The Bonds is a group of three adjacent 4000+ foot mountains – Bondcliff, Mt Bond, and West Bond in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. They’re usually hiked along with Zealand Mountain as a 23-mile traverse when the forest service road leading to their northern trailhead is gated closed. Hiking them in winter (usually done as a single day hike) is particularly challenging because there are no bailout points along the way as there are on a Presidential Traverse or a Pemi Loop. When you factor in cold temperatures and high winds, the number of good days to do a winter traverse is few and far between.
You can hike the four peaks from the north-to-the-south, as I did in December 2022, starting from the Zealand Lot on Rt 302 outside of Twin Mountain, NH, or from the south-to-the-north which I did this time, starting from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead outside of Lincoln, NH. I was accompanied on this hike by two old friends, Lynn and Hilde, who like me are working on The Grid, which involves hiking each of the 48 of the White Mountain four thousand footers at least once in each calendar month of the year for a total of 576 summits (48 x 12). We were also joined at the last minute by a friend of Lynn’s named Wendy, who hikes with the local speed demons known as The Wednesday Group.
This was my 11th calendar month out to the Bonds group, with only the month of April remaining. I also completed my 12th and last calendar month hike to Mt Zealand, an achievement known as “gridding out a peak.”
The length of this hike, which can take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours to complete requires good physical conditioning. But the stakes get a lot higher in winter when you need to be able to make decisions about safe and unsafe weather conditions to time a safe and enjoyable hike. For example, we’d originally scheduled this hike for Saturday, but moved it to Sunday to avoid high winds.
You also want above treeline winter experience, since this route has several miles of open exposure, in addition, to experience
- layering and delayering your clothing so you don’t perspire and become chilled
- fueling an arduous winter hike with massive amounts of food and water
- using traction aids and flotation like full crampons and snowshoes
Last, but not least, you want trustworthy and experienced companions who will stand by you selflessly if you falter and you for them. That is the way.
A Bonds-Zealand Traverse is a long hike that starts before you start hiking and continues even after you finish. Here’s a chronology of the complete experience.
- Go to Bed: 9:00 PM (day before)
- Wake up: 3:00 AM
- Breakfast and Boiling Water: 3:15-4:15 AM
- Leave Home: 4:30 AM
- Meet shuttle car at Zealand Lot off Rt 302: 5:00 AM (northern terminus)
- Shuttle arrives at Lincoln Woods Trailhead (southern start)
- Start hike: 6:00 AM
- Bondcliff Mtn: 10:15 AM (beginning of peak sequence)
- Zealand Mtn: 2:00 PM (end of peak sequence)
- Zealand Hut: 4:00 PM
- Zealand summer trailhead (closed): 5:00 PM
- Zealand Lot off Rt 302: 6:30 PM
- Drive back to Lincoln Woods Trailhead to retrieve shuttle cars: 7:30 PM
- Drive Home: 8:30 PM
- Go to Bed: 9:00 PM
Our total hike time for the 23-mile route was 12:30 which is quite fast for a hike of this magnitude, but one only made possible by the fact that several other parties had broken trail in the days leading up to our traverse. Without their efforts, trail breaking would have added hours to the hike.
We started in the dark, hiking by headlamp down the Lincoln Woods Trail, passing the Pemigewasset Wilderness sign, and continuing to the bottom of the long gradual climb that brings you to Bondcliff Mountain. We started out bare booting, before switching to Hillsounds. I’d switched to snowshoes to take advantage of the televators at 2700′, but my friends had stayed in Hillsounds even though it was harder work to climb in the unconsolidated snow. Scrambling up the “Hillary Step” at the southernmost point of the Bondcliff Mtn ridge, as it’s known, was tricky without wearing full crampons. I wished I’d brought an ice axe for a third point of contact with the ground and to pull myself up.
The wind was blowing about 25 mpg on top of Bondcliff, which is a long open ridge. Most of the snow on top had a shiny rain crust on top that would have been dangerous if you’d slipped. We crossed the ridge and started the climb up to Mt Bond. We were much more exposed to the wind during this climb and hunkered down with the hoods up on our winter shells. I stopped at the summit of Bond and ate a bunch of calories because I could feel myself starting to bonk. I’d brought a lot of food on this trip and had been snacking regularly, but apparently not enough.
We headed down Bond to the West Bond Spur, dropped our packs, and hiked out to the summit. West Bond has a stunning view of Bondcliff, Franconia Ridge, and all the peaks in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. This was Wendy’s first time out to the Bonds in winter and she was clearly in awe of the experience.
We hiked back to the Bondcliff Trail, donned our snowshoes, and headed toward Mt Guyot, a bald dome that is not on the White Mountain 4000-footer list (there are many lists) even though it’s higher than 4000 feet. It was also covered in shiny rain crust.
We turned onto the Twinway Tr and headed toward Zealand Mountain, our last peak of the day. This section of trail is a real chore to snowshoe if you hike the route from north-to-south, since it fills up with snow and must be broken out as you hike uphill. But we flew down it, even in snowshoes, heading from south-to-north this time. Gravity is nice when it’s on your side.
We hiked out to the Zealand summit when we arrived at the spur trail and then continued down the Twinway toward Zealand Hut. After a food break at the top of Zeacliff, the towering 1000′ cliff above Zealand Hut, we descended steeply to the hut, refilling our bottles with the hot water which is heated on the hut stove in winter.
From there it was another 3 miles out the Zealand Trail to the summer trailhead and then 3 more down a heavily post-holed Zealand Rd to reach our parked cars on Rt 302. We started by headlamp and that’s how we finished.