Trip Report: August 2013 Pemi Loop

After failing at doing a two-day yo-yo traverse last month, I decided to shift my one-day pemi loop into a two-day pemi loop.  This is not because I didn’t think I could do it in one day, but rather because I wanted more experience with overnight backpacking.  I have woefully little experience in a primitive campsite, my only real experience a several day trip I did in Isle Royale NP many years ago.  So I wanted a chance to actually have to use my water filter, talk to other people at a shelter, and have to get up early the next day and start hiking again.

I also wanted to test my electronics set-up since I still haven’t figured out a GPS/phone set up that’s very sustainable.  As you can see in the map below, it clearly had some issues.

My wife and son came up with me and she was kind enough to wake up at 4:30 and drive me to Lincoln Woods where the loop traditionally starts and ends for a 5:20 start.

2013 1.5-Day Pemi at EveryTrail (map below is missing last section, I finished around 11am)

Trip stats

Distance: 31 (20+11) miles
Total time: 15 (11+4) hours
Weight: 23 pounds max, 13 pounds base
Peaks: Flume, Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, Lafeyette, Garfield, South Twin, Guyot, Bond, Bondcliff

Like I said in the intro, I started the hike a few minutes before 5:30 at the Lincoln Woods center.  I slipped on my headlamp, but it turned out to be completely unnecessary.  By the time I got to any dense foliage, the sun had risen enough that it was light enough to see.

Lincoln Woods trail is annoyingly flat and boring, following a railroad bed so it was easy going on my fresh legs.  I saw some one ahead and by the time I reached the Osseo Trail had nearly caught him, but I stopped to grab a breakfast Cliff Bar and snap a picture.  As I started up Osseo, I nearly caught him again, but as soon as the elevation started getting a little bit steeper, I lost him again as I had to take some breathers.  I thought this a bit strange at the time, since I don’t know many hikers who hike as fast as I do, particularly on flat or downhill.  It’s not that I actually believe there aren’t faster hikers; trail runners come by me a lot, just not too many with packs and poles.  I figured I would catch him on the ridge.

Osseo Trail up Flume was an amazing trail that is just the type of climb I like.  It was a steady climb with dirt/rock mix and a more intense rise near the end.  Very few large sections of boulder scrambles.  The peak was not terribly interesting because of the cloudy conditions and continued to stay that was as I made my way over to Liberty.  The ridge between the two was wonderfully easy.  I began to like this trail way more than the Presidential Traverse, which doesn’t really have a section I would call easy….maybe Franklin.

As I picked up the AT, I started meeting general traffic for a morning dayhike/weekend hike.  The climb got harder going up to Little Haystack and the top was also in the clouds when I got there.  However, the sun opened intermittently as I approached Lincoln and I was able to snap one good picture.
I really enjoy this alpine zone much more than I do the lichen covered rocks on the northern presidentials.  That feels very exposed and lifeless.  Most of the ridges on this hike felt very alive and the color made for much more dynamic photos.  When I reached the top of Lafeyette there was a family there with two little girls, one only five years old I believe.  It was particularly impressive because it was only 9:30 in the morning.  They must have had an early start to get her up there.  I didn’t pause long on Lafayette because the wind was cold and brutal.  I wanted to get down in the trees as soon as I could.
Up until Lafayette, I had really thought the trail was pretty easy.  Coming down the north side of Lafayette and actually continuing through most of the northern section until South Twin was more of the type of terrain that I do not like.  The boulders got bigger and the ups and downs became more randomly steep.
I paused for a brief respite at Garfield Pond to eat my lunch.  I also got a GPS message from one of my friends, which was a welcome surprise.  This was the second trip that I had been using my DeLorme inReach, which allows your friends and family to send messages from the web UI.  The UI has some serious flaws, in my opinion, and as a GPS receiver I’ve had better luck with my phone but the ability to send and and receive messages on the top of a remote mountain with no cell service is pretty sweet.
I spent a bit longer here than I expected, about 45 minutes, but it was very pleasant when the sun was shining and it was time well spent.  After the rest, the Garfield ascent which was probably the second steepest ascent I had done that day so far, wasn’t that bad.  The top was full of people when I got there around 12:30pm and there were actually fairly clear views so I snapped a couple in different directions.
The trail coming down off of Garfield was pretty intense as a downhill.  For a large section it’s descending a steep streambed and several times it required that I not use my poles to drop down a ledge.  It also was full of people, I guess 1pm near a summit and campsite is sort of like rush hour on a mountain.  I trudged onward over rough terrain and up until I got to the Galehead Hut.  Here I stopped and listened to the chatter of groups of hikers for a couple minutes while I prepared to go up South Twin.  It looked pretty intimidating from afar, like the trail just went straight up.
Turns out it pretty much did, at least as close to it as I found that day.  It was the steepest thing I had done and it was boulders, which I think by now you have realized I do not like.  But I had fun short conversations with most of the people descending, including a group of thru-hikers with three dogs.  That at least broke up the monotony of the climb.
At the top of South Twin, a trickle of rain had begun and the wind was again very strong.  So I jumped off the top and headed back into the trees, missing most of the good views there in exchange for some protection.  After Twin, the ridge to Guyot was pretty easy terrain, which is why I was surprised to find some one approach me from behind.  It was the hiker from the morning, which I distinguished by the gloves he was wearing.  Gloves are very rare amongst hikers.  Confused at how I had passed him, he explained that he had done Galehead and North Twin, as well as bushwacking to two subpeaks on Garfield.
His name was Wayne and he was a level or three above me with regards to hiking experience.  Without sounding too much like a fanboy here, not only was he throwing in all these extra peaks today with bushwacking included, but he had hiked the pemi in the past six consecutive months.  He also hiked with a group of people even more hiking addicted, including Ed Hawkins who invented the 4000 footer grid system.  Some of these people seem to be as close to full time hikers as you could get.  But he was full of useful information for myself, including telling me that my knee pain was somewhat inevitable and could only be mitigated.  I had been to an orthopedist the day before who had told me that my knees looked structural great so any pain I had was not really something that could be fixed.
We hiked together until the Zealand turnoff and then we split off, him to go hit the Zealand peak and me to the Guyot campsite.  Next to my descent off Bondcliff the next day, that section was my fastest hiking pace of the trip.
I got into the Guyot campsite in time to snag the last wooden platform.  That turned out to be a mixed blessing, as my tent seemed really not to be made to work on a wooden platform.  I use a Lightheart tent which is ridiculously light and has a really easy setup, but is not fully free standing and is slightly longer than the tent platform.  In the end, I ended up sleeping with a tent slightly brushing my face because I couldn’t get it taught in the right way.  Luckily, there was not a lot of rain and wind and nothing inside got very wet.
It took me about an hour of half sleeping/zoning out in my tent to work up the energy to make dinner.  It was a lot colder than I expected and my clothing was really designed to evaporate sweat as quickly as possible which led me to violently shiver while I was outside of the tent.  By the time I had dinner (box of flavored couscous with package of tuna in a quart-size freezer bag…potless cooking kicks serious ass), I was feeling much more human again.  I sent some GPS messages, read a bit, and went to bed around 7:30.  I don’t think I actually fell asleep for another hour because of the light and because I can’t ever find a good position without a pillow.
The next morning I was up and out by 7am.  It’s pretty nice to start in the morning from the top of the mountain.  You have a bunch of energy and no serious climbs.  I quickly made it to Bond but there weren’t any views so I moved on, bypassing West Bond.  I had decided that I was going to have to come back anyway to see some of the other peaks, so I was just going to do a minimal loop.  The Bondcliffs were amazing, mostly because the sky cleared up really nice as I was going across.  The wind was intense, probably the strongest wind I’ve ever hiked in.  I had to spend have of my focus on maintaing my position on the trail rather than moving forward.

That mountain has some legendary status as being one of the more remote and it has the best spot for taking pictures, with an awesome outcropping where you can stand while some one stands on a nearby summit and snaps the picture.  There was no one around to take my picture though, so I stood there for a couple minutes admiring the views and then moved on.
What followed afterward was essentially a tumble of pseudo-trail running down Bondcliff Trail.  After an initial rocky descent, the trail flattened off nicely and I was able to ramp my pace up to close maximum, which is around 5 mph.  That trail, especially the lower part before it was flat and after it hit the stream, was exhilarating and awesome.  I made it from the top of Bondcliff to the Lincoln Woods center in a little over 2 hours.  I was two hours early for my rendezvous with my wife.  It actually made me a bit sad I had skipped West Bond but then it started pouring and I was ok with my choice.

My only last thought is that is is amazing the difference in people coming down the mountain.  The people you meet near the top are incredibly friendly and open and as you come down and run into less serious hikers and eventually car hikers when you are on Lincoln Woods trail, the eye contact goes away and people often don’t return greetings or do so grudgingly.  It made me want to run back up the mountain to get to a place where shared experience and challenge brought everyone together.

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