Winter Pemi adventure, with Bonds attempt

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Feb 28, 2012
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New Boston, NH
(Trip took place Sunday-Monday, February 26-27, 2017)

Final Route:
  • Lincoln Woods trail, only 2.5 miles in, had to turn back (see below)
  • drove to Lower Falls Road lot on 302, near Zealand Road
  • Zealand Road to Zealand Trail to Twinway to AMC Zealand Falls hut (6.5mi)
  • overnight
  • Twinway to spur path leading to Zeacliff (1.3mi)
  • Twinway to Bondcliff trail to the Guyot throne (3.0mi)
  • return to hut, with quick stop at Zealand summit (4.4mi)
  • hike out to Lower Falls lot (6.5 mi)

Total, including first day Lincoln Woods mileage: 26.7 miles

Photo Library:
GPS Track:

A group of three friends and I headed into Lincoln Woods to start a two-day, south-north traverse of the Bonds to Zealand Road, which would be 46-48 of the Winter 48 for me. Unfortunately, the effort wouldn't succeed for a few reasons, all good, but we still had a great time.


About 2.5 miles in from Lincoln Woods on Day 1, my friend Matt realized the soles of his Koflach hard shell plastic mountaineering boots had literally snapped off, held on only by his microspikes. He taped them back on, but considering the unknowns of the stream crossings caused by recent warm weather, and possibility of trail breaking, we decided to turn back and head into town to get replacement boots. Good thing, as the other boot's sole was well on its way to detaching by the time we got back to the cars!

After a stop at Lahout's and a brand new pair of Solomon 400g winter boots for Matt (and a new pair of summer/waterproof Keen's I'd been wanting to get for some time, on sale!) we sized up our options for the trip. Should we head back into Lincoln Woods? We could, but we'd arrive at the Guyot shelter very late and I didn't feel so great about the prospect of cheated rest, nor carting our heavier packs the entire 21+ miles. Besides, we'd been warned by a USFS ranger about the possibility of sketchy stream crossings; he'd asked if we had enough food and gear for 3-4 nights in the wilderness, implying that we may be able to cross the streams on the way in, but may not on the way out...

So, I felt it best that we go with a Plan B: to try and hit the Bonds from the north, starting fresh in the morning from AMC's Zealand Falls hut. This would cut off a great deal of mileage carrying our heavier packs, and we should have more time in the day to reach the peaks and get back at a reasonable hour. We drove around to the north end of the planned route, the junction of Route 302 and Lower Falls Road, the winter parking lot for Zealand Road, and started out.

As we entered Zealand Road, we joined up with a friendly AMC seasonal employee named Audrey. She had a bubbly, care-free personality, and we all made quick friendship. The road walk was easy, hardly requiring even spikes. About halfway up the Zealand Trail, we passed a large family skinning up the trail, with some success but great laughter. We made it to the hut at about 4:45, with plenty of time to check in, get situated, and have some dinner.

We knew there would be room for us since I'd checked for space online earlier that day (there were at least 10 spots). It turns out just five people were signed up, and soon after the large family came in and reserved on the spot, too. The hut caretaker, Aubrey, was certainly surprised by the influx of people, ending up with 16!

The evening and overnight were great, as all are at an AMC hut. The woodstove was a welcome respite from the cold, and we enjoyed each other's company. We learned more about Audrey (the AMC employee) -- her seasonal stint at the Highland Center was ending in just a few days, and she was headed back to Alaska for the summer season to work at a cafe she'd been at the year before. She also completed an AT thru hike in 2015, and was seriously considering repeating it. It was obvious to me, how special these mountains and woods are to her; she beamed with joy to be among them. It was a pleasure to meet someone so enthralled with her experience, and seeking out such great adventures!

The next morning, we got a somewhat late start, heading out on the Twinway by 8:45am. At the time it didn't seem that important to start really early, but I felt fine with it since it would only be a 13.4-mile hike out to Bondcliff and back to the hut. In the end, though, I didn't have a sure expectation we'd reach all the Bonds - I just wanted to enjoy the time. The stream crossings were fine, the only remotely sketchy being the first one at the junction of the Twinway and Lend-a-Hand trails (very short bushwhack).

The climb up to the Zeacliff spur path from the hut along the Twinway can be kinda miserable, with its near-constant moderate grade. We took the path out to Zeacliff and took the great views in, under a mostly sunny sky. I never tire of the view to Washington to the left, Tom/Field/Willey in the foreground, with Whitewall and the brook of the same name below, and Nancy/Vose Spur/Carrigain off to the right.

We continued along the Twinway, making pretty good progress. The going wasn't real fast, but the trail conditions were good, a pretty solid boilerplate (totally frozen monorail). We did have to deal with some of the tree canopy leaning into trail; we were 5-6 feet off the ground by my estimation, so branches that would usually hang overhead, were at chest and head height.

We skipped Zealand on the way out, and decided to at least try for Mt. Guyot. The going was somewhat slow for some in the group, understandably, given the up and down especially beyond the Zealand summit. We did finally make it out to treeline off the summit of Guyot, where the view opened up ahead of us, and very strong winds were blowing. We all were ready with wind layers and goggles.

We paused quickly at the Twinway/Bondcliff trail junction and decided to at least get to the Guyot "throne," a few hundred feet away. This is the high point along the Bondcliff Trail, where a good-sized cairn sits with a seat built-in. By that time, it became clear to me we wouldn't be able to summit all the peaks since it was about 1:45, and the group would likely find the Bonds to be difficult. To bag all three peaks, it would add another several miles and 3-4 hours to the day, putting us back to the hut well after dark, and back to the cars even later, after midnight. Our bodies were already pretty tired, and none of us had really planned to spend another night at the hut.

So, I suggested it would be best for us to turn back. It was a little disappointing to see West Bond and Bond "right there" in front of us, but sometimes you have to make tough judgment calls in the name of safety and reason. I'd be back soon, I'm sure.

We turned around and headed back to the hut, making good time. I had hiked a bit ahead by the time I reached the Zealand summit spur off the Twinway, so I took it to tag Zealand for yucks. The others didn't show up at the summit, so I backtracked and realized they had kept going on the Twinway, and weren't really interested in the summit at that point. All good. We reached the hut, updated Aubrey (the hut caretaker) on our travels, and thanked her for the great hospitality. We had a bite to eat, packed the rest of our stuff, and headed out toward Zealand Road and the cars. We made pretty good time and got back to the cars by 8:20 -- the final few miles along Zealand Road and 302 were in the dark.

As I drove away, my thoughts immediately turned to getting back to the Bonds as soon as I could. I knew I didn't want to wait long before my next (and final) attempt...
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