The “Pemi-Loop” is a hiking circuit in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire’s White Mountains that climbs over 9000 vertical feet in 31.5 miles. Backpacker Magazine called it the second hardest dayhike in America, making apt references to “knee-hammering rocks” and “long stretches of abusively rocky trail.” A few years ago I tried to do it in a day, but failed. On August 7-8 of this year (2012), I did it in a more civilized manner by spending a night at the conveniently located Galehead Hut.
Waking at 3AM in southern Massachusetts, I drove 3.5 hours to the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center and started hiking by 7:30AM. It was a little steamy in the morning, so the 3000-foot ascent of Mt. Flume via the Osseo Trail was somewhat taxing. From that craggy perch, I followed the spectacular Franconia Ridge Trail for five miles to the summit of Mt. Lafayette (5260 feet), which is the highest point in the wilderness. The stretch from Little Haystack to Lafayette, which is entirely above tree-line, was hot and crowded.
Crossing the Pemigewasset River at the start of the loop.
The Osseo Trail
Mt. Liberty from just below the summit of Mt. Flume.
View north from the summit of Mt. Flume. I need to climb over Lincoln and Lafayette on the left and then Garfield in the middle. Many miles before I sleep ...
Mt. Lincoln from Little Haystack
Looking back down the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Little Haystack, Liberty, and Flume.
Mt. Washington from the summit of Mt. Lafayette.
Leaving the summit of Lafayette at 2:15PM, I needed to make good time to reach the hut for dinner, which is served promptly at 6PM. That 6.6 mile stretch from Lafayette to Galehead Hut was brutal. It took four hours, and I was really pushing it. I did take a quick break on the summit of Mt. Garfield, however, to enjoy the fantastic view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Looking north from the summit of Mt. Lafayette.
Descending the Garfield Ridge Trail.
A nice spot in the forest, somewhere between Lafayette and Garfield.
The Pemigewasset Wilderness from the summit of Mt. Garfield.
I reached the hut a little after 6PM, having hiked around 17 miles and climbed nearly 7000 vertical feet. No wonder I was beat! Being the last one to check in to bunk room #4, I was relegated to the least desirable bunk – the one on the fourth level (about 12 feet up).
Dinner was good, as was the company which I was suddenly thrown in with. Sitting down to eat in close quarters with a bunch of strangers immediately after a grueling 11-hour hike was an interesting and not entirely pleasant experience, but at least I made it to dinner. After dinner, one of the hut employees gave a talk primarily about logging in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and then a few of us lingered outside and watched what I think was the international space station pass overhead.
Sunset from Galehead Hut
Bedtime was unfortunately miserable. After climbing the ladder up to the fourth bunk in the dark, I realized there was no ventilation up there. Plus, the side of the bed was only an inch higher than the mattress, which meant that I could conceivably roll over and plummet twelve feet to the hardwood floor below. Add to that a persistent, whining mosquito, some loud snoring from bunkmates, and a need to visit the rather grubby bathroom at midnight and you’ve got a recipe for a bad night’s rest. Miraculously, I finally got some fitful sleep after about three desperate hours of staring wide-eyed in the dark.
At 6:30AM, a very nice violin solo by one of the hut employees rousted everyone from their bunks for a breakfast of oatmeal, pancakes, and bacon. The bacon resulted in much oohing and aahing from hungry, calorie-depleted hikers. By 8AM I was climbing the steep trail (1000 vertical feet in .8 miles) to South Twin Mtn. and becoming increasingly aware with each step of the oatmeal, pancakes, and bacon filling my belly.
From South Twin, I headed south over Mt. Bond to Bondcliff, which might be my favorite summit in the White Mountains. Nine miles from the nearest trailhead, Bondcliff is one of the remotest peaks in the Whites. In fact, I had the summit to myself for the duration of my leisurely 30-minute break there. Then, with a heavy heart, I said goodbye for the time being to these mountains I love so much – and to the memories they conjure up – and began the long plod down to the car.
Crossing the footbridge over Franconia Brook, I allowed myself to wander down to water’s edge for an invigorating foot soak. By 8:15PM, I was back in southern Massachusetts.
A hazy view from the summit of South Twin.
A typical stretch of trail in the White Mountains of NH.
The rocky trail leading toward the Bonds.
That's Mt. Lafayette in the center, viewed from near the summit of Mt. Guyot.
Recent slide activity on Mt. Bond.
The classic view of Bondcliff summit.
My moment of Zen