You know how they say time flies? Well, it sure doesn’t fly during the course of a difficult hike. But, looking back on my five years of climbing New Hampshire’s 48, I have to say I can’t believe I finished. I’m still in disbelief about finally achieving the goal I have worked at since age 11. Finishing on the majestic Bonds was a fitting end to my epic journey.
This hike was actually done at the end of May, but is being posted now (unfortunately, blogging takes a back seat to studying, taking finals, drivers ed, and a family vacation).
I happily skipped a day of school on Friday to begin my backpacking trip. Zealand was not invited on this hike because of the uncertain camping/sleeping situation (more on this later).
Our hike began on the very uneventful Lincoln Woods Trail. For those who are not familiar with this trail, it is an extremely long, extremely flat, and extremely boring length of terrain you have to get through if your goal is to summit the Bonds. You can see your path down this trail for at least a half mile, and it seems to extend as you make progress. I had traversed this never-ending trail once before when hiking Owl’s Head, but this time, I had to hike on it for five miles instead of three. Including the hike back, I spent a lengthy ten miles in mental torture. I was wishing for a bike to speed things up, but I knew that if I biked part of the hike, I would not have officially hiked the Bonds (by both the AMC rules and my own morals).
At last, we turned onto a real trail with more mental stimuli; roots, trees, rocks, bends, curves, ups, and downs. We were five miles in and my pack was already getting heavy, but the real hike had only just begun. I still had yet to see snow, and although I am a winter girl who lives and breathes snow, I was kind of hoping that it would not make an appearance on my hike. We weren’t carrying snowshoes and balancing on the monorail in just micro-spikes is difficult. I also didn’t want to freeze during the night, and was replaying my memories of sleeping at Carter hut in the early spring and shivering in my sleeping bag. It was almost June after all, but as I’ve learned over some recent hikes, the mountains never pay attention to the seasons.
Our goal for that day was the Goyot Campsite which was about .5 mi beyond Mt. Bond. I was growing increasingly nervous that we would not be able to secure a tent platform. We had started late, and I was sure others were ahead, ready to claim the spots before us. This made me a little competitive with the groups around us. We passed a father and two teens, a man and his dog, and managed to stay ahead of the two young men. I wanted fewer breaks and was motivated to go even faster than we already were going. Knowing that snow was imminent, I had an additional worry that all the platforms may be covered, and that we wouldn’t be warm enough camping atop snow. With no place to set up our tent, we would have to stay in the community lean-to, which is an open-air wooden structure that I had no interest in sleeping in.
Eventually, the easy gradual climb was over, and the trail shot straight up the mountain. Snow came and went in certain sections. We had to walk across the monorail, a narrow raised balance beam of packed snow that formed from the pounding of previous hikers. I was dreaming of retractable spikes that could come on and off with the press of a button because putting them on for snow and off for rocks was a pain.
Finally, after a grueling climb up to the ridge, made even more difficult with a heavy overnight pack I was not used to carrying, we reached the treeline. We hunkered down below it; it was just a short boulder climb to get out of the protection of the trees. You could see the wind whipping across the barren rock and the gray clouds that surrounded it. I knew I would be on the exposed ridge for a good period of time, climbing first over Bondcliff and then up to Mt. Bond, so I took a break to layer up. I pulled my big hoodie over my lighter sweatshirt, covered as much of my face as possible with my hat and hood, and grabbed my heavy ski mittens. Gators were already covering my ankles, and with only my face exposed, I was ready to venture into the cold. Luckily, I was not as sweaty as my dad, whose shirt was in the process freezing onto his skin. I buckled my pack back on, and began my climb into the clouds.
The wind threatened to knock me off my feet, so I took as sturdy of a stance as I could, lowered my head, and plowed through. I could barely see the outline of the cliff through the clouds, and though I wanted that infamous Bondcliff picture, I knew that I had a very decent chance of plunging to my death if I stood on the edge on such a windy day. Hopefully the weather would clear up the next day, when we would be retracing our steps back over the same ridge. At least there was no snow above the treeline. It had probably either been burned away in the sun or swept away by the elements. I made a mental check as I passed over the top of Bondcliff; I had conquered my 46th 4,000 footer. Clinging onto boulders and rocks, I carefully made my way down into the valley.
Eventually, we pulled ourselves up into the trees covering a short stretch before the peak of Mt. Bond. We took a much-needed break and I ate two oranges. A bit of a side note, but food tastes so much better when you are hiking. Usually, oranges are not my cup of tea, but I devoured the two fruits and they were delicious. To keep the sweat from freezing, we kept our breaks brief, even though I would have loved to sit on my pack for another hour.
We pulled the spikes back on because we were off the rocks and into the snow once again. Though steep, it wasn’t too long of a climb before we reached the top of Mt. Bond, the highest of the Bonds. Our view was partially compromised, but I rejoiced in having summited my 47th.
From there, it was all downhill to camp. A 1/2 mile and a few post-holes later, we had made it. Since we were in the off-season, there was no caretaker and few campers. To my delight, the platforms were clear of snow!! The snow must have melted through the cracks. We picked out a platform and set up camp. My shoes and pants were soaking wet from the snow and I was shivering in the cold while we set up. We purified water from a nearby stream for our dinner by pumping it through our heavy purifier and into the water bladders. Our tent was wet, dirty, and cramped, but we were thankful to climb in. I layered up with every piece of clothing I had brought and blew up my inflatable sleeping pad. To my dad’s dismay, he found that he had accidentally brought a light summer sleeping bag that would not do much for keeping him warm in the snow. We shared some layers, and hoped that the tiny tent would do a good job of keeping in our body heat.
Starving, we pulled out our tiny camp stove and lit it outside the tent. We poured the chilly purified stream water (nicknamed “icy fresh mountain water”) into the pot to boil. At last, my ramen was filled with warm water and my dad was eating his (somewhat crunchy) bow-ties.
For the rest of the night, we played cards. I was jealous that my dad had brought his ultra-light, collapsible camp chair. I had forgotten mine, so I was playing in my sleeping bag. We had a cold night’s sleep. Somebody was snoring and my hands and feet were freezing despite the hand warmers in my socks and mittens. But at last, the chirping birds were our alarm clock as the sun rose. I noticed the beautiful sunrise right outside our tent. Our platform had by far the best views and it was incredible to wake up in the woods to chirping birds and a sunrise.
A few pop-tarts and a bagel later, we were quickly off to the next peak, my final 4,000 footer, West Bond!!!! It was terribly painful to slide my sore feet back into my cold, wet boots. We trudged through the snow until we got to the turnoff for West Bond, where we left our packs behind. I took my last sip of the icy fresh mountain water, and took off towards the peak of West Bond, packless. It was such a freeing feeling to walk without that weight, but the relief was short-lived. I struggled to balance on the narrow and unclear monorail and post-holed frequently. Each post-hole sent more and more snow up my pant legs and sweatshirt. Somehow, the trail seemed to fade away. We were standing in the middle of the snow-blanketed forest with no idea where to go. With the snow elevated three feet above the ground, the sections of the trees that are cleared to make the path easy to follow were buried, and low-hanging branches covered the ground everywhere. We hardcore bushwhacked, sliding through and getting scratched by pesky branches. There was no monorail off trail, so we were sinking like crazy. Below is a picture I took of my dad ahead of me. Can you spot him through the trees?
At last, we could see the general outline of the peak poking up far in front of us, so we made our way towards that. This was my 48th 4,000 footer. Trail or no trail, I was getting to the top of that mountain. In what seemed like an eternity later, we miraculously found our way back onto the trail! After lots of falling, lots of scratches, numb feet, and lots and lots of snow, we made it to the final boulders before the top. I clawed my way up the rocks until I made it to the exposed, sunny peak and peeled off my shoes to regain some feeling in my feet. The weather was perfect, there was no wind, and the views were incredible. I let the sun beat down on me and breathed in the fresh morning mountain air. The sun still had not made its way to the top of the sky and continued to rise against my back. I couldn’t believe I had finished all the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire; I’ve been working at this goal for so long. From winter hiking to my ventures above the treeline, I’ve learned and experienced a lot. It was incredible to look out at my view and know I’ve been on every one of those peaks.
We hiked down to our packs, and back up Mt. Bond again. This day, the views were incredible, much much better than the clouds we saw the day before. I was glad I had brought a tiny thumb-sized tube of sunscreen. Walking down the ridge from Mt. Bond to Bondcliff was also amazing and beautiful. I made my final climb up rocky Bondcliff and stood out on the famous rock for my picture! It was scary; a huge drop surrounded me on three sides. I laid down on the rocks, absorbing the morning sun and enjoying the best views I had ever seen. There’s a reason the Bonds are known for their views. I could not see a single road or man-made structure and felt free and removed from society. All that surrounded me was the massive Pemigewasset Wilderness and I was again reminded why I love to hike. This hike is not as popular as some others, like the uber-popular Lincoln and Lafayette loop, because of its length (the mileage is somewhere in the lower twenties). But sometimes, to get a reward like this, you have to work really, really hard. I was glad we did this as a backpacking trip because I had time to take long breaks to enjoy the peaks instead of rushing through a day hike. Also, I was thrilled to be able to return to the peaks that had been so cloudy the day before.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb”
I wish I could’ve captured how cool this was in a picture. It was so real, so incredible, and the pictures do it no justice. I have to rank this hike very high in my favorites and was so very happy to have saved the best for last. AMC 4,000 Footers Club, you are gaining a new member!