This hike has haunted Jeremy and me for the better part of 10 years (minus, of course, the few years we blocked it from our memory). In the early oughts, we were weekend-warrioring in the Whites pretty hard. Franconia ridge, Presi traverse, Canon-Kinsman, Twins-Zealand-Hale, Moriah-Wildcats etc. I worked nights then and when I'd get home from work I'd pull out the maps and start planning the next weekend's adventure. And on one of those nights, like some kind of topographical jesus-toast, the loop appeared on the wrinkled pages before me! I jotted down the individual trail mileages as described in the White Mountain Guide and the ball was rolling.
A brief description of our previous attempts, 2005 and 2007:
Fast forward to last weekend:
Carly and I drove over from Stowe friday evening and met up with Jeremy who drove up from Boston. We gorged ourselves on meats and adult beverages at the Woodstock Inn. Which might not have been the best idea before a 30 mile hike (weird), but it was really tasty. I recommend the "Train Wreck Sandwich"! We pulled into the lincoln woods trailhead around 8:30p and settled in for a few $hi^^y hours of sleep in the back of our trucks. After a night filled with: constant headlights pulling into the lot; the roof of Carly's truck-cap 3" from my face; and a team of Quebecois who parked right next to Jeremy, drank beers for a couple hours, giggling in French with the occasional "Dude, where's my car?" and "Very nize!", the 3 am alarm felt like a punch in the mouth. In the frosty, pitch black, pre-dawn hour, we scarfed down a few bagels, stretched, pulled up our socks and hit the trail at 3:45a. Jeremy and I agreed that our third try would be the last, so I tried to come up with a rough plan of how to get the team through the day without any bailing, but still finish at a reasonable hour. I figured if we could just keep moving slow and steady on the big ups, cruise at a good pace on the flats, and take short breaks on Lafayette, Garfield, Galehead hut, South Twin and Bondcliff, we would be ok.
We reached the top of Flume just after sunrise (~6:30a), feeling good!
We made it to Garfield at 10:20a...still feeling good! The weather couldn't have been better for this hike; sunny, temps in the low 70's, dew point in the 40's and a steady 10mph wind on the ridge.
The hardest part of this hike mentally and physically (in my opinion) is the 3.1 miles from the top of Garfield to the Galehead hut. I didn't take any pictures of this section, but it's comprised of a steep descent off the top of Garfield into the woods and then 2.7 miles of PUD's (pointless ups and downs) that literally bring your pace to a crawl. But, just as your ambition starts to dissolve into salty tears, you are rewarded with a nice pitstop at the Galehead hut. Lying at just about the 1/2 way point on the loop, it's a convenient spot to refill your water bottle and grab a snack. However, the temptation to linger at this welcoming oasis will turn your knees to stone and leave your hopes of finishing the loop face-down in the composting privy. From here, there is a steep ascent (1,150' in 0.8 miles) to the top of South Twin. Many have come to fear this section, but we found it to be no-problem. We must have timed our stop at the hut perfectly… somehow.
South Twin, 2:15p. We took a much needed 20 minute break here. There were still 13.6 more miles to go, but the biggest elevation gains were behind us. Carly's pointing to lincoln, and you can see the pointy summit of Garfield all by itself to the right.
Bond, 4:00p. Feeling the pain. The summit of Bondcliff is visible just to the right of the cairn.
I think the section between Bond and Bondcliff is my favorite stretch of trail in all of NH.
Bondcliff, 4:30p. The final summit. We hung out here for a solid hour, staring at Franconia ridge in the distance, eating sausage, cheese and chocolate.
8:30p: 3 miles of steady descent and 5 miles of flat brought us back to the lincoln woods parking lot... and a cooler full of pizza and beer. 16 hours, 31 miles and 9100' vert later, it was finally over, a decade in the making. Of course, we weren't the only ones to complete the loop that day. We met two other groups, hiking the same direction as us at a similar pace. We saw a few people going the other direction, and a countless number of people RUNNING past us between Bondcliff and the parking lot. It comes as no surprise that hiking the pemi loop on a beautiful Saturday near the solstice brings out the crowds. In fact, the FKT (fastest known time) record was crushed, for the hundredth time, the week before our attempt, at a blistering 6h45m! I'm really not even that proud of doing the pemi loop in a day. But, being able to close that chapter in our lives felt really good, especially after our history on the route. I've never been the type of person that sets a goal and then just immediately completes it through a series of planning and training. There's something about doing it the hard way and having to learn a lesson that really appeals to me. I can't tell if I do it on purpose, if I'm just a procrastinator, or maybe a combination of the two. I've been working on the NH 48 for I can't even remember how long. I could've easily finished it years ago, but where's the fun in that? It's nice to have something to look forward to. I'm not sure where the next ridge line will take me (the hut traverse?!?!?), but I hope it takes me 10 years to finish it.