Monday, August 20, 2012

The Pemi-Loop

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 ...

 Franconia Notch

 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.

Galehead Hut

 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


Chris Dailey said...

Great pictures, the Pemi Loop is a favorite of mine (minus the PUD's of the Garfield Ridge!), so many great views along the way and the Bonds are beyond awesome!

Thanks for sharing your trip report!


Sam Page said...

Thanks Chris! That stretch between Lafayette and Galehead Hut was rough, because I had already gained over 5000 vertical feet AND I was really rushing to make dinner -- brutal but consequently unforgettable.

Summerset said...

Great job and you got some great photos, too! I did the same hike two summers ago, and had about the same experiences you did, so reading your report brought back quite a few memories and smiles.

Anonymous said...

Great trip report! I want to hike the "Pemi Loop" this summer with my dog but do it in three nights (or even 4???) because we are old! There seem to be so many camping spots.... what do you think??

lulu.elle said...

Nice page, I am doing it this weekend, sleeping one night at Garfield shelter, the Galehead is all booked! Hope I survive, is there any spot for swimming since it's august, and some waterfalls view?
Thank you!

Sam Page said...

Thanks for the recent comments, folks, but sorry I didn't see them until now! There are numerous campsites dotting the loop, but no guarantee they'll be vacant. Regarding swimming spots and waterfalls, you might find some near the start/finish of the loop in the flat miles near the visitor center.

Anonymous said...

I now live in California,but I grew up in Maine. I did the AT from Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch in two days over Memorial Day weekend in 1979. We spent the niight at the Garfield shelter.

Sam Page said...

Sounds like a good memory, anonymous. Though I never stayed at the Garfield shelter, I spent a memorable night at the Guyot shelter once.

Fletcher & Sue said...

Memories indeed. Hiked the Pemi loop in 1973, a 3 day backpack but no overnight in an AMC hut. More fun with the mice over your face, middle of night, in a "lean-to." The "wooden steps" and the crowds did not exist. If memory serves me, we may have seen two other people in the three days. I think we did it in September (my White Mt guide with notes is packed up.) Well, you would have to be insane or wanting to go insane to do it during black fly season. Favorite long day hike: Pitamakan-Dawson Pass in Glacier NP.

Sam Page said...

Mice over the face just makes it more memorable!