Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pemi Loop revisited

(You can see a full screen slideshow of these images and more here)

The Owl’s Head peak in New Hampshire is often the last or near to last of the 48 peaks over 4000ft that people do because it is such a pain to get to.  The there-and-back trip to this peak is around 20 miles from Lincoln Woods and although the trail is pretty flat (except for the mile long climb up the peak) it is a long way to go for a day hike.

My two hiking friends and I (one of them very close to finishing his 48) were scheduled to climb this peak from the opposite direction on the third day of this second Pemi Loop trip (as if I didn’t have enough punishment last year).

I wrote about this trip last year - a grueling 30 mile hike across Franconia Ridge and then over Lafayette, Garfield, Twin, and the Bonds which added 10 4000 foot mountains to my list.  This year we decided to revisit these again to knock off most of Bruce’s last summits (he has 3 left after this trip).

John’s itinerary had the order reversed - starting at Bond Cliff which turned out to be a stiff hike after the long walk-in from the Lincoln Woods parking lot.  Just like the cooking instructions on the packaging of the instant meals, I should have paid more attention to the trip route beforehand because it turned out to be a longer hike than the one we did last year by almost a quarter.  My instant breakfast included instructions to fry it in a pan after soaking in water!  No pans for miles around when I read that!

We were pretty fresh starting out and the long level path had us hiking at a pretty good pace until the real climbing began.  Although not the steepest of the peaks around here, the walk up to the cliffs is quite strenuous and although I have been feeling fitter with the more regular visits to the gym, I lagged behind and was completely blown by the time we reached the top.

I had this idea of bagels for food (well for lunch).  John had said that they travel well and are pretty bulky without being too heavy but I had not counted on how they would sit like a brick in my stomach.  The short lunch stop on Bond Cliff ended up with me abandoning the bagel after only eating about a quarter of it and I got up a few minutes later feeling distinctly uncomfortable.  Unfortunately all my lunches were supposed to be bagel so this first day’s experience sort of ruined the prospect of the other day’s lunches too.

Not long after lunch I started to feel a little dizzy and was battling to keep my food down.  I suspect that the bagel was almost a blockage and the over-exertion on the way up Bond Cliff had made digestion a little more of a problem than it would ordinarily be.

I decided to plod on, hoping that it would clear up on the walk up to Bond proper.  The path is visible all along the way and a pretty steep climb so when I got up to Bond, feeling no better I was relieved to take a slightly longer break than we had on Bond Cliff…. in fact, my hiking companions had seen how miserable I looked and cut me a break (which I think resulted in a cat nap for all of us).

Bruce had some 5 hour energy drink (he would miss the one he gave me on the last day of the hike) which also helped - though keeping even this down proved to be a challenge as we moved on to the next leg of the first day, which took us up a side trip to West Bond.

I have always turned down the baffling offers to do “side trips” on hikes.  They are baffling to me in the same way that zero caffeine drinks are - if you are hiking a mountain why would you want to walk more for a side trip?  The logic doesn’t work as well sitting comfortably in a chair but on a hike the prospect of stopping and adding miles and time to your walk hasn’t filled me with enthusiasm before.

Side trips from tbouwer on Vimeo.

This time though we were on a mission to bag some peaks that we would have lots of walking to have to repeat so the side trips (South Bond on day one and Zealand , North Twin and Galehead on day 2) were just part of the plan.

What a pleasure to drop the pack and hike these peaks with nothing but the hiking poles and a half-empty water bottle!

At the end of the day we were at the Guyot campsite - time to test my new shelter, a Hennessey Hammock.

What a great addition to the backpacking equipment!  It weighs just over a pound and offers a very comfortable sleep - though you’d think with my climbing background I’d know how to tie a knot that didn’t have my hammock collapse on the first test!  I slept very comfortably in the hammock on both nights!

The second day was less tough than I expected.  We had a 3 side trips and a stop at the Galehead hut which is an AMC run hut where you can get some really nice curry vegetable soup and cold lemonade. The side-trip from here to Galehead (a very short .5 mile walk) mountain resulted in a slip on a rock in which I smashed the LCD screen of my Canon 7D.  I was lucky with the poles on this trip - I think I twisted my ankle 3 times and slipped or fell about 5.  Each time the poles were able to catch me and support me enough to avoid any serious injury - my camera not so lucky.

We had met a woman a couple of times during the day who was up there working with some training groups who were teaching young outdoor leaders.  Her job was to simulate an injured hiker in role play and then help to instruct the group on what to do.

Actually I enjoy meeting people up in the hills - we met 3 hikers on the walk in from the car park who were doing the loop too but in the opposite direction.  We came across them again on the second day as we were walking along to the Twin peaks.  Down at the hut we met a guy who was celebrating his 50th birthday with his younger brother by hiking in the Whites - he was from Cincinnati and his brother from Florida.  Unfortunately his brother had injured his knee and now, on the fourth day of the hike was really in pain and trying to figure out how to get back to a car from this deeply nested hut in the White Mountains.

A man and his daughter also doing roughly the same hike as we were came by either on the way to or from the side trips and had friendly words of us on each time.

Our second night was at 13 Falls and has flat areas set aside for tents.  I chose too thin a tree for my hammock on the first try and caused some hilarity when I sat in the hammock and the tree bent over and lowered me down to the ground.  Tying the hammock I can see is one of those things I am going to have to work on.

This site is close to a stream that has some pretty decent rock pools in it and looks like a great destination for a family weekend.  It occurred to me that night that a better way to do Owl’s Head than the 20 mile walk in and back might be to take the 10mile hike to 13 Falls on day one, then hike back on day 2 via Owl’s Head (13miles).  I was to learn on the next day that the walk from 13 Falls to Owl’s head is not really maintained and pretty washed out in many places.  We lost the trail several times - though finding it didn’t take us too far from where we lost it each time, but did cost us time on the last day.

The campsite has had problems with bears and so you are asked to cook and eat in “kitchen” which is a tarp over a couple of bear boxes (heavy metal trunks that you can put you food into).  I wondered it the biltong grease on my fingers would attract a bear to my hammock at night…. it didn’t.

Owl’s Head was quite an experience.  A gentle uphill from 13 Falls for about a mile or two and then almost flat walking for another 5miles before this steep hike (a mile there and a mile back) straight up the side of a scree slope (or slide as the call it in America).

The hike up was very strenuous and we were warned near the top by some hikers coming down that the true summit of Owls Head was actually further away that what seems to be the summit.  A cairn marks a flat area at the top that recently (2005) was identified as not being the true summit by some gear heads who went up there with altimeters and found the true summit about .2 miles from the original “top”.  Owls Head is not an officially supported trail but gets a reasonable amount of traffic because it is one of the 48.

The hike back to the car from there was tiring.  Around 5 more miles on pretty flat ground with two river crossings in the middle.  In both cases the water was wide enough to justify taking our shoes off and wading through (though John somehow managed to get across the first one by rock-hopping much to my amazement).

We got back to the car after what felt like an interminable distance and John and I stopped at the Common Man in Concord for a meal before I went home.

My feet are pretty swollen after the trip.  I suspect another day before I am feeling normal again.  The trip took us across 8 4000 ft peaks and 37miles of rough terrain so quite a sense of achievement on the back end of it.

I just checked (and not that I am counting) that this weekend was my 25th of the 48.