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Pemigewasset Wilderness Loop
In the trip planning forum, Seth asked about loop hikes in Maine. Always trying to promote the White Mountains I mentioned that he should check out the Pemigewasset Wilderness loop in New Hampshire. This prompted both LoneStranger and Seth to ask for a trip report. Here you go.
I backpacked the 31 mile Pemi loop between September 6th and 9th of 2012, sorry for the overdue report. For those who don’t know, early September is a great time for backpacking in Northern New Hampshire. The days tend to be warm and dry and the nights are cool. The crowds are much smaller and most importantly, the bugs are not as much of an issue which makes the experience far more enjoyable.
With me for the trip was my friend and colleague Matt. He had recently moved from Arizona and opened a small outdoor gear shop. This trip acted as his introduction to the Whites as well as my extended interview to assist him in the retail end of the shop as well as future guide operations.
It is hard to make out on the picture of the map above but there are two ways to tackle the Pemi Wilderness. You can follow the AT and walk along Franconia Ridge and then cut down the Bonds, or you can follow the East Branch of the Pemi River through the heart of the wilderness and then back via the Bonds. We chose the second option because it is far more secluded and you experience all the diversity that the Whites has to offer.
The start and finish of the trip was at the Lincoln Woods visitor center in Lincoln, NH. There was plenty of parking but there was a per day fee. Passes can be picked up at the visitors center and at the time of this writing is $3 per day.
The East Side trail followed the river and was a great warm up for the legs. There was little to no elevation change and the scenery was beautiful. There were still minor detours from when Tropical Storm Irene ripped through the area swelling the rivers and taking out many trail sections. This portion of the hike also allowed Matt and I to figure out the pace we would hike for the rest of the trip. Since this was the first trip we had done together we quickly found that we hiked at far different speeds. I tend to take things a little quick while Matt likes to take it slow. Both methods have their own benefits but we knew we needed to meet in the middle in order to enjoy the trip together.
Since we were now in the Pemi wilderness, trails were not maintained to the same level as those outside of the wilderness. This became apparent at stream crossings that had washed out during Irene as well as when we came across the remains of the bridge that once crossed the river but was washed out and never replaced. The picture below was Matt crossing one of these sections.
This portion of the Wilderness trail continued to be relatively level. There were moderate climbs and descents but the majority of the time was spent along the river. After 1.5 miles on the Wilderness trail we came to the intersection with the Thoreau Falls trail. The Thoreau Falls trail provides for an additional route through the wilderness.
We stayed on the Wilderness trail and set up camp along the river after another mile of hiking. We could not have been happier with our campsite for the first night. We were using ENO hammocks which meant that we did not need to look for root free ground and we were able to find a nice set up a few hundred feet off the river.
Day 2 started with bright clear skies and comfortable temperatures. The Wilderness trail continued along the river and there was a lot of evidence of the old logging camps that were once built throughout the area. Here is shot of me with one of the old stoves that were on the side of the trail.
After a mile and half of hiking we reached where the Wilderness trail crossed the river and intersected with the Shoal Pond trail and Desolation trail. This crossing and intersection proved to be the most difficult of the trip. As I mentioned earlier, because we were in the wilderness, trail maintenance was not regularly done. Irene had washed out the original crossing and we spent a good hour exploring both river banks to see where the trail continued. It is important that if someone tries to tackle this trip they have a solid understanding of map and compass skills.
We took advantage of our situation and spent a few minutes refueling and enjoying the scenery. The picture below was of Mt. Carrigan. This area is considered the geographic center of the Whites and is absolutely gorgeous.
We hit the Shoal Pond trail where we stayed for the majority of the day. This portion of the hike covered a variety of environments. We experienced second growth hardwoods, dense softwoods that blocked site of the trail, as well as lush green moss fields, and wet lands.
The Shoal Pond trail followed an old railroad track and there was evidence of this along the way. We found numerous railroad ties and portions of old track. This also meant that the overall grade of the hike was very easy. The trail eventually joined Shoal Pond Brook which provided a great resource for water resupply.
We had planned on finding a campsite near Shoal Pond but the area proved to be too dense. After 4 miles on the Shoal Pond trail we intersected with the Ethan Pond trail which was also the AT. After 2 days of not seeing another hiker we ran into a thru hiker at this intersection. We were able to find a great site between the trail and the river where we set up the hammocks and enjoyed an early dinner and a small fire that was built in a Vargo Woodstove Matt was testing for the shop.
Day three started sunny but the weather turned on us by the afternoon. We followed the Ethan Pond trail for a mile and followed the side of Whitewall Mountain which provided for some outstanding views.
We left the Ethan Pond trail and proceeded along the Zeacliff trail. This trail was only 1.4 miles but climbed from 2300 feet to 3500 ft. If you look at the guide books, there is a statement that this trail is not advised for people carrying large packs. I would agree with this statement. Matt and I were comfortable with the climb but people unfamiliar with this type of scrambling should seek an alternate route (instead of taking Zeacliff, stay on Ethan Pond trail until it intersects with the Twinway trail). Even though this section was the steepest and most difficult portion of the trip, it was by far my favorite. The view from the trail and the sense of accomplishment when you reached the Twinway trail was absolutely great.
After 1.6 miles along the Twinway trail we took a short detour to summit Zealand Mtn. There was no view from the summit but it was one of the New Hampshire 48 peaks over 4000 feet. It also was Matt’s first 4000 footer since moving to the area.
At this point of the trip the weather turned on us. The clouds set in and the wind started to gust between 60 and 70 miles per hour. Fortunately we were entering the most exposed portion of the hike! We continued along the Twinway trail for another 1.3 miles before summiting Mt. Guyot.
Just after the summit we turned onto the Bondcliff trail and walked along the ridge for another mile before reaching the intersection of the small trail that lead down to the Guyot Campsite. I don’t have any picture of this section because of the adverse weather conditions.
The Guyot Campsite is down about 200 feet in elevation from the ridge to be below the alpine zone. This made for a rather demoralizing end to the day since you know that the reverse of this hike awaits you the following morning. Originally we planned on hanging our hammocks above some of the tent platforms but we scrapped that idea in favor of getting a place in the shelter to get out of the rain. Regardless of where you stay at the campsite there is an $8 per person per night fee. The site keeper accepts both cash and credit card.
The night in the shelter proved to be rather sleepless due to the 12 other people sharing the space. However, based on the wind and downpours that occurred overnight it was the better choice.
The terrible weather from the day before had blown out of the area and the sun shone down on us for the rest of the day. We climbed back up the trail to the Bondcliff trail to head to the highest peak of our trip. After less than half of a mile we intersected the trail to the summit of West Bond and took the mile round trip detour.
The summit of West Bond (another of the New Hampshire 4000 footers) provided 360 degree views of the Pemi wilderness and was one of the only areas were you would not see any man-made features. The pictures below show Bondcliffs, Mt. Lincoln and Mt Lafayette, Mt. Garfield, and South Twin in that order.
After the detour to West Bond we rejoined the Bondcliff trail and headed another half mile to the summit of Mt. Bond. This portion of the hike was in the alpine zone and the trail was made up of granite rocks which were tricky at times. Mt. Bond is another New Hampshire 4000 footer and was the highest point of our trek at 4698 feet. The views from here are outstanding and because of the distance from any trailhead there were very few people. From Mt. Bond you can get some pretty nice views of Mt. Washington.
The final portion along the ridge to the summit of Bondcliff was extremely exposed and passed along a cliff that dropped 1500 feet into the forest. Fortunately the winds were much calmer than the day before and the rocks were dry so there was limited risk of slipping.
The final 4.4 miles of the Bondcliff trail descended from over 4000 feet to 1700 feet. The first portion of the trail was very steep and required multiple seat slides down rock faces. This portion lasts for about a mile and then the trail becomes more of a dirt pack that descended through a number of switchbacks. At the bottom of the Bondcliff trail we hit the intersection of the Wilderness trail. We debated setting up camp for a final night here but we were only 3 miles from the parking lot and decided to walk out that day. The final portion of the Wilderness trail was pretty frustrating. It was perfectly flat and followed an old railroad bed. The majority of the ties were still in place across the trail. When the tracks were laid the ties were set at un-even distances. This was intentional so that people did not walk the tracks because of the annoyance of walking on awkwardly spaced ties. This was a great idea when they were installed and I’m sure prevented people from getting hit by trains. However, now that there are no tracks and no worry of being hit by a train it was incredibly tiring walking along this path. It was nearly impossible to get a rhythm in your walk which is important during the last stage of a hike.
The Wilderness trail ends by crossing a suspension bridge which leads to the parking lot.
I tracked the trip with my Garmin GPS so that I could upload the data on my computer when I got home. This provided me with the profile shown below. This is a great way to see the elevation changes throughout the trip. I also placed the track in google earth which is a neat way to get a picture of the whole trip.