Trip Report: Backpacking the Pemi Loop

OK OK OK… I know I’ve posted like four of these this week, and I promise this is the last one. The final hike of my New Hampshire vacation was a 3-day backpack along the route known as the Pemi Loop. “Pemi” is short for “Pemigewasset”, which is the name of the wilderness area that this hike takes us in and around. This loop isn’t a single trail, but rather a route made up of several different trails. At my best estimation, I hiked about 36 miles with an elevation gain around 10,500 feet (please correct me if i’m wrong) and summited eleven 4000-footers.

Day 1

The “other” Dan and I began our hike at Lincoln Woods Visitor Center along the Kancamagus Highway near Lincoln, NH. After making final adjustments to our gear, we headed out along the Lincoln Woods trail. This trail appears to have been constructed on former railroad grade. It is perfectly flat and straight as an arrow, which was kind of nice for a little warm-up. After about a mile and a half, we hung a left onto the Osseo Trail. The first few miles of this trail was a fairly gentle ascent towards the Franconia Ridge. Eventually, this trail became very steep and actually had wooden steps built into it at one point.

After 4 miles on the Osseo Trail, Pickle and I were standing on the summit of Mt. Flume. This rocky, cliff-like peak had some great views, but was exposed to a cold wind. I pulled my wind jacket on while I waited for Dan to catch up. After a half-hour of waiting, I decided to go back to look for him. It turns out that he was very near the summit at that point, but was moving a little slow because of the rocks and steep grade. We agreed that there was no need to stick completely together for the entire hike, as long as we caught up every now and then. We agreed to head towards Liberty Springs Tentsite, so that we could replenish our water supply.

Pickle and I continued onto the Franconia Ridge Trail. We reach Mt. Liberty in short order and scrambled up to the rocky summit. After snapping a few pictures, we continued on our way. Before long, we had reached the Liberty Spring Trail and diverted downhill a bit to the spring near the tent site. I filled up my two 1-Liter Smartwater bottles and then filled my 2L Platy bottle for Dan. I figured I would save him the trip down the rocky trail, if I could. It turns out that Dan wasn’t too far behind me, and met me on my way up from the spring. He took the water, and we hiked back up to the Franconia Ridge trail, getting separated along the way.

The dog and I continued on our way, climbing the alpine ridge over Little Haystack to Mt. Lincoln. When you combine the 5089′ elevation with with crystal clear, sunny weather, the views from Lincoln were pretty outstanding. The cold wind left a little to be desired, but that’s all part of the experience, I suppose. I once again donned my wind jacket and continued hiking along the Franconia Ridge towards Mt. Lafayette.

Lafayette is taller than Lincoln and has similar beautiful views. I waited for Dan on the summit, but eventually I got too cold to sit there anymore. Pickle and I hiked on.

Our route took us down off of the Franconia Ridge and onto the Garfield Ridge Trail. This was the most demoralizing three miles of the entire weekend. The entire time we hiked through the woods, we’d get glimpses of the summit. It didn’t seem that far, but the trail never seemed to start climbing. Finally, when we reached Garfield Pond, the trail started a steep climb up to the summit of Mt. Garfield. The summit had the remnants of some sort of concrete structure. Since it was getting close to dinner time, Pickle and I headed towards the Garfield Ridge Campsite.

At the site, I got water and paid a fee to the caretaker. I had just finished hanging my hammock, when Dan arrived. I ate my dinner and hit the sack.


Day 2

We left camp fairly early, grabbed some water, and hopped back on the Garfield Ridge Trail towards Galehead. When Pickle and I reached the hut, I secured him outside with a leash and went inside to top off my water. Dan caught up shortly thereafter. Pickle and I left our packs with Dan on the porch of the hut and made a quick run up to the summit of Galehead (Dan decided that morning that he was only going to summit the mountains that were directly on our path). We were back at the hut within 20 minutes, grabbed our packs, and began the single hardest mile on the entire loop.

The Twinway climbs from 3780′ at Galehead Hut to the summit of South Twin (4902′) in a short, rocky 0.8 miles. From the top of South Twin, I made a 2.6-mile out-and-back side trip to North Twin (Dan decided to skip this portion as well). Upon returning to South Twin, Pickle and I continued south towards Guyot Campsite.

We arrived fairly early in the day (maybe around 2PM), and saw Dan already stringing up his hammock. The caretaker collected my fee and pointed me towards a very unfortunate looking slope behind the shelter to set up camp. I could barely stand on the angled ground, so getting my hammock set up was a challenge. The ground was also to soft to stake out my tarp, so I had to tie my guy lines off to some nearby debris. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Pickle and I went down to Dan’s area to hang out, since our spot kind of sucked. We got a little chummy with a pair of hikers from Connecticut, who eventually came up and ate dinner with us. The campsite was starting to get pretty full, so Pickle and I retreated back to our slanted campsite for the night.

Day 3 

As I was packing up, Dan came up to me. He was ready to leave uncharacteristically early and laid out a plan that he had for the day. He was going to leave camp ahead of me and skip the side trail to West Bond (knowing that I was definitely going to take it). Since he assumed that I would inevitably catch up to him at some point, we agreed to say our goodbyes at that time and just text each other when we were safely back to the car. I agreed.

I left camp about 15 minutes after Dan, catching him a tenth of a mile before the West Bond side trail. I made the quick 1-mile out and back to West Bond, which had spectacular 360-degree views and gave me a good look at Mt. Bond and Bondcliff. I turned around and headed back toward the main trail, hitting the summit of Mt. Bond pretty quickly.

After Bond, I had a nice alpine ridge walk over to Bondcliff. I could see people on the summit, so I was hoping that someone would still be there when I arrived (to take one of those famous Bondcliff summit photos that we have all seen online). Unfortunately, I was all alone when I reached the summit. I took my obligatory selfie and started my descent on the Bondcliff Trail. I bumped into Dan after a mile or two. We hiked together for a short bit, and then we said our goodbyes and I ran off ahead (I still had an 8 hour drive ahead of me).

I kept a very fast pace for the last few miles. The trail was flat railroad grade, and I was on a mission to get out of there at a decent hour. I passed quite a few trail runners and day hikers as  cruised down the home stretch on the Lincoln Woods Trail, and I arrived back at the parking lot around 11:15.

This trip kicked my ass in many ways, especially the elevation gain. We are just not used to that kind of thing in Pennsylvania. That being said, it was an absolute blast. The Franconia Ridge and the Bonds are two areas that I wish I would have discovered much, much sooner in life. It’s an area that every hiker should check out at some point. Don’t miss it!


6 thoughts on “Trip Report: Backpacking the Pemi Loop

  1. Frank Deland says:

    “..the most demoralizing section of the route” Hikers are often surprised by the trail segment between Lafayette and Garfield. It does not appear to be a long section at first glance at the map, but check the contours carefully! The trail drops quite far down before climbing back up. No matter which way you are headed, you will be climbing down, then up steeply. Another consideration for this hike is which way to do the loop. Going in the opposite direction, i.e.. doing the Bonds first, from Week-end Warrior might allow for more opportunities to shorten the trip if weather or other factors intervene.

    Combining the Bonds and Franconia Ridge on one hike, you will pass over two of the most dramatic and beautiful section of trail over open ridges anywhere, and I do mean anywhere!

    On the list of hiker challenges is the attempt to do this route in one day. Just plan to be hiking in the dark. Seriously, many people do this. Why? Only because it is there.

    • dcbortz says:

      I knew that section would be steep, but I think it was mostly the mental component. Seeing Garfield summit through the trees, it never looks like it’s getting any closer. Then when you get to Garfield Pond, you realize that your still way below the summit and have a lot of climbing to do. Looking back, I don’t think it was that physically difficult (except that it was the end of the day and I was tired). It was more a mental obstacle than anything.

      I think I could have condensed this down into 2 days without killing myself, but I just don’t see the point in one day. You’d have to be cruising the whole time, and I don’t think you’d get a chance to enjoy anything around you. Let’s also not forget the most important thing: I’m too fat for that!

      I agree that these two ridges are some of the most dramatic and beautiful. I enjoyed them more than the Presidentials (especially this year, with the foul weather I ran into).

      I’m looking at the map, and I’m not seeing many “outs” that make one direction seem better than the other (at least not if you want to end up back at your car). The only option there is dropping off the ridge and skirting around Owl’s Head.From a safety/weather viewpoint, there are a lot more ways off the Franconia Ridge compared to the Bonds. On the Bonds, however, you are never more than a mile from the trees if the weather turns on you. The approach would be gentler if you do the Bonds first, but the descent on the Osseo trail from Mt. Flume would be harder on tired knees and feet. I think it’s kind of a wash… unless I’m missing something on the map or in my memory. Please correct me, if I’m missing something! I’m kind of a newbie in the Whites, so I’d love to learn more.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Keith says:

    Great review!! You note peaking eleven 4,000 footers…..I read these statements a lot and it may be a trivial point but, I think you do yourself a disservice when not writing, “…eleven peaks of OVER 4000…” because that, they truly are. As far as the sense of the start of the trail being a former RR bed, you are 100% correct! Before the establishment of the White Mountain National Forest, much of New Hampshire’s White Mountains were clear cut for lumber and the former rail road bed system is still visible in many areas today. Thankfully, the axes and trains are gone, well, some of the trains I am glad to say are still around….but the saws, are long gone!!

    • dcbortz says:

      I suppose you’re right! by using the “4000-Footer” terminology, I’m not necessarily getting the idea across that 4000′ is the MINIMUM height of a mountain in this category. Lincoln and Lafayette are both 5000+, and Mt. Washington, which I hiked earlier in the week, is 6288′. I was referring to them in the sense of the NH 4000-Footers List, which I’m trying to complete. Good thing those saws are gone!

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Stroller says:

    Pickle’s a nice looking Brittany. Does he sleep in the hammock with you? My pup gets restless after an hour.

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