August 5, 2012

Mount Zealand and The Bonds

The Bonds! Ever since we started peakbagging and hiking all of New Hampshire's 4000 footers, "The Bonds" have been looming as the most difficult peaks to conquer. The Bonds are actually a collection of three different peaks, Mount Bond, West Bond, and Bondcliff, all nestled deep in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Since they are all near eachother, they are often bagged together on one single trip, but all of the options are at least 20 miles in length. Should we do it as a backpacking trip camping at Guyot Campsite? Should we make use of the Galehead or Zealand Falls AMC Huts which are nearby? These were open questions for a while but as we continued to hike and continued to bag peaks, we decided that we could take on the Bonds in a single day. The next question was what will our route be? A traverse from Zealand Road to Lincoln Woods is the shortest route and has the least amount of elevation gain. The only drawback is that it requires two cars and a fairly long car spot. An out-and-back from Zealand Road is about the same distance but with 1000 feet more of elevation gain. We invited a few different people to come along on the hike with us and potentially help with a car spot, but we had no takers (I wonder why?). In the end it was settled that Katy and I would be on our own on an out-and-back from Zealand Road: 20 miles in length and 5000 feet of elevation gain to bag The Bonds and a bonus Mount Zealand along the way!

In order to simplify things for ourselves, we decided to check in to the Above the Notch Motor Inn down the road from the Zealand trailhead on Friday night. I estimated it would take us about 12 hours to complete the hike, but an early start on the trail would be much easier if we don't have a three hour drive in the morning first. We woke up early yesterday morning and were at the trailhead at 5:30AM. Surprisingly, the parking lot at the end of Zealand Road was already about half full with cars. No doubt many of these were of people staying overnight at the Zealand Falls Hut, an easy two and a half mile hike from the trailhead. We snapped some photos and headed off right as the morning sun was rising. The first section of the trail was mostly flat and easy, and although possibly sleepwalking at times, we made it to the hut in about an hour.

We didn't stop long at the hut, maybe a minute or two, but wanted to push on as it was still early and we had only been on flat trail so far. It was about three miles from the hut to our first peak of the day, Mount Zealand, and once we left the hut, we started to climb. I'm not sure what it was, maybe the early hours, or maybe this section really was pretty steep, but this early part of the hike seemed tough. We quickly settled into a groove where we were concentrating on climbing and the conversation died down for a bit. After a couple miles of climbing up, the trail finally began to level off and we both settled enjoyed the reprieve from the steeps. Before long, we were at the spur trail to Mount Zealand and hiked the 0.1 miles in from there to bag the viewless summit. Number 43 done!

At this point the only other people we had seen on the trail were at the Zealand Hut. After coming back out from Zealand's summit we finally bumped into another hiker on the trail. Civilization! We continued on towards Guyot, now on a section of the Appalachian Trail and bumped into a few more hikers on the way. One such hiker greeted us with a cheerful good morning and then:

  • "Hey I just want to double check, am I still on the AT?"

  • "Yes you are!"

  • "Oh good I wasn't sure since I haven't seen any white blazes in a while"

  • "Where are you coming from?"

  • "Georgia, happy to still be alive!"

A through-hiker! We've seen a few through-hikers before but this guy was definitely the most cheerful and least ragged looking. Good luck to him the rest of the way! We continued on the rolling trail towards the summit of Guyot, not an official 4000 foot peak but one with expansive views and a grand destination all by itself. We were seven miles into our hike and it wasn't even 10 in the morning! We hit the trail junction of Bondcliff Trail near Guyot, took a left turn, now off the AT, and pressed on towards the Bonds.

It was a great day out, but the temperature really began to heat up at this point. The forecast for the valley was for a humid day close to 90 degrees, and even at elevation it likely made it nearly to this level. We quickly made it to the spur trail to go up West Bond and then made the half mile ascent to the summit. The trail up to West Bond is wooded but has a fantastic exposed summit with great views all around.

After stopping for a while on West Bond for some snacks and a break, we made the half mile descent back out to the main trail, and were only another half mile from the summit of Mount Bond at that point. We quickly made it up to Mount Bond where we were treated with more fantastic panoramic views. We met another couple of hikers on this summit who were on a backpacking trip starting from the Kancamagus Highway. We saw very few people on Bondcliff trail on this fine day, and even fewer who were on just a single day journey. We soaked in some more views and then pushed on towards Bondcliff.

We arrived at the peak of Bondcliff at around 11:30AM. Six hours into our hike and we were over halfway done. Now just time to turn around and go back! We hung out at Bondcliff for a while, ate some lunch, and rested up for the return trip. The hike back up Bond was a bit of a challenge as we were already 11 miles into our hike and faced a nice uphill climb in front of us. Katy was also developing a pounding headache at this point likely from the hot sun and maybe a bit of dehydration. We found some shade to stop, she took in some extra water, gatorade, and ibuprofen, and continued on. Fortunately that seemed to help and her headache eventually went away. Once we re-bagged the summit of Mount Bond, we coasted back to Guyot, past Zealand, and down to the Zealand Falls Hut. On the way back we passed a group of two hikers, one of whom was blind! We were also hoping to pass Ryan who was attempting the NH 48 speed record and whose itinerary appeared to bring him right by us on our hike out. We never saw anyone who looked like he was about 150 miles into a three day trip and alas it appears as though the trip was aborted before the Pemi traverse was attempted. In any case, when we reached the hut, there was a bustle of activity with kids and families arriving and the croo starting to prepare dinner for that evening's meal. We stopped to refill our water and eat some more snacks before continuing on.

We arrived back at the trailhead on Zealand Road at about 4:30PM, 11 hours after we had started so early in the morning. Our legs were tired, some joints were sore, a few blisters had formed, but really I would say we were both feeling pretty good. On paper the Bonds may look daunting, but get out there on a beautiful day and they are mostly just rewarding. Granted Katy and I have been working our way up to this trek with our summer hiking blitz, but for any peakbaggers wondering how they're going to tackle the Bonds, fear not. There are many options, and with the fairly tame elevation gain, a single day trip is easier than it looks. With the Bonds done we are now at 46 out of 48 NH 4k footers complete!