Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zealand and the Bonds in a Day - Sept. 14, 2014

Route: Zealand Trail, Twinway, Zealand Spur, Bondcliff Trail, West Bond Spur, Lincoln Woods Trail
Peaks: Zealand (4260', NH4K), Guyot (4580', TW72), West Bond (4540', NH4K), Bond (4698', NH4K), Bondcliff (4265', NH4K)
Mileage: 19.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 4200ft
Book Time: 12 hours (actual 11hr 25min)

With summer winding down and with it the end of the year fast approaching, I still had a couple hikes that I wanted to get in before the end of 2014. One of those was a visit to the spectacular Bonds, one of my favorite spots in the White Mountains (a feeling shared by many I might add). With the forecast looking great, and my hiking friend Theresa requesting the Bonds on this day, everything was set for a great fall-like day in the mountains. Though this would be my 4th visit to the Bonds, it would be only the second time I dayhiked the range, with the other coming in the winter of 2013. I was curious to see how the hike would compare to that one, which is 3.5 miles longer due to the winter closure of Zealand Road.

We met dark and early, under the stars and a gradually lightening sky, at 5:15 at Lincoln Woods to drop a car before heading up to the Zealand Trailhead. The only other time I hiked the Zealand Trail without snow on the ground (and thus a roadwalk up to it) was the first time I hiked in the Whites, in 2000. Around 6:30 we wet off, right on schedule, and made fast work of this mild trail. Gently climbing up to the base of Zealand Falls, past several beaver ponds and through wood ready to change their colors, we were catching up (having not hiked together since April) and warming up in the chilly morning. The clear skies forecast for the day had yet to materialize, but we were hopeful that things would burn off by the time we hit the viewpoint atop Zeacliff.

Beaver Ponds along the Zealand Trail

Don't ask me. It was sitting on a rock at the Twinway/Ethan Pond Trail junction.
We reached the hut in a little over an hour despite a couple of side trips to check out Zealand Falls and take lots of pictures, where the overnight guests had finished breakfast and were finishing packing up to leave for the day. We stopped inside briefly, where I dug through the 2000 logbook to confirm the date I stayed there as I have a discrepency in the dates from that year that I've wanted to straighten out since finding it a few years ago. That sorted, we headed off for the only major climb of this hike, the 1000-foot climb up to the Zeacliff overlook.

Lower portion of Zealand Falls

Main Zealand Falls

Overcast view from Zealand Hut - no sign of Carrigain this morning!

While somewhat steep, this climb never seems to be all that bad, and in good order we were atop Zeacliff, staring into the inside of more clouds. Bummer, this spot has some of the best views in all of the White Mountains. More concerning though was the wind, which had been howling all morning and was worsening now with the elevation we had gained. With the low temps, non-existent visibility, and howling wind, we began to wonder if a turn-around might end up happening. We pressed on to Zealand, figuring that decision could be made at treeline on the side of Guyot if need be. As we hiked the final mile or so to the spur to the summit of Zealand, we noted a lot of rime ice encasing the trees along this ridge, the first sighting of the year. We made a quick stop at the summit of Zealand, down the spur, and headed off towards Guyot.

The awesome view of - well, nothing today - from Zeacliff

Some rime ice in the air...

Near the Zealand-Guyot col, we ran into the first hikers of the day, folks that had spent the night at the Guyot Shelter and were now on their way out and home for the weekend. Among them was a 75-year-old gentleman who was understandably very pleased with having just completed his New Hampshire 4000-Footers the day before on the Bonds (well, technically he still had the exit hike to complete, but he was all but done!)! We would run into probably close to a dozen people before hitting treeline on Guyot, many of which were carrying flagpole equipment, clearly folks that had been manning the Bonds summits the day before for Flags on the 48. Many of these people commented to us about 70-mph winds, and how they had crawled across Guyot. We were now even more concerned, but the forecast HAD been for decreasing winds throughout the day, so we pressed on. I noted that the wind seemed to be starting to die down finally, but was it just my imagination?

Just before treeline on Guyot we layered up, put on our winter hats and rain shells (we had already been wearing gloves all morning), and stepped out above the trees. The wind, while definitely still there, was nothing like the reports we had been hearing. We experienced mid-20s gusts at the most during our crossing of Guyot, and best of all, the clouds started to part just then as well, revealing a partial undercast in the Pemi!

The skies are lightening on Guyot!

Blue skie! Come on, you can do it!

That's better!

West Bond from Guyot

Bond and West Bond from Guyot

Franconia Ridge peering above the clouds

After crossing Guyot, we dropped our packs at the West Bond spur and headed up under sunny skies, finding practically no wind at the summit when we got there. What a difference an hour had made! The views were terrific as always, though unique for me as there were clouds clinging to below the tops of many of the area summits, while the Bonds themselves were completely in the clear! We hung around for a while, enjoying the views, and only one person came by while we were there, as we were about to leave.

Bond and Bondcliff from West Bond

South Twin

Looking towards Lincoln

Bondcliff, with the Hancocks in the clouds behind

Bond, and a recent slide (I believe from Hurricane Irene)

Guyot from West Bond

Franconia Ridge

From the West Bond Spur, the climb to Bond isn't terribly long or steep, and before long we were on top of yet another terrific views summit, with only 2 other people there. More pictures, views, basking in the sun and lack of wind, and of course SUMMIT COOKIES! Yum! Thus refueled, we eventually headed out, down the steep and rocky descent of Bond to the open, rocky ridge to Bondcliff. This ridge traverse, while relatively short, is a spectacular one, and a favorite of mine. Bondcliff holds a special place for me, especially being the site of my Winter 4000-footer finish, and again today we spent a long time on the summit, exchanging pictures on the infamous Bondcliff ledge and chatting some with a couple of ladies out backpacking the ridge (this was their exit day, they spent the day before on Zealand helping man the flag).

West Bond and Franconia Ridge from Mount Bond

Mount Washington

Bondcliff awaits (pardon the odd coloring, my camera accidentally ended up in some weird mode)

Mount Bond
 Knowing we had a long hike out, and I needed to be back home for work in the morning, we eventually tore ourselves away from the gorgeous afternoon that had developed on the Bonds, and headed down. The only other time I had been on the Bondcliff Trail below Bondcliff was last winter, and I was curious to see what the trail was like without several feet of snow on it. After assisting the two ladies down the step right below Bondcliff, the trail was largely smooth, with few rocks outside of some rock steps, and a fairly gradual descent, especially after the upper stream crossing. Down and down it went, but in what seemed like a rather short time we were at the old Wilderness Trail/Bondcliff Trail junction for the final 5-mile flat hike out. This was easily the fastest the 3-mile Lincoln Woods Trail exit hike has ever gone for me, and we ended up doing those last 5 miles in less than 1.5 hours, both of us still feeling strong at the end. We had also just done the traverse in under 11.5 hours, a good hour faster than planned, and we had taken our time over the Bonds, including lengthy stops at all 3 summits.

West Bond from the Bond-Bondcliff col

Bondcliff awaits

The Nancy-Carrigain range

The hancoks, with Carrigain in the clouds on the left.


Only a few clouds left around Franconia Ridge

Mount Washington looks like a nice place to be today too!
A short time later, we were at dinner in Lincoln with burgers and beer (mmmm!), recapping the awesome day we had just had. It started out rather questionable, but our timing ended up being perfect, as the winds died down and the skies started to clear just as we left the shelter of the trees. The only downside to the day was the 45-minute drive back North to drop Theresa at her car and the subsequent 3-hour drive home. As always, I wish I could have stayed up North for another day!

This little fellow was in the scrub along the trail just below Bondcliff, munching away on something.

The Bondcliff Trail - much of it below Bondcliff was like this!

Looking back up towards Bondcliff from the upper stream crossing

The old Bondcliff Trail/Wilderness Trail junction. Thanks to the 2009 Pemi bridge removal the Bondcliff Trail is 2 miles longer.

Old railroad grades of the bottom of the Bondcliff Trail

The final few hundred feet to the parking lot!