. Awesome.
Mercifully, we reached the end of descent, and the relative flatness of the old Wilderness Trail. We put our heads down, as it was still about 5 miles to Lincoln Woods, and we were sure to reach the trailhead without headlamps. Banter resumed, we were both pretty damn proud of ourselves, and the end was in sight. The light faded, and we passed out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, past a few junctions, and completed the loop portion when we hit Osseo Trail. A handful of minutes later, we hit the newly rerouted section, and had easy walking all the way to the suspension bridge. Done!
Tim had a couple of beers in his car, of which I graciously accepted one... earned it! We then parted ways. I should have taken a nap there in the lot, but wanted to get home. The moon was in my face, very bright, all the way across the Kanc back to Conway. Though I did get sleepy, I wasn't nodding off at the wheel, and made it home in fine shape. Getting out of the car wasn't much fun, nor was getting up the stairs, but falling into bed was fantastic.
Take that Pemi Loop! Maybe I'll do a fancier version next time, though I don't think it will be much more fancy.