Discovering The Bonds in Winter.

Outside it was winter, but according my calendar – winter had not yet arrived.

Bond; the ringing of this name brings about thoughts of an elusive character, one who has always been there just waiting for the perfect moment to make their appearance. Similar to my strategy when it came to hiking the triplet of these Bonds; I heard they were a massive undertaking – so pleasant weather was a must, good gear also a must, and a positive outlook no matter how the day turned out – because there is always a chance I would get a mile in, step wrong, or get too cold and have to make that disappointing call that “today is not my day”.

Well I was going to do everything I could to ensure today was my day!

It was going to be another one of those days when I would be flying (trail running and snowshoeing) solo, Ciara had to work – so this was my time to put in work! If it is by alarm, I always try to wake and get up an hour before I plan to depart – that morning coffee is a must! I like to have my hour or so to do one last glance over my gear, typically keeping it in the same area and unpacking everything when I get home each time from a hike – so it looked like I had all I needed: two beanies, two sets of gloves, fleece, jacket, turtle fur, running leggings, waterproof REI pant shell, gaiters, 21″ snowshoes, Hillsound spikes, change of Darn Tough socks if needed, extra waterproof bags for the Go Pro, cell phone, and wallet – things that I told myself I was simply protecting from my sweat and condensation, but realistically I knew it was to keep electronics dry in case of a dip unintentionally into any body of water!

This is one of my more favorite drives up into the White Mountain National Forest, 1 1/2 hours of old school Metallica fueled night-time driving later has me driving past the Loon Mountain resort and before I know it, I have arrived at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center and Trail Head. Despite being one of the larger AMC parking lots – it still manages to fill up by day break, on a nice morning! I’ve seen cars lining the side of the Kancamangus Highway for over two miles on some days – a distance that would have me rethinking my day and hiking somewhere less populated, if I drove into a mess like that in the morning!

My favorite amenity of this parking lot has to be the spacious bathrooms,

I was asked recently if Lincoln Woods had the “heated bathrooms”, I can tell you from my experience in winter around these parts – I did not get the impression that these rest areas were heated, but when I mentioned this, I was abruptly corrected with: “it’s a big improvement from what it was!”, so graciously I will be content with the current state of the facilities before me! I have even on occasion made the Lincoln Woods lot a mid-point destination during longer drives to take advantage of their lovely bathrooms!

I joined about 10 other cars (which looked very sparse considering the lot can hold 150-200 cars depending on the weather.) this morning. Most adventurists had already departed for their epic journey; or perhaps some were still sleeping in their vehicles (which is illegal when the US Government is not shut down – in the past – the lot has been patrolled and I have seen Rangers waking folks up from their slumber just to move their cars at 6am!). I was readying my gear with 3 others that I could see around the lot, I silently wondered to myself where they were heading on this early bluebird day.

I was moving with haste once I got out of my car due to the 12 degrees that tried to leech it’s way through my many layers, fingers were quickly growing stiff and longing for some thick gloves to settle into. Once I hit the path, trudged past the closed Welcome Center and set my new Coros GPS watch to record in Run-mode; I was settling into my gear – trying to share my body warmth with all of my layers. My watch buzzed to congratulate me: 1 mile into this moderately flat, fast section of the hike along the old railroad bed into the Pemigewasset wilderness – that’s when a spark went off in me, I felt too light, alarmed that my hands were just dangling by my side as I busted out a 13-minute mile, “Ahh! The damn trekking poles!!” In my rushing around to get on the trail and get warmed up I left them leaning against the far side of my car, after a 30-second debate I decided to run back for them. The fellow in the truck next to me who was simultaneously readying himself for a hike passed by remarking “Forgot your poles? They are still leaning against your car when I took off”. Uneventfully, I reached my car, snatched up my poles that I may or may not need on today’s steeper sections and jogged back in for the next 4 miles.

I was wearing my go-to boots: Asolo TPS 520’s with toe warmers in case I got slowed down, but I have refined the art of trail running over the years with these hiking boots on! Passed the intersection for the Osseo Trail where a father and son were stripping layers for the climb ahead, over the Franconia Brook bridge where the snow was still packed and easy to put the miles behind me.

The trail now split, I had taken this left in the past several times with Ciara to trek into the Owl’s Head neighborhood with bear and moose tracks all over the trail, but never had I taken this right branch, which remained a stable, gentle grade – still following fresh boot prints through the fluffy trace of over-night snowfall. I met the owners of these boot prints at the southern drainage from Bondcliffs, they had all their gear strewn about – making a morning snack of apple cinnamon oatmeal (I could smell the apple cinnamon and immediately brought back to my youth when my father would make this for my sister and I at 3am before we would all hop in the Toyota Corolla to hike the high peaks!), we all exchanged our greetings, inquired where each of us were headed for the day and agreed we would meet somewhere passing on the Bonds later in the day!

Minutes later I had found the abrupt jerk of the trail leaving the river basin and began my climb up along the Black Brook along the Bondcliff Trail. Here is where I passed the final set of fresh boot prints for the day and I would be breaking trail the remainder of my trip; she was bare-booting in “as far as I can go, and then I’ll turn around”, she said, just out to enjoy the blue skies and be out in nature.

I was probably humming along to myself in a dreamy state of cyclic, steam engine-like breathing as I trudged up the mild ascent – I was brought back to reality by a couple off in the woods (very, very well camouflaged back in the trees with their hotel of a tent and full kitchen set up), we all said our “good morning!”, wished each other a splendid day and I continued on, on my own once again.

The only place where I back-tracked and actually had to check my maps was where the trail crossed over Black Brook, there were several places where the trail could have gone, I tried them all and then set my autopilot to “forward”, where I eventually saw a faded paint swatch contrasting with the bark on a tree across the water. Luckily, the brook was frozen over with a snowy top layer – I could hear the recent melt water rushing underneath so I stepped lightly and quickly across – I put the first set of boot prints into the snow that I could see.

I had never been on this trail before so it was all new to me – I had studied the maps for hours prior to taking on this trek – however, topo maps certainly don’t always resemble the real-life trail, but when I made the switchback and skirted along the side of Bondcliffs – I knew I was on the right trail for sure! This trail has a moderate grade, perhaps which was enhanced by my breaking the trail in 3′ of fresh powder, the sun was out at about 10am when I made my climb and every step up brought snow down off the bent over branches, onto my neck – the hood quickly remedied that one!

I seemed to be going up – the never-ending ascent along the sloping backside of these cliffs, when I first made the hard left over Black Brook and began this leg of the hike – I was greeted with vast glimpses south, back where I had begun my journey – but also up; looming over head were the bare rocks to which I assumed were located at least near to my destination: the summit.

From under my hood I glanced up to see what people had enamored over as “the light at the end of the tunnel”

There it was, blue sky as my trail leveled off and made it’s final swing to the right, “I was almost there!!” I thought as my adrenaline levels rose yet again, excitement smashed through the roof as I thought how many times I had dreamed of hiking The Bonds, I was finally here – but I hadn’t conquered it yet.. I was for sure living in the moment now! Another obstacle presented itself now, this time in the shape of a final large boulder scramble up the dripping, clear ice – which was partially covered with wind-swept snow. Views down the BondcliffsPondered over my approach for a moment – but I could see the warmth of the sun which lay up ahead in my very near future, thankfully no sound of blasting wind overhead; one foot at a time – reaching as high as my little legs would go (it’s a good thing I stretch and do yoga daily!), grabbed onto a crooked branch that looked worn and weathered, as if it had helped 10,000 other hikers fighting to accomplish the same feat as I was right at that moment.

Cresting up and over, followed by another brief jaunt through some short scrubby trees, I had found the famed Bondcliffs – the only bummer was that I was hiking solo and could not grab the iconic photo that countless other hikers have of themselves out on the cliffs with the drop off eerily below (“that’s alright, I have my own shots”, I consoled myself). Decided to not stay terribly long (it may have been intoxicating blue skies, but it was still dang cold! up there above treeline), I could see my path over “the official” Mount Bond, and off I went, trying to avoid scraping the rocks with my bright orange snowshoes.

Most of the path out of the trees was a packed down sidewalk that meandered back and forth but as I gained my elevation back the trail swung a slight right, heading northeast toward the looming summit ahead. There were some views from the top, but honestly I think my favorite shots were the ones that I captured from below the summit cone – on both the hike up and down, looking back at the Bondcliffs through the evergreens! The peak of Bond was a nice multi-trail intersection (Times Square-ish), none of which were broken out.

So, there I stood weighing my options, measuring the amount of remaining daylight.

Go on? I knew from the maps that the spur trail to West Bond did not appear far, but I had some descent just to get to the trail – all of which was very wind swept and drifted over, up to my knees despite the aid of snowshoes – but oooh boy it was so much fun coasting downhill, flying atop the snow drifts –

this is what “being a kid again” is truly all about for me.

For minute after minute – the spur trail was not appearing as far as I could see, I know that I went over the little bump just north of Bond, had been going down that for what seemed like half an hour. If I had been staring at my feet, I think I would have missed the sign for my path – luckily the skies were still incredible, peering out to catch images of Mount Guyot at 4508′, a place where I wanted to be before the end of my day – but I had already decided that making it down to the West Bond spur trail was even more than I now set out to do, somehow my feet kept propelling me down toward West – willing to comply, I happily went along with their plan and dove left onto the trail.

I could see West Bond from along the ridge where I now stood, and it looked far,

unsure of how long it would take me (I knew on the map the mileage was not beyond do-able, but I was still breaking trail in the tail end of November – when days are short!), I didn’t waste time and just started hustling right toward the jagged summit of West Bond. I could see the cap of exposed rock getting nearer with every twist and turn of the path – a trail which was absolutely stunning and fun to fly along as I was just at the mid-point: 12 miles into my journey for the day!

A side-jaunt that took about 25 minutes to reach those exposed rocks had appeared so far away when I was safely on the ridge along Mount Bond. I stood on the very small summit rocks sticking up, nothing man-made in sight (Loon Mnt ski resort may be visible, but with the breath-taking views of the Bonds and the entire Pemi-Loop before me, I didn’t look for it), not an ounce of wind blowing by, I honestly don’t think I have ever stood on an open summit in such serene, peaceful nothingness. I don’t take videos on mountain summits, but today I did – I had to capture what I was experiencing (or at least try!), this was a moment that I did not ever want to end,

I just stood there above the snow and rock and tried to absorb the tranquility.

The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and I knew that I wanted to be off the slope, off the mountain and back onto the Lincoln Woods trek out before all daylight abandoned my journey. Heading back, I was abounded with all the exuberance that I had made it further along down the trail than I had previously thought only several hours ago. Now time to back track – and it went fast! Up and over, through my fluffy powder of a broken trail, flying around trees and following the course that I had made for myself earlier in the day. Coming back down Mount Bond, the time was nearing 3pm and I knew only an hour of daylight remained once I got back into treeline.

Back on the Bondcliffs, and despite chilly bones in my fingers, I stopped to capture what I could onto the memory card of our Go Pro: back toward Mount Bond, over the cliffs; everywhere I looked demanded a photo, for the surrounding landscape may not change anytime soon – it will never be the same as it was today. The snow depths may differ, seasons change, there may be other hikers next time, even new boot prints, graffiti – like what happened in some high peaks of NYS, not even going to ponder a forest fire – but that is one reason why I stop and soak in these views, they will never be exactly identical to the one moment in front of us here now.

Stop and soak it in next time you are in the woods, make the time, stop and ‘just be’ for a moment!

I met my oatmeal buddies back over on the top of Bondcliffs, we chatted it up as I downed a Muir Energy packet in prep for my quick, non-stop scoot back down to my car. We talked about where they were headed, how the trek up was so far, I was a little alarmed that it was nearing 4pm and they were on the summit of Bondcliffs, packs off just roaming around. They asked what the big mound of snow and ice in front of us was: “That is Mount Bond right there”, I replied. All of their expressions immediately changed to that of terror. They thought they were on the summit of Bond and they were packs off, looking for the Guyot tent sites. Before we departed I asked them casually about their gear – to make sure they had tents, sleeping bags, stove, enough fuel – everything needed for a night on top of a mountain and remain warm doing so. I wished them well and hoped desperately that I would not read that three men in their early 30s had to be recovered from Mount Bond in the morning. I didn’t like that feeling one bit, leaving them there appearing so clueless as to where they were, but I asked all I could, gave them all the direction that I humbly could, and we parted ways.

Back down in treeline, I covered the return miles at a decent “slow trail run” pace; by now as the sun was setting, the trail refreezing all of the extra boot prints from the day, it appeared that dozens of folks bare-booted their way up, as far as the slushy afternoon trail would allow and then slumped back down. I ran into the couple who were now packing up their hotel-sized tent who also remarked on the three fellows who were heading up – turns out by their reports that the guys did not have a map between them. I was floored that they appeared so well-dressed, well-geared and ready for adventure, but to not carry a map between three people is astonishing, my thoughts were with them that they would find the tent sites.

Minutes after saying goodbye and wishing the happy couple a fantastic trek back out, I returned to the junction with the old railroad bed – easy going out now! I lit my path up with headlamp power, ran some, walked some; back and forth, slowly getting closer to the car where all my fruit was being held!

It’s amazing how never-ending the Lincoln Woods trail seems in the darkness,

I have noticed this when Ciara and I make this trek early in the morning, and again today as I huffed it out. Fast paced, but at the same time I did not want to twist an ankle on the slowly refreezing foot prints left behind from the daytime travel (that would be my luck, make it 20+ miles just to injure myself as I reach for my keys!), I passed a creepy silent couple who rocked the red lights on their head lamps and did not say a word as I passed by greeting them, I felt compelled to glance back several times, making sure they kept on their own path, and not mine. Did I say it was just a bit eerie passing by them as they made no noise or acknowledgment of my passing? Because it was.

Eventually the return miles had passed and I saw the cables which were still supporting the welcoming bridge standing over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, I had done it! Checked off all three of the Bonds and already could not wait to return with Ciara and the pups! The most incredible, humbling views that I have encountered in the White Mountains in a terribly long time. What seemed like a long journey whilst in the moment, had come and gone in a blink of an eye as I waited for my seat head to kick on and I tore at my wet winter layers, ready to dry out and make the trip home. Apples, bananas, and the remainder of my “gorp” (Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts, which I had turned into many types of nuts, mulberries, cacao nibs, a variety of unsalted seeds – my “above and beyond” way of making gorp!), all being washed down with some frosty coconut water.

It seems like every new hike that I do then, for a few days until my next hike, becomes “my new favorite” everything, favorite trail, best views, most welcoming summit. The Bonds certainly met all of my “best of” qualifications and will forever go down as my favorite non-winter, snowy winter-esque day hike!

Thanks for checking out my journey into the Bondcliffs, Mount Bond and West Bond!

If you’ve trekked the Bonds – tell me a bit about it!

Did I raise any questions about my hike, trail, gear, anything? Feel free to leave your comments down below and I’ll answer anything the best I can! If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you!!

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Thanks y’all, happiest of hiking to you all!!

Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch

  • 23.5 miles
  • 10hr 33minutes
  • 5118′ elevation gain
  • Bondcliffs – 4265′
  • Mount Bond – 4698′
  • West Bond – 4520′

 

 

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