Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bondcliff, Bond, and West Bond 7-23-11

Rays of sunshine from Bondcliff Trail
Well, it was a great weekend again. Starting with the weather and the mood Friday afternoon as we drove up to our camp, as we planned to hike the 3 Bonds on Saturday. Friday night called for a nice evening meal and beer at Shooter's Tavern in Belmont, followed with a couple of bottled waters, then it was off to sleep for a few hours.

Trail sign at Lincoln Woods
A few hours it was, and we were off and walking past the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center at 2:45am. You might say yikes, but it was well worth it. Headlamps and flashlights ready to go, we crossed the bridge and headed down the Lincoln Woods Trail, the old railroad beds. After hiking in the night two hikes in a row, I can honestly say that if your lost at night with no flashlight, there is nothing you can do but just sit there until tomorrow. Always bring a flashlight! We shut off our lamps to check it out a couple of times and were pretty humbled. We continued down the trail, and I think we might have seen only one of the many campsites along the way in use. The river flowed loudly below us on the right for a while. We passed the trail junctions to Osseo, Black Pond, and the bridge near Franconia Falls, making it to the Wilderness boundary.

Wilderness Trail
On the Wilderness Trail, after the initial narrow section widens to railroad grade again, we may have had our first wildlife encounter, but we don't know what it was, even shining our flashlights in the direction of it. We were walking, and with our headlamps we noticed two really bright reflective objects, and Bill immediately assumed it was the side of a tent at tent site. As we continued along the flat trail, the two things disappeared and appeared and we stopped. We shined the flashlights on the area at the same time, and we saw 2 slow blinks come over these bright objects, but could not see what it was, as it was around 100 feet off the trail, up an embankment. We thought it might be an owl. The eyes were 2-3 feet off the ground max, and were bright white. It didn't seem to move or bother us, but it was quite interesting. We swiftly booked it along the rest of Wilderness Trail, and then to the Bondcliff Trail.

Bondcliff Trail nearing summit
Here, it finally started to ascend. It was still pitch black for a while on the trail, but the sky was slowly starting to get lighter as we continued. At the earliest we could, we killed the headlamps and allowed our eyes to adjust. The trail makes a hard turn with slight views of the valley, and the rocks of Bondcliff are slightly visible at the top.  The trail continues to ascend. It's rocky and the footing is often tough. Eventually, the trail gradually comes out of the trees and to a couple of different rock scrambles, then its flat as you walk towards the cliff where there are incredible and steeeeep views into the wilderness. Owl's Head seems so close in the foreground. Franconia Ridge soars on the other side.

Approaching the summit of Bondcliff
Next, it was time for our pictures on the cliff. This is a very nerve-racking moment, there's no question about it. There is no coming back from any mistakes up there. What a thrill for my 38th peak of the year.

It was 6:50am, we had made the 9 miles to Bondcliff in about 4 hours. Just as we finished with our photos, it started to drizzle, and it looked liked weather was moving in. We put on our jackets and headed on the trail towards Bond. Up here the footing is sometimes unstable, and requires hopping large boulders. We moved along with no issues taking in the above treeline walk in the spitting rain, which was amazing.

Bill takes his 20th peak
We made it Bond, which was Bill's 20th 4000 footer this year with me. The views remained tremendous, and we could thankfully see the weather system passing to the South, and it the weather only got better from there. We enjoyed the views for a few minutes and decided to continue on towards West Bond. Again, the greenery along the ridge trails is so nice. It's hard to believe you can find such flat sections of trail up that high, but I love it. Not only is the flat trail a relief, it feels like your in Avatar for a few minutes haha.

Grouse blocking Bondcliff Trail
Just before the West Bond Spur leaves on the left, we ran into something blocking our path. It was a grouse. Both Bill and I have had encounters with these. I nearly stepped on one while running down the trail on one of my hikes, it started squawking and flying down the trail in the direction I was going, I didn't know what to do, so this time, we just slowly approached, and a loud step made it go on its way without incident.

The West Bond Spur was easy, with one scramble near the top. On my 40th peak, I had views back to the other rocky Bonds and Guyot, S. Twin, and Garfield, which I had done the week before. Not only that, we stopped for about 10 minutes and split a full orange for a snack. Not only that, the sun was breaking the clouds, which was awesome.

Bondcliff as seen from West Bond
Back on the Bondcliff Trail, we could start to feel the heat of the sun. It was already warm so it didn't take long. We stopped for a couple quick breaks on the way back to Bond for water and some Trail Snacks. The views were even better as we peaked Bond again. The view of the surrounding mountains and the straight line of the ridge is impressive.
View from Bond of the Bondcliff Trail and surrounding wilderness
From Bond, we cooked it along the ridge to Bondcliff, in fact we covered a bulk of the distance in about 8 minutes, as shown in the video below. Back at Bondcliff, the wind was light in spurts, but still easy enough to pose for our pictures again, this time in the sunshine. :)

After Bondcliff, it was back into the trees and down. On a hike like this, there is no escaping the feeling of a dreadful hike back. When will the Bondcliff Trail end? When will we get to Franconia Falls, and then walking in pain the last 3 miles or so past the many folks enjoying their day hikes with family along the popular section of trails.

When we finally made it back to the car at 2:45, there was plenty of time for, and no hesitation with, throwing on our bathing suits and plopping ourselves into the cold and refreshing East Branch. What a way to end one of the best hikes of my journey.

Here is a video presented in 720p HD showing the highlights of our experience :

Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Wilderness Trail, Bondcliff Trail, West Bond Spur
Miles: 23
Elevation Gain: 4500 ft

Also, be sure to check out the full album from this hike.

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