“So, you’re on break second half of next week too?”
“How about a trip to the White Mountains? Backpacking for a couple days, you know, see some great mountain views, enjoy the state?”
“Sounds good, let’s go!”
One week later, the 2-person crew tossed bags in the car and started off for the Whites. We left Wanakee at noon, crossing Potting Bench Road just as the hopper bell rang for lunch. After a brief stop at the gas station, we jumped on 93 north and headed to Exit 32. We found there the White Mountain visitor’s center we had been told about just before the highway on-ramp in Meredith, and purchased a parking pass, then headed to Rite-Aid to pick up Alison’s very fashionable three-piece rain suit which she was sure she would not need on the trip.
At about 2 pm, we arrived at the Zealand Falls trailhead and began hiking. Within minutes, we found fresh raspberries growing along the side of the trail- certainly a good omen for what turned out to be a fantastic trip. It seemed like it would certainly be quite a push to reach Guyot campsite by a reasonable hour to spend the night, eight miles in and up-mountain most of the way. Eight miles is a full day for backpacking, and we only had the afternoon to do it in.
The first day was Ben’s turn at the weather controls. It was clouded over, with some light showers and drizzle. Not long after we finally put on our raincoats, it stopped briefly, only dumping on a bit at a time from rain or wind when we began taking off the raincoats. The rain really picked up just as we reached Zealand Falls Hut, exactly like my memory from the last time I was here, and we rested there for a few minutes to see the hut while the rain passed. We continued hiking, passing within 0.1 miles of Zealand peak but deciding not to go the bit of extra distance to push and make it to the campground at a reasonable hour.
Then, we went down and over to Guyot via the Twinway trail, cresting the top of the red mountain through fog and wind that reminded Alison of Monroe and her Presidentials hike last year. We arrived at Guyot campsite at about 7:30 that night, much earlier than expected! All the tent platforms were taken, but the shelter was still open, so we stayed there and it worked out pretty well. We didn’t have to set up a tent or anything and we had a roof, and cooked out on the porch.
Dinner the first night, in Wanakee tradition, was spaghetti. We had plenty to go around, and had more than a full dinner. Anything that we didn’t have on the trip, we didn’t need, and that applied to utensils and eating dishes too. We shared spaghetti and a Nalgene bottle on the top shelf of the shelter as darkness fell behind us.
“Ali, look outside!” The first few words whispered in the shelter on Thursday morning brought us out into a sunrise incredibly spectacular and filled with color. The sky was so rich and clear, the clouds themselves appearing to give off light against a rainbow backdrop of the sky. The horizon was red, blending into orange looking just above it, then yellow, then green, and finally blue which filled the dome of the sky with its various shades. The sun itself, hidden partially behind the branches of a tree to the left, reversed its sunset colors as it passed through these colored bands, taking on the hue of each. The camera comes nowhere near doing that sunrise justice, though a small sample of the richness of the color can be seen in one shot. Clouds rolled in through the valley, and we watched the various shapes form and deform, sliding in above and around one another as the various fronts and air currents took their effects.
After resting for a short while longer, breakfast was begun with Alison setting up a camp stove for her first time. We had pancakes, a bit doughy but that’s how Ali liked them. Real maple syrup in a tiny bottle provided the perfect touch and hot chocolate completed the meal.
We then registered with the caretaker and looked at various available routes for the day. The original plan for the day was to hike the Bonds as a day trip, packless, and return to Guyot for a second night, packing out the same way we came in on the third day. However, with talking to our shelter-mate, we decided it might be fun to head down the side of Bondcliffs and around to Franconia Falls for a night, then up and over Liberty or something else on Franconia Ridge to get out the third day. After learning that the Scout troop and other campers at Guyot were also planning to go to this campsite, the caretaker recommended that we not stay there and instead try the Thirteen Falls tentsite, a hike north from there but along flat ground and where he believed was a much nicer spot. We took this plan, packed up, and headed off at about 9 am.
Sometime during the night, Alison’s luck won over and took the weather controls, because it was absolutely perfect for the second day of hiking. The temperature could not have been better warmer or cooler, summer humidity was seemingly absent, and a light breeze helped a bit with the bugs on Bond.
The area we were in is a geological bowl of mountains, with the Bonds rising up in the center, connected by Guyot to the rim. This creates unobstructed 360-degree views from each of the Bond mountains (West Bond, Mt. Bond, and Bond Cliffs) with no sign of human habitation visible except for a couple ski trails visible on a distant mountain. Photography opportunities abounded and the views were excellent. From the top of West Bond, we shouted “Echo!” and heard the echoes ring and roll off the bowls and levels of mountains for a good thirty seconds, as echoes returned from all the various mountainsides and valleys visible from that peak.
I (Ben) learned that shadows can come hiking, too, and thoroughly enjoyed hiking with Ali and the good weather she brought. We stopped for a nice long lunch break on top of the world with a view at Bond Cliffs, and then continued down the side of the mountain, a fairly steep descent. A bit of extra rock climbing turned out to be included in the trip, which was a fun challenge in backpacks.
Finishing Bondcliff trail, we met up with the Wilderness trail in the valley. We stopped to go off and fill up a water bottle at the nearby stream, and saw a well-constructed wooden footbridge next to an old and “unsafe” railroad bridge that was rather interesting to look at.
The Wilderness trail was pretty easy, making its path along the route of an old railroad, and the cross-beams that supported the iron tracks were still there in number. We arrived at Franconia Falls in the afternoon, and stopped for a few minutes there, taking time to go out on the bridge over the river and test its suspension. We read the signs telling us about the Pemigiwasset Wilderness we were entering, and continued to see signs throughout the trip that we were entering Forest Protection zones. At some points we checked- both sides of the tree said “entering” and we never really left until the very end of the trip. We walked along the Franconia Brook trail for several miles, a pretty flat journey with the water never too far away. The end got tiring, but we were able to finally get to the Thirteen falls campsite by 7 pm.
Thirteen Falls was a wonderful campsite. We had to stay in the overflow area, but this was almost a better spot than the regular tentsites especially given how little time we actually spent there. After some rest and free back massages from one another, we cooked dinner (rice with chicken and broccoli) and set up the tent. Darkness had fallen by then, and we were quite tired so we opted not to go swimming in any of the several great swimming holes around the Falls. The next morning, we had a choice: to try to leave the campsite by 5 am in order to make the shuttle ride back to the car, or to wait until light to go. We woke up at 5 and decided to wait, sleeping in all the way until 6:30- quite a late lie-in for a summer day, don’t you think?
We then got up (the sky wasn’t very clearly visible from the campsite, so no sunrise view) and packed up, having breakfast at the cooking area. We were staying in bear country, so all the cooking and eating had a designated area and all food/toiletries had to be stored in provided bear boxes overnight.
After breakfast, Alison and I explored the Falls area, walking around the river and rock-hopping, climbing banks and taking paths through the wooded center of the upper falls. The gurgling brook and the warming sun were quite relaxing, and the wilderness falls were lots of fun for a half hour exploration. The lowest falls were heart-shaped, something only visible after climbing down the steep bank to the pool below them.
We began climbing up, and left the campsite along the trail at about 9 am again. The trail was lovely, lush and beautiful, through a birch forest carpeted underneath with green ferns and the sunlight shining through the canopy’s holes. For the second time in the trip, seeing leprechauns or elves running around in these beautiful White Mountain woods would not have surprised us. The ascent was gradual but pretty constant, a trail like the beginning of Zealand Falls trail where you didn’t know you were going up until you turned around and saw the other peaks and ridges approaching eye level. After a couple hours, we arrived at Galehead Hut and came out into the full beautiful sunshine and amazing view. We took some time to relax and had lunch gazing out over the valley and mountains. After enjoying the view for a bit, I went in to use the mileage maps the hut had, to total up our daily mileage for curiosity and record’s sake. Knowing that eight miles like our first day was usually considered a big day for backpacking, my eyes opened a bit wider in disbelief as I added and added again the length of the previous day’s journey: 14.7 miles- whoops! No wonder we were so tired at the end.
From the hut, we used a cell phone to ask a ride of Kat Sargent, another Wanakee Staff member and the only other one with the same 3-day break, who was planning a tourist-style trip to the Whites. It turned out she was still in Concord, so we’d have to wait or see about a ride to the car when we got to the road.
The people you meet in the Whites when overnight hiking form one of the most interesting aspects of the trip, and some of the most interesting people I have met. Each person or group is out on the trail for a different reason, and each brings a different background and life situation, similar to the rest of the world except that every person in the mountains has a purpose for being there and knows it. Each person in the Whites shares a common and great respect for the Creation around us, the bounty of natural wonders present there in the mountainous wilderness, an appreciation for simple gifts and necessities like food, water, and shelter that too many take for granted, and a willingness to get to meet others and exchange stories. People in the Whites on multi-day hikes by default tend to have a stronger faith, more trust in themselves, others, and the world around them, and a willingness to work with others because that’s all they have (a similar willingness to those who are longtime residents of small towns). At the same time they’re enjoying it all fully because that’s the only way to get more from the experience!
Hikers in the Whites tend to also be better listeners, because listening is such a significant part of the beauty of a hike, especially on a strong uphill when you’re humbled and silenced from speaking to regulate the necessary breath more easily. These hikers tend to be interested in learning more about themselves, their groups or partners where applicable, and the world around them. The experience of a good Whites hike puts you in much closer touch with God’s creation, especially on mountain peaks and ridge trails where you feel like you can reach out and touch the deep blue sky above, or you can tangibly feel the clouds around you.
AMC/AT hikers come from a variety of backgrounds, and the topic list of spontaneous discussions at tent sites, huts, and shelters would make a universty discussion forum facilitator jealous. People come from many different states and countries and a wide variety of trainings and career backgrounds. There’s also a significant degree of “go with the flow” and lack of disappointment when things don’t go as planned. It’s common knowledge among the trails and shelter system that great opportunities are often hidden thin disguise, and that time moves only in one direction. I noticed at Thirteen Falls that the question was not where Alison and I were each attending college but if, illustrating simply the variety of backgrounds and life experiences seen at these sites.
Having a great hiking partner also makes a tremendous difference on a hike. For the miles of flat, steep downhill, or mild ascent that were passed in good conversation, only a few short paces seem to have gone by. It is the strong or strengthening relationship (individual or group), and the mutual caring and support for one another that makes hiking with another person or as a member of a group so much more enjoyable and rewarding than a solo trip. It is true that you do have to work together and at the same pace as the others, sometimes making compromises or sacrifices, but so long as these are not excessive, the joint hike tends to work out pretty well. Alison and I on this trip moved at the same hiking and working pace, strong and steady for many miles at a time with infrequent but longer rest stops at appropriate locations.
Thankfully, the first aid kit and equipment on this trip was extra weight, and we returned in full health excepting a bit of tired muscles and a few well-earned sore spots. It was a great trip, and a most excellent use of a 3-day break in our beautiful state of New Hampshire!