atop Bondcliff
Pemigawasett 32.5M Loop, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Elevation Gain:  ~9500'
May 26, 2014 - For this year's birthday celebration I decided to chase dreams and
climb mountains rather than eat cake.  The first of two challenges would be in the
rugged Pemigawasett Wilderness that would take a wide loop over the craggy
4000-foot high peaks of Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack, and Mt. Lincoln on
the Franconia Ridge Trail, then Mts. Garfield and Galehead and North and South
Twin Mountains on the Garfield Ridge Trail, before summiting Mt. Bond and 
Bondcliff on the Bondcliff Trail.  While there was enough ambient light to begin the
adventure at 0430 I took my time for a 0530 start so that I could be joined by my
young running and climbing friend Rob Rives.

Backpacker Magazine ranked this hike as the second hardest dayhike in America, 
making references to “knee-hammering rocks” and “long stretches of abusively
rocky trail.”  Six miles longer than the Great Range Traverse which is ranked third
(which we did last year) I wanted to see how tough the White Mountains could
be; I wanted to see how much tough was left in this old man.  So after a reasonably
good night of sleeping in the car in the National Forest up Tripoli Road with on and
off rain showers I arose ready to tackle the day, regardless of the weather forecast
for 50% chance of rain and winds gusting to over 50 mph.  The chance for lightning
seemed small so all was a go on this otherwise typical day in the White Mountains.

From the trailhead at Lincoln Woods, just outside of the town of Lincoln east along
the Kancamagus Highway, I set out before Rob arrived, confident that his 25-year-
old legs could handily catch up to me whenever he arrived.  The rain gave no
indication of breaking from its intermittent pattern so I headed across the bridge
over the Pemi River, dressed in layers and a rain jacket, into the mist and fog that
could accompany us all day.  

The initial level rail path for more than a mile enabled me to warm up with an easy
jog before it turned off onto single track on the Osseo Trail that would climb over
3000 feet in four-plus miles.  I was expecting major vertical the entire climb, but
was greeted with mild slopes through a leafy hardwood forest, that continued to
enable one to proceed by alternating jogging with power walking.  Rob caught up
after 45 minutes and we proceeded to move into steeper terrain with some ladders
as we moved into sub alpine furs and pines.  I didn't look at my watch but it 
seemed that the first six miles to the summit of Mt. Flume took little more than
two hours.  Feeling good, I thought this adventure might be quicker than

The rain continued, but it wasn't a soaker.  Reaching Franconia Ridge, wind gusts 
of perhaps 40 to 50 mph carried the fog and rain from below rapidly up the western
side of the ridge and over into our faces.  It was quite dramatic, and I can't say I
have ever witnessed anything quite like it before - to have rain coming up to the
ridge from below hitting you in the face along with a streaming flow of foggy
clouds.  While visibility was extemely limited, it was a beautiful thing to observe.

Rob and I were in good spirits as we bounded over and around boulders on the 
ridge, being blasted at every step by the wind and pelted by horizontal rain.  We
quickly dropped into a col before summiting the second peak, Mt. Liberty. After
downclimbing into another col we climbed further along the ridge to go over
Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette.

The first real test of endurance came with the near 1500-foot descent off Lafayette
onto the Garfield Ridge Trail.  While we were out of the wind, the steepness of the
rocky descent was compounded by residual ice remaining on the trail, which in these
parts is referred to as the monorail.  While I brought along yak-traks for traction on
ice, I never put them on, as enough of the monorail had already melted to enable
one to side step around it on rocks and exposed ground, and often swing around it 
by holding onto tree trunks and limbs.  There was plenty of remaining ice, however,
and I took enough falls on the ice, wet rocks, and mud to make a legitimate case 
for how it slowed our progress.

My feet were sore from the pounding on the rocks mostly, having taken on the trail
in a pair of INOV8 315's.  Having planned to run as much as possible, hiking boots
were not an option, even though they would have offered a lot more protection.
In time my arms and shoulders became just as sore from all the collateral action of
holding onto trees to keep balance.  The term "technical" didn't quite describe this
trail.  It was downright hard.  Nonetheless, my legs were good, never tiring, and
breathing was good, never breaching the anaerobic threashold.

We continued to pound away at the ups and downs, with Rob often having to wait
a bit for the old man to catch up.  He was a great companion, good company, and
I was immensely grateful that I was not meeting this challenge alone this day.

The climb up Garfield was stiff, but not as tough as the next one of 1150 feet in a
mere .8 mile up South Twin.  This one was gnarly, but I maintained a steady tempo
without taking a break up and over to catch up with Rob at the top.  While the trail
gyrates from this point onward, the worst of the climbing was behind us.  The 
weather moderated as we went, with increasing visibility and even some sunshine.
Probably the saving grace for the day was that the air temperature was warm, even
downright balmy with the warm front responsible for the wind and rain we got to
enjoy.  Being soaked from the inside out and the outside in, a cooler day may have
created problems, but we were never cold, even with the occasional strong gusts.

It was not the best of days for photography, as most of the time there were no
vistas to stand and admire.  I took more pix as we crossed the ridge to the Bonds
before we dropped back down the long gradual descent to the river.  Somewhere
along my descent off the ridge my camera bounced out of its case and unbeknownst
to me was lost, so I return with no pix of a great day.  I've linked to some Internet
file photos of the route to remind me of some that I saw and some that I missed. 

As we increasingly jogged our way back down on the long Wilderness Trail on our 
return to Lincoln Woods we passed another couple who started at 0430 ahead of us
to accomplish the Pemi Loop.  Since the monorail was quickly melting out, they
thought that perhaps we were the first of the season to complete the loop. 
Reaching our starting point in about 13 hours and 15 minutes I was quite satisfied
with the effort.  Rob could have gone much faster, but 13 hours was good for me.
I hold back and take it conservatively no matter what I am doing now, especially
knowing I would take to the trails the very next day to attempt the Presidential
Traverse over Mount Washington with three other friends.  While once was enough
for me, Rob was dreaming aloud of doing a double of the Pemi Loop in the near

It is a rocky trail with lots of vertical, and in my estimate it is tougher than the
Great Range Traverse in the Adirondacks, as Backpacker assessed.  My feet are
sore and ankles bruised from using running shoes rather than hiking boots, but
my legs never did tire.  Days after, all that remains sore are feet and shoulders.
After doing part of the Presidential route the following day, I sit here at the TH
of the Devil's Path in the Catskills of New York awaiting a two-day hike to end a
week of adventure in New England.  Can't get enough of these rocks and the 
vertical opportunities that await this body that refuses to rest for very long or roll 
over and act its age.

                                   FAQ   FKT  WEATHER / RADAR / TRAIL CONDITIONS