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The 26-hour winter hike (Part 2) November 25, 2008

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

franconia-notch1We had reached the “Hillary Step” of Bondcliff, a steep ledge roughly head-high that was covered with nice shiny ice.  Just above the ledge, the trail approaches treeline and is generally buffeted by winds.  So two things had to happen.  All eleven of us had to get up the ledge, and all eleven also had to reach into the appropriate sections of our packs and extract goggles, balaclavas or face masks, insulated mittens, wind pants, etc., etc., and get the appropriate gear onto the appropriate part of the body.  I opted to switch from my snowshoes to my crampons.   It must have taken me and Bob at least 20 minutes to get everything organized, but we were still among the first to get up the ledge.  Actually, I regret not having waited down below for the fun of watching my fellow hikers desperately clawing their way up the ledge, clinging to the bristly scrub and flailing with whatever pointy equipment they had to get some purchase on the ice.  (I know that’s what they did, because that’s what Bob and I did.)

The wind was blowing maybe 30 mph out of the southwest, and the temperature was in the mid-20’s.  It really could have been a lot worse, but you still wanted face protection.  At treeline we encountered irregular drifts along the trail.  One minute you’d be walking on bare rock, the next you’d be floundering through waist-deep snow.  Pretty soon I had to take my crampons off and put the snowshoes back on.  But before very long, we had reached the 4265′ summit of Bondcliff.  Hurray!

We looked at our watches.  It was 12:45.  Another 15 minutes or so went by before everyone was on the summit.  It had taken seven hours for us to go 9.1 miles.  But since we had done the first 4.7 miles of the flat, easy Wilderness Trail in little more than two hours, the more interesting statistic was that it had taken us five hours to go the last 4.4 miles.  Of course the group would be much faster coming out (assuming it retraced its steps—more about that in a moment), but we still had to climb 650 vertical feet from the Bondcliff-Bond col to the top of Bond, drop down to the Bond-West Bond col, climb another 200 vertical to the West Bond summit, then another 350 back up to Bond, down again and then up 200 back to Bondcliff.  There was enough time to get up to Bond, but Bob and I simply didn’t believe the group could get to West Bond and back out without it being a death march of epic proportions.

So we decided to turn around, and one other person decided to go out with us.  Why didn’t we go ahead and do Bond?  Because we’d have to go on another whole trip to get West Bond anyway, so why bother….   We had a leisurely descent with our new companion, Ben, and got back to the trailhead at 6:00 p.m., having taken 12 hours to do 18.2 miles and 3100 vertical feet.

Meanwhile, according to Mohamed’s description, our eight companions reached the summit of West Bond, arguably the most remote mountain in the Whites, at 3:30 p.m., or about an hour before dark.  From the very beginning there had been talk of bushwhacking into the Hellgate Brook valley off of West Bond instead of retracing steps.  That route saves about two miles, and it means you don’t have to go uphill any more.  That must have seemed very attractive to the group at that moment.  Bob and I had climbed West Bond from Hellgate Brook in summer conditions.  The band of scrub above the 4000 foot level had been brutal, and it had taken us more than an hour to go the last half mile.  But sometimes in winter, in deep snow, you can more or less bounce across the top of the scrub, and it actually becomes easier.  That, at least, was what the group was anticipating.  Little did they know what conditions awaited them.

(To be continued)



1. CampLo - July 21, 2009

I’d be interested to learn more about the bushwacking route through Hellgate Brook valley…now on to part 3

2. Jenny - July 21, 2009

We followed Hellgate Brook to the tributary that joins it at 2400 feet. Then up the tributary toward West Bond was very pleasant up until about the 3700 foot level. Then it got brutal! The spruce was incredibly dense. Funny thing–in the winter it might be a little easier to sort of bounce along the top of the spruce in the right snow conditions, but if you’re postholing it would be even worse than in summer. In the warm months, it’s just a straightforward struggle through the spruce. Very slow. I suppose you are going to leave your backpacks in the valley, go up to the summits, then go back to your camp? I wouldn’t want to go through that spruce with a big pack. There may be some easier going on one of the slides on the southeast side of Bond–might be worth trying, but you could get into some difficult steep rock that way too. No real slam-dunk on this.

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