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 view of the Twins from atop the Hale summit carin.|
|Some sort of tank from the old fire tower, a few yards off the side of the Lend-a-Hand Trail.|
|"Zeale" - South Hale|
|Carrigain Notch - Mounts Lowell and Anderson on the left, Vose Spur with the ridge up to Carrigain on the 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|
|West Bond-Bond col ahead|
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|
|Benchmark on the summit of Mount Bond|
|The open ridge walk to Bondcliff|
|The summit area 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|
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|
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|
|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 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.
|The trail is actually over this tree...|
|What looks to be an old barrel hoop, still welded together, around a ~15' sapling on the side of the trail|
|You can see the railroad track in the center of this picture|
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