It was fine day for a hike, blustery with 40 mile per hour winds, but plenty of sunshine. My destination was Zealand Mountain in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, approaching from the north along the Zealand Trail and The Twinway and returning via the Zeacliff Trail, fording Whitewall Brook to the Ethan Pond Trail and back out the Zealand Trail. Total distance was close to 13 miles with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain and 7 hours of walking.
This was my first time back to the Whites in nearly 2 months, since my father passed away. I picked Zealand Mountain (4,260′) for this hike because of the wind. It’s a low elevation 4,000 footer well-shielded by tree cover with a long walk-in and moderate climbing. There are also some spectacular views of Mt. Carrigan, Whitewall Mountain and the Presidentials from Zeacliff, and Zeacliff Pond, down a spur trail that I’ve walked past on previous trips but never explored.
Like most of my day hikes in the Whites, this trip started at 5:15 am for the long drive up to the Whites from Boston. I was at the trail head by 8:15 (upper Zealand Rd) and on my way by 8:30. The 3.5 mile road to the trail head had been closed for the winter but just opened last week.
The first section of this hike is a 2.5 walk-in to the Zealand Falls Hut run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The trail starts in forest and climbs gradually to an old logging railroad grade, passing large beaver ponds after about 2 miles. Many of the smaller ponds were still frozen and I had to bundle up in the chilly 32 degree morning. Winter is still lingering in the Whites, certainly above 3,000′, and I was carrying a full pack with everything needed to spend the night out if I got lost or injured myself, including a 15 degree sleeping bag, sleeping pad, bivy sack, water filter, extra layers and food.
I passed by Zealand Falls on the way to the hut. The water volume is quite low which is surprising for this time of year, though good because there’s a least one dicey stream crossing above the hut that I was concerned about. It turned out to be a piece of cake, but shortly afterwards the trail became extremely icy. I’d brought Microspikes, which proved up to the job, and made the climb up to Zeacliff possible.
When I got to the ledge at Zeacliff, I sat down on the warm rocks and took a long break, munching down some animal crackers and rinsing some sunflower seeds down with water. The views from here are some of the finest in the White Mountains and I drank my fill.
After my break I headed west along the Twinway (the Appalachian Trail) toward Zealand. The trail was covered in ice and snow, including monorail. I’d kept on my microspikes, but my trail runners were starting to wet out and I was worried about getting cold feet. I kept going anyway, knowing I’d probably have to change into other socks at some point.
As I hiked, I realized how much I was enjoying this hike. This was the first time I’d ever hiked to Zealand with the sole intention of bagging it: most of the time, I’ve bagged it on the way to the Bonds or back but never as a destination all by itself. This is one of the greatest benefits of the Trailwrights 72 list I’m working on which only counts one 4,000 footer per climb.
The previous evening, I’d been reading Steve Smith and Mike Dicker’s 4,000 footer guide about Zeacliff Pond. It’s tucked away down a short spur trail west of the Twinway at the base of some cliffs along the southern side of Zealand Mountain. I decided to check it out and gingerly hiked down to it on top of a trail of crusty, unbroken snow. It’s magnificent, if a little boggy, and I’d like to come back and explore the shore a bit on an overnight sometime.
I climbed back up to the Twinway, which got progressively more icy as I neared the Zealand summit. While the summit of Zealand Mountain is surrounded in trees and has no views, I saw lots of other peaks along the way: South and North Twin, Hale. Mount Guyot, Tom, Field, Wiley, Carrigan, and the Presidentials.
After bagging Zealand, I turned around and hiked back the way I came until the junction with the Zeacliff Trail. This is a very steep trail that loops around and below Zeacliff down to Whitewall Brook. It faces south, so I reckoned it would be less icy than descending on the north facing slopes that I’d climbed above Zealand Falls Hut, and I decided to hike down it for a little variety.
It was wicked steep and but relatively snow and ice free as I’d expected and I followed it down to Whitewall Brook. There I had to ford the stream, not great, because it wetted out the second pair of socks I’d since changed into, but from here it was an easy climb back up to the Ethan Pond Trail. This trail runs along the base of Whitewall Mountain and intersects back up Zealand Pond Trail, which I hiked back to my car.
I have to say, I really enjoyed this hike. It was challenging without being a death march, and it gave me the opportunity to assess a variety of different trail conditions and the progress of spring in the Whites. No doubt we’ll have a few more weeks of snow and ice, but I’m back!, and ready for new challenges.