Pemi Loop: September 8-10, 2022

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B the Hiker

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For the last three days I took some time to get outdoors and backpack a Pemi Loop, up in the White Mountains. Going counterclockwise, I traversed the Bonds, Guyot, the Twins, Garfield, and Franconia Ridge. It was lovely! Like visiting an old friend, where you pick up right where you left off the last conversation, without any awkwardness regarding the time in between.

The enormous Lincoln Woods parking lot was half full when I pulled in Thursday morning. Before COVID, there might have been ten cars in it instead of fifty. After a brief hello with the rangers, I set off up to the Bonds. Bondcliff is probably my favorite spot on the Earth, and there wasn’t a puff of wind on the big, exposed ridge. Low clouds from all the evaporating water from Monday and Tuesday’s rain left an austere feel to the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness spread out below. I didn’t see another soul.

Guyot tent site never filled, in fact, I had a tent platform all to myself, but the dining area left for good conversations. I met a young man, maybe college age, and we discovered we both loved paddling. He had done a portion of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which runs from upstate New York to Maine, and I got some good beta from him. It’s funny how we put forth our best foot on Facebook, but in reality, spending time outside is also about swatting away bugs, slipping in mud, getting clothes wet in spots that just won’t dry, and trying to get that sticky stuff off your hands when you grab a pine tree in the wrong spot. He and I shared some stories about some of our less-pleasant experiences, and he warned not to try the trail in June (too many black flies).

The next morning graced me with a delicate sunrise, replete with colors both sublime and mild, as I quietly packed my tent for an early start. I had Guyot all to myself! No breeze, which is odd for Guyot, which always manages to be windy. I looked out over to Franconia Ridge, which seemed so far away, despite the fact that fit trail runners can get there in hours.

After a trip out to North Twin, I was enjoying some snackerel on South Twin when two gents looking in their late 60s came up. I had seen them the night before at Guyot tent site. Neither seemed to have good footing then, one managed to drop a pot of boiling water in the cooking area, making for some fascinating steam as the water splashed over the ground as hikers now attired only in sandals quickly moved away. I asked where they were going, and one pointed to North Twin. “Ah, North Twin, I was just. Neat view of the hut,” I replied. “No,” he said, that’s Hale. I’m finished my 48 today on Hale. He took the news well that they had missed the turn for Hale some two miles back, and after I tried explaining that they could go that way and get to Hale via the Firewarden’s Trail, they conceded they were too tired, and Hale would have to wait for another day. We said goodbye and they headed back towards Guyot, only, I assume to pass Lend-a-Hand Trail without attempting to go up it.

At Galehead Hut I met a bunch of thru-hikers. One had just eaten a package of lard, and his friends were making fun of him for it. “We have fourteen more miles today,” he noted, “and we’ll see who’s getting pushed up by the lard on mile thirteen!” One of his friends was drinking some fruit drink that looked like Pepto Bismo. I suggested he might have been better served by a cocktail of half-lard/half-Pepto Bismo, and certainly would get a better push.

Surprisingly, for a magnificent Friday in September (and on the weekend of Flags on the 48), Garfield tent site never filled either, and once again, I was blessed to have a tent platform all to myself. That night’s dinner was with a woman who claimed was from Israel, but who showed remarkable knowledge of climbing in the Gunks, and of skiing in Utah, a thru-hiker, and a woman from Boston who was doing a Pemi Loop in the other direction. The four of us shared a meal together and the smell of weed wafted over from a platform shared by a large group of young folks. One of the women had brought up fresh parsley, which eat one of determined could go with each of our respective meals. She carried up scissors to chop it as well!
4am came early the next day, and given I had a fourteen mile day with around 3,800 feet of elevation gain, I can’t deny that I was feeling a bit of trepidation about the challenge. I had done it before, but my legs aren’t getting any younger, and the trails were still soaking wet and quite muddy, and my day began with a steep climb up a trail that was half-waterfall, and then a mirror image on the other side of the summit, at times descending down soaking wet slap that could have resulted in an ugly tumble had things not gone well.

Just as I was retiring my headlamp, I heard…bells. From the other direction came a young man in knee-high wool socks, a kilt, a longsleeve fleece jacket (I was in shorts and a t-shirt), wearing sleigh bells. “What’s with the bells?” I asked. “I saw the warnings about bears, and they should scare them away.” I explained that the bear problem was with food, not with humans being attacked. “I’m from New Hampshire,” he backtracked, “but I’ve been in Alaska. I know bears don’t attack humans here. But they also scare away other predators.” [That sentence implied he did in fact think bears were predators, but whatever]. “What other predators are up here?” “Well, I mostly like the sound.” I wished him well, confident he would not be eaten by the bear that day.

Mt. Lafayette was magnificent! After hiking under a full, deep red moon, earlier that morning, the entire Franconia Ridge was baked under a hot sun and a cloudless sky. No wind. It was hot! Rather amazing for September.

Other than Mr. Bojangles, the next ten or so folks I encountered were trail runners. Running and hiking shirtless is a thing now. I have to confess, not my aesthetic, but after spending thousands on tattoos, I guess one feels the need to show the world.

Three times over the next few hours I had someone say to me, “Brian, good to see you!” The first was the boyfriend of a climbing partner from Connecticut, who was looking strong and happy as he was coming up Lafayette. I was moving so slowly with my heavy pack that I joked he would be back at the parking lot (some 22 miles) before I would (with my 9 remaining) Two former AMC participants, who after all these years were still out hiking, and I was touched that they remembered me. First, Anne, then Beth. Both looking very happy to be up on the ridge.

Still a number of thru-hikers on the trails. Rather late in the season, and the days are shorter. Some are chatty, most welcomed beta, and all were excited to be in the Whites in a magnificent weather window that should get them over the President Range before the forecasted rains next week.

I spent a lot of time alone, and that was wonderful. I spent a lot of time talking with folks, which was also wonderful. You feel very small up there, so insignificant compared to the grandeur of Mother Nature. If one is open to it, it gives you the ability to feel both small and also part of something larger at the same time.


Brian
 
Good write-up! I'm doing my first Pemi Loop this weekend, solo (my running partner had to bail). I'm keeping a close eye on the forecast.
 
I did my 3-day Pemi loop back in September of 2015 with overnights at Greenleaf and Galehead huts. Nice weather the first and third days. Scarcely saw the sun on the middle day while I was shlepping along Garfield Ridge. Bagged the ten 4000 footers for my 48 Over 70 list.
 
For the last three days I took some time to get outdoors and backpack a Pemi Loop, up in the White Mountains. Going counterclockwise, I traversed the Bonds, Guyot, the Twins, Garfield, and Franconia Ridge. It was lovely! Like visiting an old friend, where you pick up right where you left off the last conversation, without any awkwardness regarding the time in between.

The enormous Lincoln Woods parking lot was half full when I pulled in Thursday morning. Before COVID, there might have been ten cars in it instead of fifty. After a brief hello with the rangers, I set off up to the Bonds. Bondcliff is probably my favorite spot on the Earth, and there wasn’t a puff of wind on the big, exposed ridge. Low clouds from all the evaporating water from Monday and Tuesday’s rain left an austere feel to the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness spread out below. I didn’t see another soul.

Guyot tent site never filled, in fact, I had a tent platform all to myself, but the dining area left for good conversations. I met a young man, maybe college age, and we discovered we both loved paddling. He had done a portion of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which runs from upstate New York to Maine, and I got some good beta from him. It’s funny how we put forth our best foot on Facebook, but in reality, spending time outside is also about swatting away bugs, slipping in mud, getting clothes wet in spots that just won’t dry, and trying to get that sticky stuff off your hands when you grab a pine tree in the wrong spot. He and I shared some stories about some of our less-pleasant experiences, and he warned not to try the trail in June (too many black flies).

The next morning graced me with a delicate sunrise, replete with colors both sublime and mild, as I quietly packed my tent for an early start. I had Guyot all to myself! No breeze, which is odd for Guyot, which always manages to be windy. I looked out over to Franconia Ridge, which seemed so far away, despite the fact that fit trail runners can get there in hours.

After a trip out to North Twin, I was enjoying some snackerel on South Twin when two gents looking in their late 60s came up. I had seen them the night before at Guyot tent site. Neither seemed to have good footing then, one managed to drop a pot of boiling water in the cooking area, making for some fascinating steam as the water splashed over the ground as hikers now attired only in sandals quickly moved away. I asked where they were going, and one pointed to North Twin. “Ah, North Twin, I was just. Neat view of the hut,” I replied. “No,” he said, that’s Hale. I’m finished my 48 today on Hale. He took the news well that they had missed the turn for Hale some two miles back, and after I tried explaining that they could go that way and get to Hale via the Firewarden’s Trail, they conceded they were too tired, and Hale would have to wait for another day. We said goodbye and they headed back towards Guyot, only, I assume to pass Lend-a-Hand Trail without attempting to go up it.

At Galehead Hut I met a bunch of thru-hikers. One had just eaten a package of lard, and his friends were making fun of him for it. “We have fourteen more miles today,” he noted, “and we’ll see who’s getting pushed up by the lard on mile thirteen!” One of his friends was drinking some fruit drink that looked like Pepto Bismo. I suggested he might have been better served by a cocktail of half-lard/half-Pepto Bismo, and certainly would get a better push.

Surprisingly, for a magnificent Friday in September (and on the weekend of Flags on the 48), Garfield tent site never filled either, and once again, I was blessed to have a tent platform all to myself. That night’s dinner was with a woman who claimed was from Israel, but who showed remarkable knowledge of climbing in the Gunks, and of skiing in Utah, a thru-hiker, and a woman from Boston who was doing a Pemi Loop in the other direction. The four of us shared a meal together and the smell of weed wafted over from a platform shared by a large group of young folks. One of the women had brought up fresh parsley, which eat one of determined could go with each of our respective meals. She carried up scissors to chop it as well!
4am came early the next day, and given I had a fourteen mile day with around 3,800 feet of elevation gain, I can’t deny that I was feeling a bit of trepidation about the challenge. I had done it before, but my legs aren’t getting any younger, and the trails were still soaking wet and quite muddy, and my day began with a steep climb up a trail that was half-waterfall, and then a mirror image on the other side of the summit, at times descending down soaking wet slap that could have resulted in an ugly tumble had things not gone well.

Just as I was retiring my headlamp, I heard…bells. From the other direction came a young man in knee-high wool socks, a kilt, a longsleeve fleece jacket (I was in shorts and a t-shirt), wearing sleigh bells. “What’s with the bells?” I asked. “I saw the warnings about bears, and they should scare them away.” I explained that the bear problem was with food, not with humans being attacked. “I’m from New Hampshire,” he backtracked, “but I’ve been in Alaska. I know bears don’t attack humans here. But they also scare away other predators.” [That sentence implied he did in fact think bears were predators, but whatever]. “What other predators are up here?” “Well, I mostly like the sound.” I wished him well, confident he would not be eaten by the bear that day.

Mt. Lafayette was magnificent! After hiking under a full, deep red moon, earlier that morning, the entire Franconia Ridge was baked under a hot sun and a cloudless sky. No wind. It was hot! Rather amazing for September.

Other than Mr. Bojangles, the next ten or so folks I encountered were trail runners. Running and hiking shirtless is a thing now. I have to confess, not my aesthetic, but after spending thousands on tattoos, I guess one feels the need to show the world.

Three times over the next few hours I had someone say to me, “Brian, good to see you!” The first was the boyfriend of a climbing partner from Connecticut, who was looking strong and happy as he was coming up Lafayette. I was moving so slowly with my heavy pack that I joked he would be back at the parking lot (some 22 miles) before I would (with my 9 remaining) Two former AMC participants, who after all these years were still out hiking, and I was touched that they remembered me. First, Anne, then Beth. Both looking very happy to be up on the ridge.

Still a number of thru-hikers on the trails. Rather late in the season, and the days are shorter. Some are chatty, most welcomed beta, and all were excited to be in the Whites in a magnificent weather window that should get them over the President Range before the forecasted rains next week.

I spent a lot of time alone, and that was wonderful. I spent a lot of time talking with folks, which was also wonderful. You feel very small up there, so insignificant compared to the grandeur of Mother Nature. If one is open to it, it gives you the ability to feel both small and also part of something larger at the same time.


Brian
Enjoyed this narrative. Thanks.
 
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