The Bonds: A Refreshing Solo Outing on My Favorite Mountains in the Whites
The Bonds have always been my favorite mountains in the Whites. They’re mysterious and remote, only accessible to the hikers willing to brave the long trek in and out. There is no evidence of civilization from the summits with not a single road, building, or bridge in sight. The Pemigewasset Wilderness just feels so wild, and I fall more and more in love every time I step foot there. Last Tuesday I was planning on hiking Owl’s Head because it’s one of my favorite peaks, but when I saw the weather forecast I couldn’t help but change my plans. It was set to be a gorgeous sunny day with very little wind and no chance of storms.
Hiking the Bonds in a day is a big undertaking simply because of the long mileage required. It’s over twenty-three miles out and back from Lincoln Woods, and with Zealand Rd closed that’s the shortest option. The terrain is fairly easy, with a large portion of the hike being flat. The elevation gain is very gradual, so if there weren’t so many miles of flat trail this would be a moderate hike. But alas, views like these must come at a price.
I started the day late after sleeping in and hit the trail around 8:30am. Usually for a hike of this magnitude I would try to be on the trail around 7:00am but I figured the extra hour of sleep was especially important for this one. I had packed up my trail running vest the night before and it was stuffed with food, emergency equipment, and three liters of water. I was nervous about switching from my normal day pack to a smaller vest, but I was glad to find out that I didn’t have to sacrifice my ten essentials and everything fit nicely. I wanted the vest because the flat walk out Lincoln Woods at the end of the day has always been my least favorite part of these mountains, and I wanted to be able to jog my way back.
As I started along the trail I tried to keep a good pace without burning myself out too early. My pack was bouncing around a bit from the weight of all my water and gear, so I decided to speed walk instead of jogging in. I was a little nervous since I’m not really in hiking shape at the moment, but I soon felt myself getting into a nice rhythm. I knew this was going to be a long day solo in the mountains, so I put on a podcast to keep me company as I sauntered along the wide flat rail bed. It was a chilly morning in the 50s, so I was glad to be moving quickly and warming myself up.
In the past few months living in Sugar Hill I’ve done quite a bit of low elevation hiking which has been perfect for my dog Lucy. We’ve explored lots of new trails and done some redlining, but I realized as I walked along by myself that I couldn’t remember my last solo hike in the Whites. Looking back at my records, this was my first solo hike since I was in Canada in March, my first solo hike in the Whites since September, and my first solo NH 4K since I finished my 48 on the Wildcats in February of 2019. Looking back at my records I couldn’t believe it. I’ve done quite a bit of solo hiking in Maine and Vermont working on my New England 4,000 footers, but I didn’t realize it had been so long since my last solo New Hampshire 4K ascent. This is also because I’ve been tailoring my hiking to Lucy’s abilities, so we’ve done a lot of hiking together. I don’t count hikes with Lucy as solo hikes because the best part of a solo hike for me is not having to worry about anyone else’s needs, abilities, or pace. When I hike with Lucy she’s all I think about, so it doesn’t feel the same as a true solo hike where I can really let go and relax.
Lincoln Woods wasn’t so bad on the way in because of the anticipation. When I started up Bondcliff Tr I started to get really excited. At that point I had seen only a few people, and I hoped with it being a weekday that I would have some summit solitude as I got up on the ridge. When I finally reached the treeline just before Bondcliff, all I could see was the vast wilderness surrounding me. A huge smile broke out across my face as I climbed the last little bit of trail to the summit of my favorite 4,000 footer.
There was one backpacker at the summit of Bondcliff, but by the time I got there he was on his way out so after a quick chat I had it all to myself. Although it’s remote, the Bonds are a fairly popular hike so being alone on top is rare. Sitting on the edge of Bondcliff I felt like I was in heaven. It was sunny and beautiful with a light breeze perfect for blowing the black flies away. I felt like I was on top of the world looking down upon the forest. I sat up there for I don’t even know how long just taking it all in. I can’t even put into words how amazing and serene it feels to sit up on the edge of the cliff and look down at the vast wilderness.
After some snacks I set off for my second summit of the day. I feel like between the glory of Bondcliff and the amazing sunset potential on West Bond, Mt. Bond sometimes gets overlooked. Bond is an amazing summit all on its own with one of my favorite views in the Whites. As you look back over the ridge to Bondcliff, you can see a distinct trail making its way through the tundra. When I got to the summit of Mt. Bond I stood for a while taking in the sharp ridge realizing that I had just traversed it. I do this frequently when I hike and it always amazes me how far I’ve come since the mountains always look so far away.
As I made my way over to West Bond I thought about what a perfect day this was for a long ridge traverse. Although the sun was beaming, there was a nice breeze that made the temperature perfect and the bugs nonexistent. The trails were quiet and I only saw a few other people all day. I always like seeing a few other hikers on the trail mostly to be able to know in the back of my mind that if anything bad happened there were other people around that would have my back as the hiking community has proved time and time again. Reaching the summit of West Bond was an amazing feeling. Not only was it another great view, but it marked the halfway point of my hike. I had a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that I had made it this far, but I was still nervous about the hike out especially since it was already almost 2:00pm. After a quick break I retraced my steps for the long descent.
I stopped again on Mt. Bond and Bondcliff to appreciate the views before dropping off the ridge and felt lucky that there was a good source of water about a mile from the summit of Bondcliff. I had never seen this water source running before, so I was relieved that I could filter an extra few liters for the way out. I had started with three liters but my water bladder had run dry upon my return to Bondcliff. Although I almost always prefer hiking loops to out and back routes, one benefit is that you have a first hand account of the trail report before descending. I had passed this water source without filtering earlier in the day because I knew since I was coming back the same way I’d be able to use it and minimize my pack weight above treeline.
My legs ached getting up from my rocky perch filtering water. I had already done a lot of mileage for the day and I still had a good amount left. As I descended, I reflected on how this trip was moderate as far as terrain but made difficult by the long distance involved. If the walk in and out of Lincoln Woods didn’t exist I’m sure this would be an extremely very popular hike. I cursed the flat trail the entire walk out with my knees and ankles throbbing every step of the way. I jogged for the last three miles simply because I wanted to be back to the car so badly and I was jumpy as a result of my bear encounter a few weeks before. Every little noise had me on my toes, and the mosquitos and black flies were making the experience exponentially worse. I used to love dusk in the mountains, but it’s become clear that the month of June is not the optimal time to be hanging out in the back woods.
As I jogged back, I thought a lot about the past few years and how unexpected my hiking obsession was. How unlikely it was that breaking my neck would fuel my love of the outdoors. And how when I broke my neck I could barely walk around the block never mind think about hiking 23 miles in a day. If you told me back in 2017 that in three years we would be in the midst of a global pandemic hiking over 23 miles just because I loved the views, I would have laughed. But here I was soloing the most mileage I’ve ever done in a day and running across the finish line with a huge grin on my face.
I don’t often think about all of the ways breaking my neck has changed my life, about everything that I’ve gained because of my accident. Common sense is pretty high up on that list but more importantly self-respect, confidence, determination, independence, and perseverance. I know a lot of people change significantly between the ages of twenty and twenty-three, but to be quite honest if I hadn’t broken my neck I may have stayed in the job that burned me out with friends who weren’t supportive and a distorted self-image that made me ashamed every time I looked in the mirror. Now all I see when I look in the mirror is a girl who conquers mountains surrounded by people who support her and who is proud of herself. This hike helped me remember that breaking my neck changed my life in all the right ways and that I’m so lucky that I’m able to have so many opportunities for more growth in the future. Solo hikes always make me feel unstoppable, and I feel so fortunate that I was able to feel that for all 23 miles of this one.
Bondcliff (4,265 ft), Mt. Bond (4,698 ft), and West Bond (4,540 ft) via Lincoln Woods Tr, Bondcliff Tr, and West Bond Spur [23.33 mi, 4823 ft, 10:31].