October is always a month of transition in the White Mountains from the peak foliage of Columbus Day to the onset of winter on the higher summits. The mood of the weather gods can seemingly change overnight, so it’s best to take advantage of the last gasps of three-season weather before winter sets in and the need to carry heavier backpacks, warmer clothing, and traction aids.
Once the Columbus Day weekend had ended and the hordes of out-of-state leaf peepers had cleared out of the Whites, my friend Wanda and I set our sights on backpacking out to the Bonds, a group of remote 4000 footers in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. I “needed” to hike the Bonds in October for my 4000 footer grid and Wanda wanted to hike a short section of the Twinway Trail towards finishing hiking all the trails listed in The White Mountain Guide (formerly called redlining) and to climb Mt Galehead for the 10th time.
Wanda is a very seasoned White Mountains backpacker and hiker who I’ve known for years. She’s hiked the 4-season 4000-footer grid, is a four-season volunteer trip leader with the AMC’s New Hampshire Chapter and is a senior instructor with the AMC’s Mountain Leadership School. She’s also SectionHiker contributor. This would actually be our first trip alone together, just her and me, but I was confident we’d make a good team since we’d been on trips together with other friends previously.
We’d hoped to extend our route with a visit to Owls Head via the Lincoln Brook Trail but I had some gear issues and my ankle was acting up, so we took a shorter route out. It was still a beautiful walk and a very pleasant sleep in the Wilderness, so I can’t complain. This was such a nice trip, I plan to write it up and add it to my Free Guidebook: Backpacking the 4000 Footers. We hiked it in 2 days, but you could easily stretch it out to 3-4 to take in the sights.
- Lincoln Woods Tr – 2.9 miles
- Bondcliff Trail – 7.9 miles
- West Bond Spur – 0.5/0.5 mile
- Guyot Spur – 0.2/0.2 miles (just to pick up water)
- Bondcliff Trail – 0.8 miles
- Twinway – 2.8 miles
- Frost Trail – 0.5 miles
- Twin Brook Trail – 2.7 miles
- Franconia Brook Trail – 5.2 miles
- Lincoln Woods Tr – 2.9 miles
Total distance: 28.1 miles w/6200′ of elevation gain
Lincoln Woods Trail
We got an early start since there are less than 12 hours of daylight at this time of year, hiking up the Lincoln Woods Trail which is the main gateway to the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It’s a long, flat walk beside the East Branch Pemigewasset River along an old logging railroad grade, like many of the trails in the Whites. While it’s a pretty hike, it’s probably the most loathed trail by footsore White Mountain peakbaggers hiking back to the Lincoln Woods trailhead after a long hike. I’ve hiked it dozens of times myself and consider it the longest 2.9 miles in the White Mountain National Forest.
We crossed the wooden bridge over Franconia Brook and continued along the Bondcliff Trail, stopping for a quick break at the bottom of the big climb up to Bondcliff, the first peak of the three that make up the Bonds group of 4000 footers. From there it was a steady 3.8-mile climb up to treeline, with some steep bits and some not-so-steep portions.
We stopped once at 3200′, which is the last place to resupply water from Black Brook, before breaking above treeline. I’ve run out of water on this hike before and it’s not an experience I want to repeat. The water level in Black Brook was surprisingly low though, with just a trickle flowing between the rocks, which is surprising since we’ve gotten so much rain in recent months.
From there, it was a quick climb up to the Bondcliff and its graceful cliffs, where we enjoyed a long break and gawked at the autumn colors in the valleys below the peak. The views from Bondcliff never get old, no matter how many times you hike out to them. It’s one of those places you’ll never forget.
Leaving Bondcliff, we climbed the ridge to Mt Bond, before descending to the West Bond spur trail where we dropped our packs for the quick out and back. West Bond is one of the best viewpoints to admire Bondcliff and is a favorite sunset destination for backpackers staying at the nearby Guyot tent site.
After West Bond, we hiked down to the Guyot tent site for water. Rather than stay there, we’d planned on camping somewhere along the Twinway Trail at a dispersed campsite. The stretch between the tent site and the Galehead Hut is dry, so this necessitated a heavy water carry so we’d have water for dinner and breakfast before we hiked down South Twin Mountain to the hut the next morning. I loaded up with 4 liters and carried that for the next few miles over Mt Guyot, along the Twinway, and while we bushwhacked around looking for a comfortable, dispersed place to camp.
That took a bit longer than expected because Wanda needed a level spot to pitch her Plexamid, while I had to find two trees that were far enough apart that I could hang a hammock. We had just enough time before sunset to eat dinner before turning in for the night. I fell asleep almost immediately.
We woke up at 6:30 the next morning only to find that it was still dark out. Ugh. But by the time we’d packed up and started breakfast, the sun had come up. We took off promptly and climbed South Twin Mountain, admiring the undercast layer in the valleys to the northwest from the summit before hiking down to Galehead Hut.
Before this hike, I was surprised to learn that Galehead Hut would still be open on Oct 13, when we planned to arrive. We didn’t plan to stay, but they have the only water source (a well) for miles around, providing us with a convenient place to resupply before 13 Falls. We also took advantage of the leftover breakfast, cake, and coffee available, which hit the spot.
While I sat on the porch and soaked up the morning sun, Wanda ran up to the summit of Galehead Mtn, which is a short 0.5 mile trail w/ 250 elevation gain from the Hut. Galehead is a 4000 footer peak that I’ve never been able to generate much excitement for, so I sat that one out. I’ve already climbed it in October but have to come back and climb it again in November and December for my grid.
When she came back from the peak, we set out down the Twin Brook trail to the 13 Falls tent site and waterfalls. This is a lovely trail in autumn, but it can be a little hard to follow when the leaves obscure the beaten path. The waterfalls here really can’t be beaten, but they ARE in the middle of nowhere, far from a road. While the pools at the base of the waterfalls look enticing to swim in and fish, I’m always on the way somewhere when I hike past 13 Falls and I’ve never made it my destination. If it wasn’t so popular, I probably would camp here.
When we reached 13 Falls, my ankle was feeling pretty sore, so I suggested that we follow the Franconia Brook Trail rather than hiking back via Owls Head. I’m not sure what triggered the pain. Wanda sets a pretty brisk pace, so that could have set it off, or maybe the new pack I was carrying affected my stride somehow. The ankle has been feeling better the past couple of months, so this was out of the ordinary.
It’d been a few years since I’d hiked the Franconia Brook Trail, so I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with it. It parallels the Bondcliff Trail, but 3000 feet under it! Like many of the long trunk trails in the Whites, it follows an old railroad grade that runs south, straight as an arrow.
It has a few minor stream crossings, but we flew down it, crunching on the dead leaves below our feet. That is until we came to an area that had a major degree of beaver encroachment, about 2 miles north of the Lincoln Brook Trail junction. There was no way around it without getting wet, so I plowed through, although Wanda changed into a pair of water shoes to keep her hiking footwear clean. I couldn’t help but think about a trip we’d taken a few weeks earlier down in the Sandwich Range, where wading through a beaver flooded area had also been required.
Once we arrived back at the Lincoln Woods trail, it was another 2.9 miles walk to the trailhead bringing our journey to the end. Despite my ankle issues and our route change, it’d been a very peaceful and enjoyable trip into the Pemi and out to the Bonds.