This winter has been mighty busy for both Yvonne and me, but we’ve made it out to the mountains for some really wonderful hikes. Last Saturday we headed to one of the most remote 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire. Bondcliff, though nine miles by trail from the nearest trailhead, is a very popular peak even in winter. But the 18 mile round trip hike was no small thing.
Luckily, thanks to a good hiking friend of ours, we had a place to stay at the edge of the White Mountains on Friday and Saturday night, saving us a long morning and evening drive. That had been our downfall with many other hikes this winter– waking up at four in the morning to get to the trail early, hiking a full day, then driving back exhausted into the late evening.
So it almost seemed like cheating when we awoke in daylight, had a somewhat leisurely breakfast, and still made it to the Lincoln Woods parking area by 8 AM. It was a grey day, fairly cold, but the snow from last week’s blizzard cheered things up. We hefted full packs, then started out on the Wilderness Trail for the first part of the day’s long walk. To start with– five miles of railroad grade.
The Wilderness Trail is definitely not the norm when it comes to White Mountain hiking, but it gets a heck of a lot of traffic. Old railroad ties are still stuck in the ground the whole way, buried now, but still obviously not originally intended for walking. On foot, it’s the long and tedious beginning and end to many a hike in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The trail is so straight, cutting a path through the forest, that you can see what looks like a mile ahead of you at all times. And it just keeps going, and going, and going.
Turning off onto the Bondcliff Trail, now far away from the busy Kancamagus Highway, we finally had proper trail under our feet, and lots of snow. Maybe due to the snow, or maybe just because we’ve gotten used to rugged trails, the walk up Bondcliff still seemed gradual and lazy. We wound through dense forest for hours, climbing steadily and slowly, occasionally catching glimpses of not-so-distant mountains through the trees. Aside from a few hairy brook crossings, though, there were few of the usual White Mountain trail obstacles.
After we climbed and climbed, instead of a gradual thinning of trees to the alpine zone, we popped out just below the top of Bondcliff, grand views of the entire Pemigewasset region all around. The sky was low and grey, but there were plenty of fine views all around, including Norcross Pond and Mount Nancy, where I had been not long ago.
One part of the view that I always find astonishing is the evidence of old logging activity in the Pemi. With the leaves down, the long abandoned logging roads stand out like sore thumbs, especially just below Owl’s Head, or the diagonal striping on the Hancocks. It’s really amazing how long those scars last, but also amazing how well they grew over in less than a century since the major logging operations ended.
Yvonne and I stayed put only for a few minutes to enjoy the views, but there was plenty of trail still ahead. The four miles down Bondcliff gave way much quicker than the way up, but the five miles of flat, straight path never go by any faster. Maybe because one gets so used to the steep and winding trails in New England, it’s terribly hard to keep going in such a straight and flat line. Nonetheless, we arrived at the car just before dark (as always seems to be the case) and had a short drive down to our friend’s house for the night. There is something wonderful about not having to drive several hours at the end of a long, rugged day of hiking. I could get used to that.