The Pemi Loop: The Ultimate Peakbagging Expedition for #8-18!
Updated: Jul 17, 2018
40.2 miles, 12,000 feet gained, and thirteen mountains in 55 hours. Probably the most mentally and physically challenging weekend of my life. It might sound crazy or impossible, but we did it! Bondcliff, Mt. Bond, West Bond, Mt. Guyot, South Twin Mtn, North Twin Mtn, Galehead Mtn, Mt. Garfield, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Lincoln, Little Haystack Mtn, Mt. Liberty, and Mt. Flume for a counter-clockwise Pemi Loop. Man was it an experience!
Day 1: Friday, July 13, 2018
The day started out early with a quick breakfast in Sugar Hill before heading out to the Lincoln Woods trailhead. My friend Josh was my hiking buddy for this loop. It's always nice to have other people to hike with especially on a three day backpacking trip, and I was very thankful that he carried some shared equipment to reduce my pack weight a little bit. At the trailhead we weighed our packs with food and full water bladders. Mine came in at 26.5 lbs, which I was happy with after cutting many extra things out the night before. We then crossed the suspension bridge and started our long journey (you can find the timetable and mileage splits for our whole trip here).
The Lincoln Woods trail was almost completely flat for the five miles before we reached the Bondcliff Trail. We took a short detour to Franconia Falls and debated going for a quick swim, but we wanted to press on for timing purposes and hiking wet for the rest of the day didn't sound too enticing. After almost two flat miles on the Bondcliff trail, we came across the last stream crossing with guaranteed running water, so we filtered two liters each and kept on going. We made it up the steep part of the Bondcliff trail to Bondcliff just before noon.
Bondcliff was easily the highlight of the whole weekend for me. I've been looking forward to this hike for a long time, but since it's so remote it's hard to find a good time to go do it. We got a few pictures on the cliff and some of the amazing views to the east. This was an awesome place for lunch, so PB&J's and trail mix fueled us for our next peak, Mt. Bond.
Bond was another summit with crazy amazing views. It was a short hike from Bondcliff so we only stopped for long enough to take in the views and have a sip of water. We then hiked past the West Bond Spur down to the Guyot campsite to refill our now empty water bladders. We dropped our heavy bags and quickly zipped back up to West Bond for the third summit of the day.
I think what I loved most about the Bonds was how remote they were. No matter which way you look you can see amazing views far into the distance with hardly any signs of civilization in sight. It was truly breathtaking. We would have loved to stay at Guyot campsite, but it was only 4:30 when we finished West Bond so we figured with a long day tomorrow it would be better to keep going and get some mileage out of the way now with the four extra hours of daylight. Although it's not an official 4,000 footer we bagged Mt. Guyot as well since it was so close. We pushed up the Twinway and kept on going.
We reached South Twin about an hour before sunset and decided to take a long dinner break to watch it before setting up camp on the North Twin Spur. We set up the cooking equipment and boiled some water for a much needed warm meal. I had the Mountain House Chicken and Biscuits freeze dried meal, and Josh had the Backpackers Pantry Kung Pao Chicken. After being pretty skeptical at first, I was pleasantly surprised that chicken and biscuits one was absolutely delicious. It tasted exactly like chicken pot pie, and sitting on the summit under the sunset eating a warm meal was heaven. Unfortunately, Josh couldn't exactly say the same about the underwhelming Kung Pao Chicken. I guess freeze dried meals are pretty hit or miss, and that one definitely missed the mark.
After dinner and the sunset, we hiked a little ways down the North Twin Spur until we found a good spot pretty far off the trail to camp. We set everything up as night quickly fell and turned in early to prepare ourselves for a 3:45 wake up time in order to catch the sunrise on North Twin in the morning. Friday's totals came to roughly 16.4 miles, 5070 feet gained, and 13 hours and 25 minutes on the trail. Quite a long day!
Day 2: Saturday, July 14, 2018
The 3:45 alarm came too quickly, waking us up from our much needed sleep after a good bit of mileage out of the way yesterday. We slowly packed up camp and got on the trail well before first light with our headlamps coming in handy. We made it up to North Twin just as the sun was rising, but to our dismay the lookout on top of the mountain faced west! We scurried down to a clearing of blowdowns to see it, but watching from South Twin may have been a better option in hindsight. The colors were beautiful though even through the trees. We made coffee and watched for a few minutes before backtracking to South Twin to start the long stretch ahead of us for the day.
It was a steep descent to Galehead Hut where they were just about to serve breakfast. Here we filled up our water bladders and headed out to find a spot to make breakfast. We debated waiting for the guests to be done and grabbing leftovers, but we ended up deciding that making our own breakfast would be easier and faster. We split a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet and some apple cinnamon instant oatmeal which was actually a pretty great breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed up to Galehead Mountain for our sixth 4000 footer of the trip. It was a wooded peak so we just tagged it and kept moving. The forecast showed a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, so we were trying to hustle our way through the ridges before it became too dangerous to go across. When there's thunder and lightning on the ridge it's really unsafe to be up there and you have to get down below treeline because of the potential for lightning strikes. I know it sounds crazy that you could get hit by lightning, but the AMC book says it so it must be true!
From Galehead we headed south on the Twin Brook Trail for a detour from the traditional Pemi loop. We wanted to see 13 Falls but it ended up being to cold to hop in the falls for a quick swim. We then headed back north up the Franconia Brook Trail back to Garfield Ridge. The path was extremely wet and mucky, but the ascent was pretty gradual so it wasn't too bad. We got to the Garfield Ridge Campsite midday and took a lunch break. We also loaded up with water because we knew that we wouldn't have any access to more until we got to Liberty Springs almost eight miles later. By this time we were already feeling tired, but we had to keep pushing in order to make it to the campsite before dark.
The trek up Garfield was short but steep. I didn't drink enough water the day before, so I was getting cramps above my knees and in my quads. Not to mention the blisters on my heels hadn't healed from hiking last weekend so they were giving me grief. The summit of Mt. Garfield was actually really cool with the foundation of an old fire tower marking the highest point. It would have been better if it wasn't super foggy. It was starting to rain at this point so we continued moving towards the summit of Mt. Lafayette.
It is pretty well known that the portion of the Garfield Ridge trail between the summit of Garfield and Lafayette is one of the most difficult stretches on a counter-clockwise Pemi Loop. Not only was this section tedious and difficult under good circumstances, the weather was not in our favor. I don't have any pictures from this point on because the weather made it impossible to see more than 50 feet in front of us.
I also was aware going in that Lafayette is known for its false peaks when approaching from the north side. I wasn't sure how many there were, but there had to have been at least seven or eight. Scrambling up slippery rock faces with very heavy water-filled packs, we reached every false peak hoping it would be the summit. No luck. The worst part was that it was so foggy and misty that visibility was terrible so we couldn't see the final summit at all, making us think that every peak was the top. Lafayette was playing mind games on us! This was really demoralizing especially because we were in pain and still pretty far from our final destination, Liberty Springs campsite. To be exact, we were at mile 12 and we had 4 more long miles to go.
We finally reached the summit of Lafayette, but we couldn't stop to enjoy it because the wind was gusting at around 40mph threatening to blow us right off of Franconia Ridge. We still had two more mountains to climb and a steep descent to the campground. I had been singing my favorite song, Wagon Wheel, over and over in my head for the past four miles at this point, but it started to get old so I turned on some music to keep our minds off of the pain we were feeling in our lower limbs. The music gave me a second wind to allow me to keep pushing through Lincoln and Little Haystack. I honestly am not sure which of the many bumps in the trail the summit of Lincoln was because of the lack of a sign at the summit (there may have been one but it was so foggy we couldn't see anything). I know we definitely went over it at some point because we stayed on the trail and it goes right over Lincoln with no spur to the summit. It was a nice surprise to realize that we had passed the summit of Lincoln when we reached the Little Haystack summit sign.
When we finally got below treeline it was starting to get dark. We had calculated and planned on arriving at Liberty Springs by 5:00, but with our detour to 13 Falls we added a solid three hours to that estimate for an 8:00 arrival. The wind was so strong and the terrain was so difficult that we were moving slightly slower than book time. Nearing mile 16 for the day, we finally came to the Liberty Springs Trail crossing. I have never been so happy to see a trail sign in my life. We hobbled down the steep 0.3 miles to the campsite and got a platform just as it was getting too dark to see without a headlamp. We were the last ones to make it to the camp at 8:45, and we made a quick dinner of Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and Backpackers Pantry Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken. I think they were both pretty good but to be honest I was so tired that my memory is a little foggy. We turned in for the night after one of the longest, most challenging days of my life. Our totals for the day were roughly 16 miles, 5,870 feet gained, and a whopping 16 hours and 20 minutes on the trail. Yikes!
Day 3: Sunday, July 15, 2018
Waking up yesterday, we felt rested from our journey the day before. We were a bit sore and I had some nasty blisters on my feet, but the weather was looking good and today was our shortest day mileage wise. We chatted with some other hikers while eating oatmeal and Mountain House Breakfast Hash. We actually ended up seeing someone Josh knew from Boston, which was crazy because we were out in the middle of nowhere. Everyone was really nice and it was fun to talk to about our adventures! We took our time breaking camp and ended up leaving pretty late around 10:15.
The summit of Mt. Liberty was a short hike from the campsite, and the steep incline warmed us up quickly. The clouds hadn't quite blown through yet, but the summit was a beautiful sight. The large rocks stuck straight up into the sky yielding a really defined summit. Although my legs were shaky from the day before, I carefully climbed to the top of one of the pointy rocks for the sake of the picture. We then pushed on to Mt. Flume, our last peak of the trip.
By the time we got to the summit of Mt. Flume, the clouds had lifted giving us an amazing view. It was our thirteenth and final mountain and the eleventh official 4,000 footer that we summited throughout the trip. This was really breathtaking after yesterday's lack of any views at all. We could see across the valley and past Owl's Head to Bondcliff where we had been just two days before. The Pemigewasset Wilderness looked so vast with our previous peaks so far in the distance. It was crazy to see how far we trekked in just 48 hours. We had a quick snack at the summit of Flume and started down the Osseo Trail for our final descent.
The Osseo Trail is famous for its wooden staircases, and we were glad to be going down them and not up. There were a few beautiful viewpoints along the steep descent as well, but once we got about a mile down the trail it flattened out. At this point we were pretty exhausted and itching to get back to the car. We agreed that it had been a great trip, but we were definitely ready for it to be over. The flat, 3 mile stretch of the Osseo trail felt like it went on forever, but we finally made it back to the Lincoln Woods trail. For this mile and a half stretch back to the car we saw countless families, bikers, and people wearing sandals, a good sign that we were close.
We finally reached the suspension bridge to the parking lot at 2:25 and were beaming with joy. We made it! I've never been more happy to see a hot car that had been sitting in the sun for three days. Feelings of accomplishment and pride washed over us as we dropped our heavy packs and took off our boots. I can't even explain in words how good it felt to be done, but at the same time I was kind of sad that it was over. I turned on my phone, which had been on airplane mode for the last three days and slowly accepted the reality that we were back to civilization. We went back to Sugar Hill to do some laundry and take much needed showers, then headed to the Woodstock Inn for some well deserved burgers. Our day three totals were 7.4 miles, 1,060 vertical feet, and 4 hours and 10 minutes of hiking time. This doesn't seem like much compared to the previous two days, but the long, flat sections were almost as mentally challenging as the steep, rocky ones.
Overall, the Pemi Loop was an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. It was definitely the most difficult hike I've ever done and probably the biggest physical test I've ever been up against. It was also mentally draining at many points, but that was overcome by how rewarding it was. I learned a lot about myself through it and gained a greater respect for the thru-hikers we saw along the way. Also, I’d like to give a huge shoutout to Josh for not only accompanying me, but for also for pushing through fatigue and for dealing with me and my lack of directional awareness. I couldn't have done it without him!
This hike really gave meaning to Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote, "life is a journey, not a destination." Cliche I know, but the fact that we started and ended in the same place after going through so many experiences and seeing so many things still baffles me a little bit. Even though it was crazy difficult, there was not one point at which I wished to be anywhere else in the world.
The Super Extended Pemi Loop [40.2 mi, 12,000 ft, 55 hours] via. Lincoln Woods Trail, Bondcliff Trail, West Bond Spur, The Twinway, North Twin Spur, Twin Brook Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, and Osseo Trail.
#8 Bondcliff (4265 ft), #9 Mt. Bond (4698 ft), #10 West Bond (4540 ft), Mt. Guyot, #11 South Twin Mtn (4902 ft), #12 North Twin Mtn (4761 ft), #13 Galehead Mtn (4024 ft), #14 Mt. Garfield (4500 ft), #15 Mt. Lafayette (5260 ft), #16 Mt. Lincoln (5089 ft), Little Haystack Mtn, #17 Mt. Liberty (4459 ft), and #18 Mt. Flume (4328 ft).