The stars aligned in mid November for the at least once per calendar year backpacking trip with my friend, Tom, after several scheduling conflicts and postponements. Tom is, in fact, the very person who introduced me to backpacking. At his request due to a hectic schedule full of work and grad school void of physical activity, I plotted out an easy trip summiting Mt. Moosilauke, the farthest west of the NH 4,000 footers, staying over at a Dartmouth Outing Club cabin. As per usual I decided on this route late Thursday, and discovered Friday morning that reservations were required. So plan B was enacted; camp at Hancock campsite Friday night, and figure out the rest Saturday morning.
It was nice to finally get up to the whites before midnight and have some conversation instead of 2 red bulls to keep me alert for the drive.
We had plenty of time to get a nice fire going and warm up before a chilly night’s sleep. The temp may have dipped to the low 20’s. I was in my 20* bag with a fleece lining and really wouldn’t want to spend any colder nights in that bag.
We managed to sleep in till 9am, and by the time we were up the temp was rising quickly. It looked like the guyot campsite had the shortest trek into the backcountry from the trail heads in the area, so we decided to drive up to the Lincoln Woods center and hike in over Mt. Bondcliff and Mt. Bond paying little attention to the actual mileage required to get there.
It must have been around 11am by the time we were actually on the trail. We started off in good spirit quickly putting 4 flat miles along an old railroad behind us. The bridge crossing the Franconia Brook tributary of the Pemigewasset River, East Branch, used the original rail bridge abutments.
We were happy to finally leave the rail trail and start ascending, sort of, we went up and down, meandering through the woods hurdling many a fallen tree. The AMC guidebook is spot on when it says “the trails in the Pemigewasset Wilderness are in general maintained to a lower standard than trails outside the wilderness. They may be rough, overgrown, or essentially unmarked with minimal signage, and considerable care may be required to follow them.” When the mountain ascent did in fact start, the sun was already showing signs of setting leaving us to wonder how close we would be pushing our campsite arrival with darkness. Too make things more interesting, Tom fell out of his groove, and our pace slowed to a crawl. I think we both started scoping out the woods on either side of the trail in case we needed to turn back and set up camp off the trail. Suddenly we popped out above the tree line.
The picturesque and reacquired sunlight views rejuvenated our legs.
The weather was very calm on the summit ridge and sticking around for a magnificent sunset over Franconia Notch was well worth hiking the rest of the way in the moonlight.
The moon provided plenty of light above tree line, we still had to go up and over Mt. Bond to reach the guyot campsite. The surge provided by the first summit faded, I was starting to feel exhausted and Tom was having some serious issues. Patience and a calm demeanor is your friend in these uncertain situations. Chocolate was not providing any energy boost so I offered up some ibuprofen, and low and behold it seemed to do the trick. We finally reached the Mt. Bond Summit sometime around 7 pm.
We descended the north side of mt. bond on a very slippery layer of frozen snow (need to get some microspikes for these situations). Finally we reached the Guyot campsite, much to our chagrin a troop of boyscouts claimed the entire shelter to themselves and said good luck clearing a tent platform of snow and ice, jerks. Well we did just that and had a nice spot to cook ourselves some dinner.
Sidenote: We used to leave the stove at home and survive on trail mix, jerky, and pb&j’s. What a mistake this was. The stove and cooking equipment are minimal extra weight, and there
is nothing better are few things better than a hot meal after an exhausting day of hiking. The stove is going to get plenty of use from now on.
I doubt the temp dropped below freezing during the evening. The sleeping was much better than Friday night other than, the 3 AM pee trip and 5 AM hallucination of an animal rummaging through our gear.
The views were spectacular Sunday Morning. The Bonds are centrally located in the Pemigewasset wilderness surround by mountains on all sides. So the views pretty much sucked.
We made it down to the rail trail without any of the issues that slowed us down on the way up.
Once we reached the rail trail, we ran into a whole new problem. 4.4 miles of flat boring terrain. It just wouldn’t end, there was nothing to look at to keep our mind free from thinking about our horribly blistered feet. The last mile to the parking lot must have been the slowest mile I have ever traveled. “Shot” doesn’t even to begin to described how dead we both were.
Our fun low key backpacking weekend turned into a 22 mile slog through one of the most remote areas of the White Mountain National Forest. Once again a very memorable adventure that I would not trade in. However, next time I will take a closer look at the trail mileages and be sure to factor in fitness levels of all the hikers.