Trip Report: Pemigewasset Wilderness, May 1996
Map of the Pemi Wilderness courtesy of HTI and Photoshop.
May 96 Pemigiwasset Wilderness (East Half), NH. Yet another exciting trip. Molly Jacobs, Jenn Koermer, Cameron Geddes and myself. Lincoln Brook and back via Mts. Garfiels, Galehead, South Twin, Guyot, Bond and Bondcliff. This trip was truly amazing. Four of us, all fairly seasoned hikers started off at the Lincoln Brook Trailhead at the south end of the Pemigiwasset Wilderness. The mountains make a rough horse-shoe shape open at the southern end which we aimed to hike in to the middle of, then up to the ridge and travel east and back south before dropping back down to the "Mousemobile", our handy Wilderness Recreation Support Vehicle and Conversation Peice.
Day 1 - The first three miles of trail follow an old logging railroad and are flat, level and straight as an arrow following the river up through nice hardwood forest. The weather was typical for NH in late May, hot, sunny and pleasent. Eventually we turned off and hiked an additional 5-6 miles to 13-Falls in the valley between Owl's Head and the Garfield/Galehead ridge. It is a beautiful site with breathtaking waterfalls and pleasant atmosphere. A set of tent "platforms" allow easy camping and there is an outhouse and bear bag hanger.
The season at this altitude was that of early spring. The insects were not yet out, the leaves were just beginning to appear, and there was still a nip in the air left over from the bitter Winter of `96. Little did we know what a foreboding of things to come this was...
Molly stands in the clouds atop |
BondCliff. Old slides on West
Bond are visible in the background.
-- photo: Charles Danforth
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Day 2 - We packed up early and started up the trail to the junction with the AT on the Garfield ridge about 1 mile east of the summit. As we gained altitude, we became enveloped in a cool, damp fog limitting visibility to a few dozen yards or so. Perfect hiking weather! The trail became muddy and just shy of the 3500' ridge, we encountered large clumps of standing snow. Dropping our packs at the juction, we continued up to the summit of Garfield to see the much-vaunted views. At this point, the trail was almost entirely covered with crusty snow about a foot deep. For the most part we were able to walk on its surface so the going was not too trying. When we finally reached the summit, occasional gaps in the clouds allowed limitted visibility of the surrounding terrain. Lovely, if fickle.
Coming back down, the weather continued to worsen. The temperatures dropped and we started to get light rain. Furthermore, since we were hiking in the pre-season, the trail crews (bless their hearts) had not yet been through to clear out the casulties of winter's icy wrath. Thus a lot of the winter damage (which was severe) still hampered our progress. Many blowdowns and obscurely marked trail made the going slow. In one place, the trees upon which the junction signs were attached had come down and were lying pointing in odd directions. Couple this to severe fatigue and injured joints, and we were all pretty tired. In the late afternoon we reached Galehead Hut. Deigning not to pay the heavy prices to lodge there, we pressed on through half a mile of matted blowdowns (the trail being only a vague rumor at this point) to a campsite a few yards shy of the woody summit of Galehead itself. A very pleasant camp we created among the blowdowns and scrubby softwoods on soft moss. The weather improved and warmed and the views became noticable. Cooked dinner and slept like babies...
Day 3 - dawned, or so we assume, and we were awoken in the soft gray light by a whisking sound of nylon and particles. Looking outside it was determined that the particles were in fact snowflakes and the visibility had dropped to a few yards at most. We trudged back down past the hut and then assailed the 4902' peak of South Twin, a long, steady half-mile climb to the rocky summit. Once there we discovered that the light novel snow we had been hiking through was but the fallout of something much bigger. The bulk of that mountain had been shielding us from the full force of the easterly storm. 20-40 mph winds gusted in laden with snow and unpleasentness. We huddled behind a rock and ate a quick lunch. Our planned trek out to North Twin along the Twinway was cancelled due to survival concerns.
|Coming down from South Twin on the way to Guyot. Photo by Cameron Geddes|
If we stopped moving, we started to freeze. It was that simple. Realizing this fact we pressed on through the worsening gale south on the trail along a long ridge covered in dense conifers. Unfortunately the trail was pruned for summer travel and for dwarves besides. Not only were three of us 6'+, but we were standing on top of two feet of snow pack and the branches were heavily laden with several inches of new snow. We became very wet despite full rain gear and water-proofness. Our packs seemed to absorb water as well becoming heavier with each step. On the good side, we were able to walk on top of the snowpack mostly. The people going before us were not so lucky as evident from the frequent "post-holes".
Trotting over Mt. Guyot (pronounced Gee-Oh, not Jeo or Guy-Ot), a lovely above-tree-line peak with, supposedly, wonderful views, we left the AT and continued south on the Bond Trail toward the Guyot shelter. We reached it at about 3pm and faced a dilemna. Option 1: stop and try to rest for the night here above tree-line in the midst of a howling gale, or, Option 2: press on another five miles to get off the ridge and down below the snow. There were no other options. Though stopping was certainly an attractive option, we realized that unless we kept moving, we would freeze. We opted to bite the bullet and hustle down off the ridge before nightfall.
After stopping and melting some drinking water, we battled hypothermia and continued on up Mt. Bond. As we came down the ridge from Bond, suddenly we dropped below cloud level. The wind was still blowing a pretty gale and it was still laden with snow, but suddenly for whole seconds at a time we could see great distances. Stretched out before us was the fabled Bondcliff Knife Edge. As Dennis Pednault put it, "It's like there was once this big mountain and then one day half of it fell off." Spectacular. A rainbow was seen off to the east over Crawford Notch and the Zealand area. Spirits rose conciderably, though wether this was due to the sunlight or the fact that we were now numb to the pain, I don't know. Snow was still blowing feircely up from the valley below, but at least we could see.
|Breaking through the cloud ceiling at the Bond Knife-Edge.|
-- Photo by Cameron Geddes
By 5:30 we were starting down the steep southern face of Bond Cliff switching back and forth and dropping down ten-foot walls before slabbing off to the east. We were hoping to find some place large enough and flat enough to pitch a pair of tents (Tweety and Sylvester) and be able to light a fire. The snow on the southern slopes was more or less gone and, though still cold, things were definitely looking up. By 7:00 we had located a "campsite" (I use the term lightly) and had managed to move enough brush and logs to pitch tents. Though below snow level and back into the zone where trees had leaves again, we were still above 2500 feet. That night we froze. All of our gear was wet and the only wood available for a fire was damp softwood which burned fitfully and smoked a lot. Relying on the wonders of body warmth, we managed to make it through the night.
Day 4 - Seeing the sun rise up above the ridge to the east as we folded up the damp tents and crammed them in the packs was possibly one of the most religious experiences of my life. Starting off in full gear, we took layer brakes almost every quarter mile down the trail ending up finally in the bare minimum of clothing that descency would allow. Out we hiked for 7 miles retracing part of our inward trip, passing all the day hikers, and the early tourists revelling in our battered, grim visages. Our wet feet had begun to chap and we hobbled along looking more like veterans of a boder skirmish than hikers. The weather was hot and muggy. In less than 24 hours we'd changed from the Depth of Winter into Full-bore Summer. Very strange and thoroughly enjoyable.
That was a hell of a trip.
Trail Description The Pemi is a large Wilderness Area (meaning no motors, primitive conditions, low-impact camping only) bounded by a horseshoe of tall mountains on the west, north and east. From west to east they are Mt Flume, Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Galehead, South Twin, Guyot, Bond, and Bondcliff. A trail (including part of the Appalachian Trail) runs along this entire ridge with various connections to the inside and outside of the ring (see a map for better details). However, it should be noted that access is fairly limitted and some spots are at least a long day's hike to any road.
A popular overnight destination is the primitive site at 13 Falls. As advertised, 13 waterfalls of surprising magnitude tumble over large rocks at the head of the whole Pemi watershed. Towering above is Galehead Mt. There are half a dozen platforms and a latrine available for a nominal fee ($5?) during season (June-September?). 13 Falls is located 8.1 miles along very easy trails from the Lincoln trailhead.
Directions: From the south, the best access to the Pemi wilderness is at the Lincoln trailhead located on the scenic Kankamaugus Highway which runs east to west from Conway to Lincoln, NH.
Info: For local event and trail information contact the USFS Pemigewasset Ranger Station, Plymouth, (603)536-1310
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