Pemi Loop and Galehead (5 July 2014)

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Well-known member
Jan 28, 2010
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NH Seacoast
I had planned Saturday to do some sort of interesting hike, but was not exactly sure what I wanted to do. I have been considering a Moosilauke/Kinsman/Cannon traverse or a Carter-Wildcat but what I found most compelling was Galehead. I know, not the most exciting mountain in the Whites, although when I first heard the name, I thought, "wow, this must be one intense mountain with a name like Galehead." Regardless, I had been out here a few times on the Twins and skipped Galehead for a variety of reasons. Thus, I ended up having 47/48 of my fourth round complete but no Galehead. That said, I didn't worry about it much, and figured I'd get back around to it before too long. My thought Saturday had been a 27 mile loop over Garfield, Owls Head, and Galehead, but after a few days of rain, the thought of wallowing around in the bogs on the Lincoln Brook Trail was not my idea of fun. So, somehow Friday night, I got the bright idea to do a Pemi Loop as a way to spice up Galehead, avoid the bogs, and do something different to finish a round of the 48. When the alarm went off at 3 AM, I was not excited. It was pouring. Back to bed. 4 AM. Pouring. Back to bed. 8 AM. Looks good! I headed down to the White Mountain Cafe in Gorham, stuffed myself with a breakfast sandwich and 3 big cups of coffee and decided it was a good day to hike.

I hit the Lincoln Woods Trail at 10 AM, a few minutes behind the scheduled 4 AM start, but who's counting. It's not like my hiking poles turn into pumpkins at midnight, and extra headlamps aren't heavy, so into the woods I went. I carried my large pack with plenty of rain gear, clothes, food, 4 liters of water (2 is the norm for me), the other usual essentials and a bivy sack in the event of an unplanned night out. I moved steadily and kept a pace designed to average about 2 mph. That's a pace that would see me finish in a reasonable amount of time but not push me too hard with a relatively full pack. I was planning a 2 AM finish from the start. I hit the Osseo Trail pretty quickly (1.4 mi.) and started up toward the ridge. It's been a few years since I have been on Osseo; what a great trail that is. One of the best treadways in the Whites I think, and so easy on the feet. The summit of Flume was very windy, but clear (5.5 mi.). Flume is one of my favorite summits. Half the mountain just seems to fall away at the slide. I moved on to Liberty, barely pausing for a couple pictures before continuing along the ridge. Not suprisingly, the crowds grew in number as I got closer to Lafayette. I donned a fleece jacket. There were more than a few underprepared people up there it appeared. C'est la vie. To each his own I suppose. If I'm going to head out for a 32 miler at 10 AM, I'm not going to criticize. We all make the choices with which we are comfortable. I was alone 10 yards beyond the summit of Lafayette (10.5 mi.) but the ridge to Greenleaf looked like a line of ants. I took a short break once I was below the trees again. Garfield (14.0 mi.) was stellar with amazing views of the entire Pemigewasset. It was cool to look back over the Franconia Ridge I had just hiked and see ahead to Galehead, South Twin, and the Bonds. This was my longest break of the day, and after finding a break from the wind, I actually sat down and ate some cheese, salami, and crackers as opposed to energy bars or gels. I had been thinking of the col between Garfield and Galehead as the halfway point, so I wanted to get moving so I could start counting down a bit. Mental game. I arrived at Galehead Hut just at dinner time and having just finished my water. I got 4 more liters and hit the Frost Trail where I summited (18.1 mi.), took a celebratory picture, and then hung out at the viewpoint for a bit. I spent a couple minutes reflecting on four rounds of the 48 and some memories from Galehead (I once slept on the porch of the hut with permission).

I didn't dally long and avoided the temptation of the hut with all its charms and wiles and hit what I was considering to be the last real ascent of the day. The hike up South Twin from the hut is considered a tough one, but the reality is it's only 0.8 miles, so although yes, it's a tough climb, it's a short one. I knew once I was on South Twin, the rest of the day was really mostly downhill with nothing that was going to crush my legs after that. The sun was starting to drop pretty quickly, the light was getting long, and the colors in the sky and filtering into the woods were beautiful. The view back to Garfield as the sun was lowering on the horizon was really spectacular. I arrived on South Twin to a colorful display (18.9 mi.). At that point, my goal was to hit the Bondcliff Trail before dark. I moved quickly to get to the junction and two miles later, I headed down the Bondcliff trail. I moved past the Guyot Shelter overflow tent sites which were occupied by a few flashlight wielding campers and stopped briefly at the West Bond spur. I knew this was going to be a tough call. Only a mile total out and back on a 32 mile day. "Blue on black, right?" I thought. West Bond is one of my favorite mountains. But, racing daylight, and not wanting to tempt the fates, I opted to skip that one. Besides, the view from the summit would be pitch black today. I had already gone an extra mile to tag Galehead, and North Twin was not even a consideration. The trail was getting dark quickly but the trip up Bond from that direction is pretty easy, so I soon found myself perched atop the near 4700' mountain. I was in the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in strong winds as darkness finally enveloped the forest and surrounding ridges. I laughed at how we get to know our own pace and bodies so well after hiking for many years. That morning, I had predicted needing the headlamp by the time I was on Bond. I put the headlamp on before I left the summit. The ridge walk over to Bondcliff was surreal in the wind and darkness but my headlamp illuminated the rocky path in front of me and I was accompanied by a perfect half moon. I had to laugh recalling the time I had hiked off Bondcliff in a full moon in February once with my sister and another time with a crescent moon on a solo winter trip to Guyot Shelter. I'll have to go back when there is a new moon to complete the cyle. I took a picture of myself on the classic Bondcliff Ledge, which, by the way, is much less intimidating when you can't actually see the huge drop-off only a step away. I stayed well away from the edge with the wind gusts! I was pretty psyched at that point and knew the trip out was just one foot in front of the other for the last 9 miles. As I left the summit of Bondcliff (23.4 mi.), I was feeling pretty good and knew I was in the home stretch. I took a break at the base of the rock scramble below the summit and saw a headlamp ahead. As I moved on, I saw the source. A hiker had his hammock stretched across the trail. Clearly, he thought he was good for the night. I moved around him after a few pleasantries and kept going. Maybe 15 minutes later, I came across another hiker coming up the trail on his first night hike. He was heading over the Bonds to Zealand Hut. That's quite a hike for a first night hike. Kudos. I gave him a head's up about the trail squatter.

At that point, I just tried to move quickly without twisting anything and before too long, maybe an hour and a half or so, I found myself at the base of the trail and back on the old railroad grade section of the Boncliff Trail. Five miles to go. I had thought about running this stretch, but the balls of my feet were pretty damn hot at that point, so a brisk walk was going to have to do. It was pretty uneventful as I headed out the long, straight, flat trail and eventually came to the Osseo Trail again, the same junction I had been at about 10:30 AM and 30 miles prior. The loop was closed. 1.4 miles of walking brought me to the footbridge over the Pemigewasset River and back to my car at 2:30 AM. It was a pretty stellar day for a lot of reasons. It was cool to finish up my fourth round of the 48 in some style after not focusing on it for some time. It was also my first 30+ mile day and first Pemi Loop, and I don't think conditions could have been better. The wind was great for keeping the heat and bugs at bay. I finished in about 16.5 hours, right on the 2 mph pace, and drank 8 liters of water. I was well hydrated the entire trip from being well hydrated the two days prior and actually have felt pretty good for the two days after.

Here are some pictures from the day (and night):
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