Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Super Extended Pemi Loop in Winter - February 2014

Last weekend, I completed an overnight “Super Extended” Pemi Loop in winter. As part of my goal to hike the NE67 in winter, I decided to give this thing a go with good weather, and knowledge of a couple of key trails most likely being broken out. To make this version of the Pemi Loop, the “Super Extended “ Pemi Loop, I descended North Twin, and then used the Fire Warden’s Trail to Hale to continue the circuit, getting 13 of 48 4000-footers (Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Galehead, South Twin, North Twin, Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff).

The total distance was 43.8 miles and the elevation gain was 15,824 feet. I carried an approximately 35 lb pack including overnight gear (25 degree bag, inflatable air mattress, tarp, a couple of emergency blankets for ground tarp, cook set, and 1 can of gas with 2 oatmeal packets and 1 package of noodles for 2-3 meals beyond my few pounds of energy food) I had planned for a stop for wherever along the trail, Guyot Shelter, or whatever other opportunity.

This was an amazing hike featuring sunrises, sunsets, moonlight hiking, and great views, but lots of brutal trail breaking, cold temperatures, and frozen water. As insane as it was, I had good weather, and the amazing experiences along the way kept me going strong through the end.

I started around 2:30am on Saturday morning and hiked for about 18 hours. After breaking out the entire Lend-A-Hand Trail from Hale through the 9PM hour, I had to crash Zealand Hut. I showed up after 10pm, and found a spot in the dining area to lay out my sleeping bag. I cooked my noodle soup, and got a few winks in during my brief stay. I talked to the caretaker and explained what I was up to. I was up and out by the time breakfast was served, having no impact on anyone staying there. On Sunday, I hiked from sunrise until I finally made it out at twilight around 5:30pm.

Here is the story from this amazing adventure, broken down by trail sections:

Lincoln Woods, Osseo Trail & Franconia Ridge Traverse – The trail was broken out to the top of the ladders on the Osseo Trail. I broke trail from there to the summit of Liberty. I then broke trail from the Liberty Springs Trail all of the way to the ridge. I had a little glimpse of sunrise for Flume & Liberty, before it got very windy and cold for Lincoln and Lafayette. From Lincoln, I couldn't wait to get over the shoulders of Lafayette and out of the challenging conditions. I've hit the four Franconia Peaks over 10 times each, and this was probably the 2nd or 3rd most challenging traverse with the cold and wind that I dealt with.

Mt. Flume summit
Mt. Liberty summit

Mt. Lafayette
Garfield Ridge Trail (Lafayette to Garfield) – It was smooth finding the trail off the ridge, and as expected, I broke trail for the entire 3.5 miles to Garfield through snow about a foot deep. I hit a confusing spot in the col, causing a 20 minute delay, but I then continued and popped out onto the Garfield summit, where a large group of people were also arriving, and they were first people I had seen.

Mt. Garfield summit
Garfield Ridge Trail to Galehead – It was a big advantage having the next several miles of this difficult trail broken out, all of the way to the Hut and to the summit of Galehead.  I never, ever under estimate what I might get on the Garfield Ridge Trail in winter, but this time it was straight-forward and pretty quick.

Galehead summit
Galehead Mountain from the Hut
The Twinway, & Twins – Again, nicely broken out, and I made the steep ascent of South Twin arriving just in time for sunset over Franconia Ridge. Continuing on quickly, I arrived at North Twin just after dark, and made a rather laborious and tough descent on the North Twin Trail all of the way until I came to the start of the Firewarden Trail to Hale.

South Twin summit with nice colors
Sunrise behind Lafayette and Franconia Ridge
From South Twin
Firewarden's Trail to Hale – I had plugged the GPS coordinates in for the start of the unmaintained trail, and it was spot on. I was also extremely thrilled to see that, indeed, it was a highway of broken out awesomeness. This was my first time on this route to Mt. Hale, but I have to say that hiking it in the moonlight without the need for a headlamp was a pretty amazing (my first batteries were dying anyways). At this time I was on at least 15 hours of hiking and near 12,000 feet of gain, but the night time scene of this beautiful area was keeping my spirits up and my legs moving. I arrived to Mt. Hale where the moonlight light up the entire summit area. It was awesome.

Mt. Hale summit
Lend-A-Hand Trail & Calling it a Night at Zealand Hut – After the epic moonlight ascent, I faced a completely unbroken Lend-A-Hand Trail which is 2.7 miles to the Twinway. In the middle of the night, still with a beautiful and bright half moon, I trudged through a foot of snow, having no problem following this trail, which I had broken out once before. I had pondered setting up a camp in the preceeding hours, but after Lend-A-Hand, I quietly made my “crash” stop at Zealand Hut described above.

Twinway to Zealand – I left the hut as the sun was coming up. The trail was broken out to the first height of land before Zeacliff, where there was an amazing morning view. I then broke out the next one and half miles or so to Zealand. There were fox or coyote tracks from the Zealand Summit all of the way to Mt. Guyot. I followed those tracks and broke the rest of the 1.6 miles of trail to Guyot, which had stunning views.

Looking towards Zealand from where the broken trail stopped
Something was on Zealand before me! 
Zealand summit
Bondcliff Trail & Bonds - I was pleased to see from Guyot some inviting snow shoe tracks towards the Bonds.  Being on this remote stretch of trail in beautiful weather was uplifting.  I dropped the pack for West Bond, and made it out quickly.  This was my first time back to West Bond in winter since my winter finish last year.  It was actually a very similar morning.  I spent a good few minutes on the summit enjoying the views and checking in with family after no cell service since yesterday afternoon.  I was in good spirits, made my way up to Bond for more views, and things got better as I kept moving toward Bondcliff. The scene was pretty sweet heading to Bondcliff, my 13th and last peak on this epic adventure.

Mt. Guyot

Final push to West Bond
My 10th summit of West Bond in the 10th different month
The Bonds ridge

The Rest of the Way - To make things even sweeter, the Bondcliff Trail in the other direction was also broken out very nicely. THANK YOU! I was going to take a break around Bondcliff, but I motored on down to the last river crossing to take it instead.  I was getting very hungry again, so I stopped to cook my couple of oatmeal packets and drink some actual water to fuel up for the rest of the way.  After that, I was good. I put the snowshoes on the pack, and bare-booted it all of the way from that spot on the nicely packed trail. With daylight still around, and knowing I'd finish before dark, I was pumped. While on other Pemi Loops, I've walked this trail back practically limping, but this time everything was strong to the end.

The 3rd stream crossing on the descent
My nice meal break before the final push out!
A little under 3 miles to go!
Alas, I made it.
This was an awesome endeavor for a lot of reasons - mostly the views and experiencing the awesome fresh snow, but 11 of the 13 peaks counted to February for my grid, and most of these peaks counted for rounds 7 or higher.  After hiking 18 of 19 peaks in Maine and Vermont so far this winter (North Brother remains), I've done 20 NH 4000-footers in just five hiking days, bringing me to 38 of 67 this winter with only 10 or 11 more possible hiking days to try for 29 more (I only hike weekends). Two of those hiking days will be needed for North Brother.  It should be an exciting finish to the winter as I go for it and should pass a couple of more interesting milestones (4th round and all NE4Ks solo in winter). Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy reading about my craziness and excitement of going for the New England peak in winter!


  1. Simply amazing Dan! I'm in total awe.

    1. Thanks Kimball! I'm sort of in awe myself on this one too. Very much appreciated coming from a Pemi Loop veteran like yourself.

  2. Awesome job! You're making amazing progress on your grid!

    1. Thanks Allison. I am up to 38 for February with this hike. It will be fun over the next year as I start to close out peaks and months. The Pemi peaks and Mt. Washington will likely be first.

  3. That is extremely impressive. My attempt ended at Garfield due to equipment malfunction i decided to bail out. I did follow your tracks the whole way which helped a bit. I did get a kick out of that spot in the col but i also had trouble following which way you ended up going. All in all i can give you major props after trying the normal loop myself and falling short. Well done!

    1. Jonathan, Thanks for sharing your experience. I was looking at my GPS and thought maybe I could get through that brief thick stuff to the trail, but the best decision was to turn back the short distance and re-approach the area. Sometimes in the snow where there's a turn like that, just your angle of approach can make the corridor after the turn invisible. I failed a Pemi once before in early December two years ago. I found myself going in the wrong direction off Lafayette well after 10pm - had to hitch back to Lincoln at 3am. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. Check out the label on the right for my other Pemi Loop hikes, and I'm sure you'll nail it next time.

  4. Inspiring awesomeness, Dan. Bravo on an epic trek well done. I wonder what was the look on the caretaker's face was you first came crashing into Z hut at Zero Dark 30. Even you were probably too tired to think to take a pic. :)

    1. Hi Arkie, Thanks a bunch! It was pretty funny that I slept on the thin bench, rather than the more roomy floor, so she probably thought that was odd. Everyone was sleeping already, and it was after midnight when I finally told her I was doing a whacky Pemi Loop, and I had intended to stay at Guyot - trailbreaking got me behind schedule. That is correct, I was exhausted, didn't take a picture. I also don't want to condone crashing the hut, because others paid for the stay.