Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Grand "Loop" - June 9-10, 2012

I've been pondering doing an overnight into Guyot Campsite to revisit the Bonds, some of the most spectacular, if not THE most spectacular, peaks in New Hampshire. As I normally hike solo, loops or out-and-backs are best, but I really prefer loops personally. There are a couple that I've come up with from the Lincoln Woods end, a 2-day and a 3-day version with different extra peaks attached. But I came up with a further one from the North end.

Ever since reading about the Mount Hale Trail (aka the Firewarden's Trail) that used to go up Hale from Little River, I've been interested in searching it out. This was the tractor grade cut for building and servicing the fire tower on the summit of Mount Hale, a tower that is long since dismantled. This trail is technically abandoned (for around 50 years), but sees a fair bit of use in winter as it is a slightly shorter route than the Zealand Road walk + Hale Brook Trail route. Furthermore, much of the trail passes through what is said to be one of the finest birch glades in the White Mountains, and is very popular with backcountry skiers as well. But the best part for hikers is that it opens up the ability to do several different loops encompassing at a minimum the Twins, Guyot, Zealand, and Hale. As such, it sees use in all seasons, though light use since it takes some searching to find and one ought to be comfortable off-trail in case the trail peters out. It is also not hugely known about except among those that hike a lot in the area.

Many people do the aforementioned loop, usually up the Twins and down Hale, as a long dayhike, one totalling roughly 18 miles with 5400 feet of elevation gain. A little long for me knowing the rocky nature of New Hampshire trails, but doable. However, I reasoned that it would be a very nice overnight if one coupled the Bonds with it and stayed at the Guyot Campsite, between Bond and Guyot. In fact it works out to roughly 25 miles total and 8000 feet of elevation gain, a long but reasonable 2 day trek. Not only that, but with the exception of Hale and Zealand, all of the peaks have fabulous views, and there is a total of 7 official 4000-footers as well (Guyot does not meet the criteria based on rising out of its col with higher neighboring peaks). Plus you net the Zeacliff overlook on the way up Zealand, which is well worth a day trip all on its own.

I originally planned to do this hike around the end of June, after doing a few longer tune-up hikes in the Whites to get re-acquainted with hiking on rocks again after 150 miles of hiking on nice snow-packed trails this winter. However, mother nature decided to throw a stellar weather forecast in for the second weekend of June, one that promised to be awesome for this hike. I also haven't carried an overnight pack in roughly 8 years, but with the forecast I decided to go for it anyway. You don't get a 2-day weekend forecast calling for low-70s valley temps with abundant sunshine both days too often.

The key was to be able to find the start of the Mount Hale Trail; since the trail has been abandoned for roughly 50 years, there are no signs marking it, and in fact the start of it has moved closer to the North Twin Trailhead than it used to be 50 years ago. I was able to piece together various clues from trip reports and the like to be fairly sure of being able to find it. I wanted to do the loop clockwise, meaning Hale would be the first summit and I would come down the Twins the second day, but if I really could not find the trail I would just go over the Twins day 1.

There has been a lot of rain lately in the NorthEast, and in fact Friday night even there were some heavy thunderstorms that rolled through. I was a bit concerned with how much mud I would encounter, but I figured I would manage.I hit the trail at about 7:30 AM Saturday morning, getting the last parking spot in the small Haystack Road parking lot.

It turned out I had little trouble finding the Mount Hale Trail, and once on it, it was extremely easy to follow. It is clear this trail gets sufficient use to keep the footbed obvious, and honestly it was in better shape than many officially-maintained trails I have been on. Yes there were some mud pits, but really not that many, I saw more on other trails on this weekend. The path is a nice gentle grade through a fern-filled birch glade for most of its length, hitting conifers up high. Surprisingly, the whole corridor is still pretty clear and with only minimal trail work with blowdown clearing one could likely still get a tractor up this mountain.

Nice walk through a birch glade on the abandoned Fire Warden's Trail

Impressively wide corridor for a trail abandoned for over 50 years. One could drive a truck through this no problem!
The grades on the path are moderate, climbing around 1850 feet in 2.5 miles to the summit of Mount Hale (after ~1 mile on the North Twin Trail). I made great time, reaching the summit in 2 hours flat (9:30). This was my 3rd time on Hale, and the first where I wasn't in the clouds. In fact, it was sunny. However, due to the trees growing up on the summit, the only views are from the top of the summit carin, and they aren't all that great at that.

The view of the Twins from atop the Hale summit carin.
I didn't hang long, wanting to get to the Guyot campsite before it filled up. I charged down the Lend-a-Hand Trail, a new trail for me. Almsot immediately I had to stop and follow a short herd path to the right to a remnant from the fire tower. I don't understand why they just threw parts of the tower in the woods, and mere feet off the trail in this case...

Some sort of tank from the old fire tower, a few yards off the side of the Lend-a-Hand Trail.
I continued on down the Lend-a-Hand, which has some nice intermittent views towards the Presidential Range, along with an impressive view of South Hale (aka "Zeale"), a trail-less peak on the New Hampshire 100 Highest list.

"Zeale" - South Hale
I made it to the Twinway junction near Zealand Hut and headed up towards Zeacliff at 10:50. The next mile is steep, but never with bad footing. However, I took a while to get up this stretch, reaching the Zeacliff overlook a few minutes before high noon. Surprisingly, there was no one else here except a couple that arrived mere moments after me who I had been leap-frogging with much of the way up from the trail junction. Today the views were stellar into Zealand Notch and out into Carrigain Notch.

Carrigain Notch - Mounts Lowell and Anderson on the left, Vose Spur with the ridge up to Carrigain on the right

Whitewall Mountain
As soon as I sat down, however, the black flies made their first appearance of the day. A massive swarm descended on me immediately. Some Deet applied to the arms, coupled with the pants I was wearing helped keep them mostly at bay, enough so I could eat some food and relax for 20 minutes or so. Towards the end of my stay a large group of college-age students appeared, loaded up with tents, pots, and so on. I figured I'd be seeing them by the end of the day at the Guyot Campsite, and I was right.

Now for a relatively tame (overall) final ascent to the Zealand summit spur trail, where I dropped my pack and took the short 0.1-mile spur to the summit, which is heavily-treed and completely view-less. I leap-frogged a few times with a trio of people who were on a Zealand-Bonds out-and-back overnight trip, I saw them quite a bit over the course of the weekend.

Zealand summit sign
It was 1:10 when I left the summit. Ahead I had a short descent then a gradual ascent up to Mount Guyot, where I would certainly have great views on this day. I was starting to feel the day at this point and wasn't moving all that fast up Guyot, I'm sure carrying the heavier pack than I normally carry the whole way wasn't helping. I did make the summit in reasonable time, greeted by some stiff breezes and great views.

West Bond-Bond col ahead

Mount Carrigain

South Twin

Mount Garfield
I then made my way down the Bondcliff Trail to the Guyot Campsite, reaching the campsite at 2:35, a mere 7 hours from when I left the car. Not bad! I had hoped at the start of the day to be there by around 3, so I was doing good. At this point, there was only one tent set up at the site and no one in the shelter. That soon changed, as more and more people arrived, so instead of taking up half a tent platform for only myself, I set up the mesh body of my one-man tent in the shelter (to serve as a bug net).

My plan had been to only add West Bond to the day, and to be there for sunset, which is spectacular from that particular nearby peak (roughly 1 mile away from the shelter). I filled up a water bottle from the always-cold spring as I was down to about 3/4 liter in my bladder. At 3:40 I decided to hit up the Bond-Bondcliff peaks. Perhaps I would have time to eat when I got back and still make it to West Bond for sunset, or perhaps I would eat dinner out on the trail (I brought my JetBoil and food bag in case of this, leaving the camping gear of course to save many pounds). The trio I had seen before near Zealand plus their 4th member who had been ahead of them also left at roughly the same time for Bondcliff.

The Guyot site is roughly 200 feet down a 0.2-mile spur trail off the Bondcliff Trail, and is not pleasant one to hike out of. From there it is a steady but not bad climb up to the open summit of Mount Bond, passing over a brief false summit along the way. There is a survey benchmark right near the summit here.

Across the Pemi towards Carrigain from Mount Bond

Osceolas/Scar Ridge
Benchmark on the summit of Mount Bond
The bugs were gone since the winds were still present, roughly 25mph gusts. From here it is a steep, long descent to the open ridge walk leading to Bondcliff. I knew climbing back up this later would be rough, but what can you do? This ridgewalk is spectacular, similar to the knife-edge on Franconia Ridge. Going across the ridge on this day I was periodically hit with very strong wind gusts, likely 45+mph. These seemed to be mainly caused by updrafts along the cliff edges on the walk, and while temporarily tough to walk in, they were brief and rare.

The open ridge walk to Bondcliff

The summit area of Bondcliff

Bondcliff summit
In relatively short order I was standing atop the summit of Bondcliff, 4000-footer number 5 on the day! (well, 4, since Guyot does not officially make the 200-foot col requirement, though most surveys indicate it does). The wind here was moderate, enough to keep the bugs at bay, but not enough to be annoying or chilling. At this point it was 5:15, and I knew making it back to camp, eating, and getting to West Bond for sunset was unlikely. I also didn't have enough water to make dinner with and hike back to camp, so i was likely going to miss the sunset this time around. Not a huge deal, because I love the summit of Bondcliff!

There is a famous shot on the cover of the 27th Edition of the AMC's White Mountain Guide of "the cliff" near the summit of Bondcliff. Most people insist on getting a shot taken of them standing on the edge of this cliff, with West Bond rising in the background. My first time up here, I did not get that shot (I didn't really know about it at the time either). This time around, one of the 4-some I'd been seeing all afternoon offered to take mine.

The famous cliff near the Bondcliff summit

Standing on the cliff - wish the shot was taken zoomed-out further like the previous one, but that's OK
After a 30 minute snack break on the summit, I began the grind back up to Mount Bond and then back to camp. I was nothing but slow going up to Bond, and I later realized this was because I was near 6000 feet of elevation (and ~15 miles) for the day! Nevertheless, I made it back to the shelter around 7:10. Dinner time! I was only halfway through dinner when word came through from the caretaker that now was the last chance to go for the sunset. O well, I'll just visit West Bond in the morning.

The next morning came, and after breakfast I broke camp. Now for the slog back up to the Bondcliff Trail, starting at 8AM. From there I hopped over to the West Bond Spur and dropped my pack, preferring to hike the 0.5 mile spur without the excessive weight. The spur dips about 150 feet before climbing 200 feet to the open, rocky summit of West Bond with its fabulous 360-degree views.

South Twin from West Bond

The Bond Ridge to Bondcliff from West Bond
After a short visit, I went back to my pack and trudged back up to near the summit of Mount Guyot, where I picked up the Twinway to head to South Twin. I was here at 9:20. The trail is nice in this stretch overall, with easy grades and good footing, which was a nice change from the area around the Guyot summit, plus all the climbing form the day before.

I reached the summit of South Twin in good order (10:40), where clear skies meant terrific views from this open summit towards most all of my weekend thus far.

Hale and its Southern Ridge, the Presidentials in the background

Franconia Ridge

Mount Garfield
After a nice break here hiding from the black flies (not much breeze on this day), I headed to North Twin, from which i would head down to the car.

North Twin from South Twin

Coming up on the summit of North Twin

Galehead Hut nestled between South Twin and Galehead Mountain

The ridge towards Garfield and Franconia Ridge

Hale with the Presidentials behind it
Here at the summit overlook of North Twin the black flies were bad, and so I didn't linger too long. I began the long 4.3-mile descent to the car. The upper portion of the North Twin Trail is steep and the footing is poor, with many loose rocks forming the trailbed. This was far from pleasant descending. After a long descent the grade does moderate, and the footing improves, which was a big help. From there it was a simple hike to the upper crossing of Little River.

Here was the most interesting part of the trip. Little River is a wide rushing river which took a lot of damage from Hurricane Irene last fall. The crossing here is tricky, perhaps more so now (I never hiked this trail before this weekend so I have nothing to compare to personally). A large tree blowdown spans the river at the trail crossing, and many people have been using this to cross. I wasn't so confident in my balancing skills, especially this long into the weekend, but I managed to rock-hop with only a few slightly-udner-water rocks used right alongside the up-river side of the tree, using the tree as a railing to steady against.

Cross here...
The trail is actually over this tree...
After making it across this, it was an easy descent to the trailhead. I used a well-worn herd path to avoid the lower 2 crossings of the river, picking up the old railroad grade partway. There was a curious artifact in this stretch.

What looks to be an old barrel hoop, still welded together, around a ~15' sapling on the side of the trail
I also saw a piece of railroad track sticking out of an eroded bank.

You can see the railroad track in the center of this picture
I reached the car at 2:15. I immediately went down the road a few yards to the bridge that crosses the river and soaked my sore feet in the cold water before packing the car back up for the drive home.

It was an incredible weekend with great views and relatively good trail conditions. I added 5 peaks to my second round of the New Hampshire 4000-footers (I have done Hale and south Twin 3 times each now). There were patches of mud here and there, but nothing too bad really, and most of them were hoppable without getting the boots too muddy. The black flies were obnoxious whenever I stopped on Sunday, but such is life hiking in spring in the Whites. Would I do this hike again? Absolutely!

Interesting thing to note: Guyot Campsite has added 2 bear boxes effective this year. No more rat-lining!

Peaks: Hale (NH4K), Zealand (NH4K), Bond (NH4K), Bondcliff (NH4K), West Bond (NH4K), South Twin (NH4K), North Twin (NH4K)
Mileage: Day 1 - 15.6 miles  Day 2 - 9.8 miles  Total: 25.4 miles
Elevation Gain: Day 1 - 6050 feet  Day 2 - 2000 feet  Total: 8050 feet


  1. Hi Matt. I love that part of the Whites!

    FYI. TrailsNH.com started follow your TRs today. Drop me an email and I'll send you some info about it. K i m b a l l @ T r a i l s N H . c o m


  2. Great read and great pictures Matt. I've got to stop peak bagging and get back into backpacking.

    Thanks for Sharing,

    1. Joe, you need to stop bushwhacking to those viewless 3k summits and find yourself some views ;) Thanks!

  3. My meetup group will be doing this hike on the 23rd and a member posted your TR and it got us excited! Thanks for all the detail :)

    1. Allison: that's awesome, hope you guys get great weather like I did!

      I was originally going to go that weekend, or the 30th, would've been cool to see people doing the same thing (everyone I saw was doing overnight out-and-backs from either Zealand Trail or Lincoln Woods, a few that did Zealand-Twins traverse). If you have a large group (looks like you have 10?) get to Guyot early (2-3PM ideally). They do have a pair of group platforms which fit several tents better than the regular ones (which are roughly 1.5 tent capacity...)

      If you have any questions about the loop, let me know.

  4. Great read, I know this is from like 4 years ago but I just did this loop yesterday and was trying to find out if anyone else had ever done it before. We took the opposite approach and went up North Twin first. Actually did the whole loop (minus west bond due to time) in one very long, 14 hour day. Definitely one of the best hikes I've ever done.

    1. Matt - I have heard of a few people doing the Twins-Bonds-Zealand-Hale combo as a day hike, but not too many. The loop as a day hike without the Bonds is semi-frequently done though, and is on the to-do list for someday! Yesterday was certainly a terrific weather day for such a hike though!