Into Thick Air

Pemi Traverse: Bonds and Zealand - 15/Jun/2002

By David Metsky Photo Credits - Dave and Michelle

Map of first half of trip

Map of second half of trip

Elevation Chart of trip

OK, let's get this out of the way, this was a silly trip. There is really no good reason to do a 20 mile hike through some of the most spectacular terrain in the Whites when it's a driving 45 degree rain and absolutely no views. But, there we were, at the McD's in Lincoln all waiting for someone to bail. Well, I was waiting for someone to bail. SherpaK, Mike P, and I had met for dinner the previous night at Truant's Tavern then retired to a nearby cabin for the night so we'd have an early start. We were at the trailhead at 6:00 to meet Deb and Michelle, who to my great dismay were there. There was no talking them out of it, and I felt the inexorable stench of death creeping slowly about our sad, wretched lives.

Well, that's a bit much. I was still hoping for some break in the clouds, but instead the rain started to fall as we drove to Lincoln Woods. Mike, Michelle, and I were going to hike south-to-north, and Sherpa, Deb, Al, and Carol (who were to meet them at Zealand) were going north-to-south with a key swap somewhere up top. We changed into our hiking boots at the car and with a wistful wave bade farewell to the chance of dry, warm shopping in Lincoln. The first 5 miles went rather quickly, less than two hours to the Bondcliff trail, where we stopped to look at the old logging RR trestle, drink water, and snack.

Then we started climbing, and of course, the rain picked up. All four stream crossings on the Bondcliff Trail were running and we were all pretty soaked. We ran into a woman in sneakers, carrying an umbrella, who told us the wind above treeline was extremely high, almost impassible. Given the source of the info we took that with a grain of salt. Higher up we met a group of 8 high schoolers and a few leaders who'd stayed at Guyot the night before. They looked pretty bedrazzled, but survived without too much trouble. Just below treeline we stopped to layer up before coming out above treeline, and headed into thin air.

It was windy, wet, and generally nasty. Conversation was difficult, the wind would occasionally twist you around, and it wasn't always easy to keep the others in sight. Since there's a pretty big cliff off to the left, we were conservative about our footsteps. We briefly conferred and saw no reason to stop, and pushed on towards Bond. I stayed in the lead until we hit the trees at the col, then started up again. I think it says something that on the top of Mt Bond, perhaps the best view in the Whites, none of us bothered to pull out our cameras. Instead we drank water and pushed on to meet the other group.

As we reached the intersection with the West Bond trail, a voice called out "Hi!" and we met up with Al and Carol. Deb and Sherpa had gone up to the summit of West Bond, Deb needed it for her 4Ks and Sherpa is nuts. Al and Carol showed remarkable wisdom in staying put. We three, clearly in the Sherpa mode, went up. While the winds on Bondcliff were stiff, probably around 25 MPH, here on West Bond they were much harder. We me up with Sherpa and Deb who were on their way down and said it was thrilling. As I climbed up the final rocks I was blown over two or three times, just lifted up and dropped down. My estimate was that the winds were around 45-50 MPH. Thrilling, indeed. We only spent a few minutes up top, then headed back to the group.

Back at the junction we recounted our journeys and swapped keys. Everyone was doing pretty well, even though we couldn't stay still for long without getting very cold. After 5 minutes of quick eating we said our goodbyes and headed out. Our group was a little concerned about crossing Guyot in the high winds, especially since they'd be in our face. We all had enough water so we didn't drop down to Guyot Shelter, just pushed on to the clearings at Guyot. Surprisingly, the wind wasn't bad over there, probably only 15-20 MPH so we had no problems. We met a guy and his dog at the Twinway Junction, the dog seemingly pleased to be out on a gentle walk in the elements. We settled into a quiet rhythm as we dropped down, then climbed up to Zealand. The .1 mile side trip was very worth it, Michelle was going to use it for her Trailwrights list, such an honor. From there on it was down.

And down and down, in the rain, with the wet slippery rocks, and we were tired. We'd been hiking for nearly 9 hours and we were all soaked and getting into that end of the death march zone. While we still could admire the timber puncheons near Zeacliff we were ready to be down. The last mile before Zealand Falls Hut was very tough, but we made it eventually. The warm, dry people in the hut weren't too thrilled as us mangy mutts arrived and settled in for some food and drink. But all was forgiven 15 minutes later when we left. Nothing left to do but the relatively flat Zealand Trail. We made it out in under 11 hours, pretty good all things considered. Sherpa and the Rich's car were there, we drove around to McD's where were supposed to meet, then to Lincoln Woods since they hadn't come out yet. They arrived a few minutes later, hobbling a bit sore legs. All present and accounted for. Off to the Roast Beef place near the highway and off our separate ways. A great hike, plenty of great inner views and camaraderie, and a good test of our limits.

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