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The 26-hour winter hike (Part 1) November 23, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
Tags: , , , , ,
White Mountains in winter

White Mountains in winter

Yes, there really was a time, back in January 2002,  when a group of people set out to climb the three Bonds in a day and ended up coming out 26 hours later.  I believe this may outdo even the “Episode of the Nesting Spoons” that I mentioned in my post “Sarge and his hiking stories”.  On the Bonds expedition, Bob and I started out with the group, but we realized about seven hours into it that things were looking a bit dubious, and we (together with one other person) elected to turn around after bagging only the first of the three peaks, Bondcliff.  Thank goodness we made that decision….

For those who may not quite see what could motivate a trip like this, I’ll explain that it’s part of the project of climbing the New Hampshire 4000 Footers in winter—all 48 of them, climbed strictly between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  The three Bonds are excruciatingly difficult to do in one winter day, but the alternative is a frigid night of camping in the Pemi wilderness.  The dimensions of the endeavor make it hard enough to do even in summer: 23.0 miles, 4500 vertical feet.  (That’s starting at the Lincoln Woods trailhead, going over Bondcliff, Bond, and West Bond, and then back out over Bond and Bondcliff. )

The fateful January excursion was an outing of the Appalachian Mountain Club.  Mohamed Ellozy, a very experienced hiker who was along on this adventure, has written about it on his website.  He tells the story with a lot of fascinating details—things like how, when, and why they decided to bushwhack into the snow-encrusted scrub off the side of West Bond, and how they gave up the bushwhack five hours later and struggled back up to the top of West Bond toward midnight.  I will not attempt to duplicate Mohamed’s effort, but will only describe what the experience was like for me and Bob, and why we decided to turn around when we did.

Our group of eleven set off from the trailhead in the pre-dawn darkness of 6:00, wearing headlamps.  As the sky slowly lightened, and since we were on the straightest, widest trail in the Whites, it wasn’t long before we were able to stow the headlamps.  At the Bondcliff trail junction, 4.7 miles in, we put on our snowshoes. As always seems to be the case with a group of any size in the winter, it took a long time for everyone to get their gear organized, put on and/or take off the appropriate layers, have something to eat, tighten their snowshoe straps, adjust the length of their poles, etc., etc.   We moved very slowly.  There were a lot of stops.  The trail had been broken out (probably the weekend before), but there was still a lot of fresh snow, and those of us who were up front had our work cut out for us breaking trail.  At last we reached the infamous ledge of Bondcliff, described in the AMC White Mountain Guide as “rather a difficult scramble.”  It was covered with ice.

(To be continued)



1. CampLo - July 21, 2009

good story…I’m taking this exact route with a friend soon and I’m glad we have 3 days to do it. Doing it in a day is definitely aggressive but doing it in a single day, during the winter season, is hardcore. Kudos.

2. Jenny - July 21, 2009

Three days for doing it in non-winter conditions is pretty leisurely. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that–two nights in the Pemi Wilderness sounds pretty nice!) See further comment after Part 2.

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