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Backpacking the Bonds

I just got back from a very quick 1 night backpacking trip into the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the White Mountains. My final destination was a set of three 4,000 footers called the Bonds that include: Mt Bond, West Bond, and Bondcliff.

West Bond, Bondcliff (foreground), and Mt Bond
West Bond, Bondcliff (foreground), and Mt Bond

We’ve been having a run of magnificent, but cool weather recently, and I’d been having the urge to spend the night up here to see the stars at night. Despite several looming deadlines, I packed up and drove up north to get a backpacking fix.I haven’t had a night out for a few weeks and I needed to make the time.

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It’s hard to describe the relief I feel after a brisk walk, a long sleep, and some challenging elevation. In total, I walked just under 20 miles, bagged six 4,000 footers, and climbed around 7,000 feet in the past two days. My mind is clear again and my body is buzzing.

Bondcliff Above Treeline
Bondcliff Above Treeline

The Bonds are always a challenging hike. I bagged all of them last year for the first time, doing the 22.6 mile / 4,800 foot elevation hike in one long summer day. But this year I wanted to savor them a bit more and spend the night at nearby Guyot campsite, just 0.5 miles north of Mt Bond and West Bond. If you know the campsite, I camped up top in the overflow area, which has a much better view of the stars at night than the platforms below Mt Guyot.

Once you get away from the lights of civilization, it’s amazing how many stars you can see. Couple that with a campsite 4,200 feet up and you’re in heaven. I first got hooked on viewing stars from the tops of mountains a few years ago on a winter backpacking trip, just a few miles away on Zealand mountain.

Morning Tea on West Bond
Morning Tea on West Bond

I slept in this morning and woke refreshed just after 8 am which is quite late for me. The morning was cool but very sunny, so I decided to break camp and eat my breakfast on top of West Bond, which ranks high as one of my favorite peaks in the Whites. The views of Franconia Ridge, Mt Garfield, South Twin, Guyot, and Bondcliff were grand.

Landslips on Southwest Twin
Landslips on Southwest Twin

One thing I noted on this trip were many new landslips, which looked quite recent. You can see three of these on Southwest Twin Mountain in the picture above, with the largest of the three on the right. I suspect these were caused by the rain from Hurricane Irene, which has had such a devastating effect on the area. Some of them are giant and I expect we’ll see some new avalanche activity in them this winter.

The Twinway
The Twinway

When I was planning this trip the other day, I completely forgot that I’d be walking along the Appalachian Trail most of the way. The AT snakes its way across the Whites over an existing trail network, so people seldom realize that it is the AT that they’re walking on.

This section is called The Twinway and it links Zealand Hut to Galehead Hut, climbing Zealand Mountain and South Twin along the way. The last time I’d hiked it was in 2009 when it was buried under about 4 feet of snow and ice. It was a lot rougher than I’d remembered it! Winter really changes the ways thing look up here.

View from Zeland Hut
View from Zeland Hut

The last time I climbed the Bonds, I’d hiked in from the northeast from the Lincoln Woods trailhead on the Kancamagus highway. On this trip, I took a different route, approaching the bonds from the Southeast and starting from the upper Zealand Road trailhead. This approach passes by Zealand Hut, which has a great view of the surrounding mountains from its front porch, and a waterfall just outside.  I haven’t quite figured out which mountains those are in the distance but they sure are pretty.

I should take short hikes like this more often.


  1. Sounds like you weren't too far from where I was this weekend, too. The Pemi is one of the best parts of the Whites for backpacking as far as I'm concerned (although I need to test out other areas a bit more to be sure).

    The view from Zealand is Whitewall Mountain in the foreground, with (from left to right) Lowell, Anderson, Vose Spur and Carrigain in the distance. I find Carrigain is always a very good landmark because it's very distinctive, with its massive mound standing alone except for the Vose Spur. I'm pretty sure about that lineup…

    I always feel lucky when we have a stretch of weather like that, and the stars align just right so I can be in the mountains for it. Glad you made it out there, too!

  2. Ah, I thought it was Carrigan but I couldn't figure out the smaller peaks. I know the silhouettes of all of the 4000 footers but find it hard to remember what a peak looks like unless I've climbed it.

    Chilly this weekend – sounds like your quilt did well. I was also wearing puffies in my bag and slept toasty all night. Autumn is breaking. I expect we'll see peak in about 2 weeks.

  3. I love that trip and would do it more if I had the time. It isnt the hardest hike in the Whites, and you are treated to a day of many textures and views. Hiking this in less that perfect weather would be a big mistake. The views are fantastic.

  4. My quilt did well, yes. But if I was camping 2000 feet higher at Guyot, I probably would have been a bit chilled.

    I really love being able to point out which mountain is which from various views. I've got most of the 4000 footers figured out, but once you get to the "less mighty" peaks it is somehow more difficult. I think it's a fun little challenge sometimes.

  5. Diane – it really is epic.

    Are you familiar with Guy Waterman? He hiked all of the 4000 footers from all 4 directions of the compass. Part of my homework on this trip was to scout out how he could have done that in the Bonds. Imagine climbing these peaks on bushwhacks! He must have been a complete madman.

  6. Just did the Bonds two weekend ago for the first time. Only my 5th 6th & 7th 4000 footer but I heard such great things I had to check it out. Great idea having breakfast on West Bond, I underestimated the view from that peak. Did you see the scraped off trail blazes on the West Bond trail? WTF is up with that? They were freshly scraped off when I went, it was kind of sad. I did see a Spruce Grouse on Bond though and the blueberries up there were amazing. Great place.

  7. I had such a great time on my 2007 Bonds solo trip I had one of the ridge pictures placed on my Capital One credit card!

  8. Mazz – I wondered about that. The blazes had clearly been scraped off. That can't be good for the trees so I doubt it was a trail maintainer doing it.

  9. Wow, what a great hike, thank you so much for sharing. :)

  10. Great looking range of hills. Cant you just bivy on the ridge Phil? Must make for even better star watching.

  11. Martin – people aren't allowed to camp on summits in the Whites unless there's a few feet of snow on them. House rules, and I respect them to preserve the peaks and keep them pristine. There's also no water for about 2 miles and I was hiking on empty. Had to go back for a refill. I had a fine view from where I camped, and it was actually about the same elevation. Bondcliff is only about 4200 feet up. It is a showy peak though and well worth a hike.

  12. Sweet trip! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Your right about it being dry on the ridge trail . Traveling from Zealand, we had planned on refilling once we got down to Lincoln woods, but we needed water just before reaching Bondcliff. I had remembered there were some good depressions in the ledges on Bondcliff and they did have water in them. We managed to pump enough water through our water filter to fill our camel paks. I actually was the first to use my filter to drain a puddle. It wasn't very big but supplied enough to keep us going.

    I imagined getting home to find a photo of an earier group cooling their feet in the same watering hole…at that moment it wouldn't have mattered.

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