A Wonderful 9-Hour Bonds Hike and the Death March Back

Submitted by Pat and Nancy

Mountains: Mts. Zealand (4,260), West Bond (4,540), Bond (4,698) and Bondcliff (4,265)
Date: July 24, 2006
Time: 15 hours and 32 minutes
Miles: 19.8
Elevation gain: 4,850
Steps: 67,489
Trails: Zealand Trail -- Twinway -- Bondcliff Trail and back
Holy Shit Factor: high

Picture Gallery

Nancy and I are thinking about doing the Presi Traverse, but I was cautioned by several people to try a long hike with moderate elevation gain as a trial, so we do. After an aborted attempt to hike on Friday, the 21st, we land on Monday, July 24. Weather is predicted as partly cloudy, light breeze, low 70's. For our trial hike we choose four peaks - Mts. Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff - out and back - Zealand Trail to Twinway to the Bondcliff Trail and back - 19.8 miles and 4,850 elevation gain according to Mohammed Ellozy's web site. We think we can do it, although we both say that if either of us is having a bad day we can always turn around. So we drive up the night before and spend the night at the Highland Center so we can get an early start.

4 a.m. is not a nice time of day, especially when we don't sleep well the night before. But we throw on our clothes and gather our gear and drive down to the Zealand Trailhead. Despite thinking I am organized, I have a hard time getting ready. What with repacking and trying to eat something, putting my boots on, and making sure I have everything, I feel like I am in hyper-drive with Nancy standing calmly by waiting for me. A couple of pictures in the dark parking lot and we are off at 5:11 a.m., temps in the low 50's, and enough light that we don't need our headlamps.

The trail itself starts out full of mud and roots but widens and flattens for the next two miles. It is bliss. When we come to a marsh on our left, we are awed by the mist rising from the water, the calm of the day, every leaf dripping with dew. Around 6 a.m. I keep hearing sounds farther up the trail and in the marsh. It sounds like someone trying to start a small motorboat and I think that maybe park personnel use it to patrol the pond or something. A few minutes later as we round a small bend, I stop dead when I hear a grunt and the sound of a young bull moose standing up from where he was lying in the reeds feeding by the bank of the pond. We are no more than 12-15 feet from him as he stands there and looks at us, shaking the reeds off his antlers and munching away. At first we stand completely still, waiting to see if he is aggressive and might charge. But he just stands there and looks at us. Slowly we take out our cameras and creep closer. He looks at us with his soft brown eyes. He is gorgeous, young, strong, fearless, and healthy. At one point, Nancy tries to get closer and trips, making a little noise which causes him to turn around and start walking away, paralleling the trail. More pictures - the mist rising off his hide into the sun. Is this really happening? We are so excited, filled with awe and feeling really lucky to have such an opportunity. For much of the rest of the hike - at least for the first 10 hours when our spirits and wonder are still intact - we flash back to that instant of connection when the moose is looking at us looking at him, and know something truly awesome has happened in that moment.

After a few more pictures, we quietly walk away and let him continue eating his breakfast. We arrive at the Zealand Hut at 6:40 a.m., use the facilities, and move on. The folks who stayed the night in the hut are just sipping their first cup of coffee and don't seem to register our appearance. Back on the trail at 6:56 a.m. The trail rises steeply behind the hut and we get pretty wet from brushing against dewy branches and leaves that are overhang the trail.

Lesson learned: If you carry your map in your pocket on wet trails, you had better put it in plastic to keep it dry.

We top out on the ridge around 8 a.m. and take a short detour to check out the view. Absolutely breathtaking. At 8:35 a.m. we pass the trail spur toward Zealand Pond - 58.7 degrees.

At 9:12 a.m. we bag Zealand at 4,260 elevation, no views, but there is a sign so we take a quick picture and head back to the Twinway. Long walk on the Twinway, mostly up on the ridge, not a lot of climbing. We reach the junction of the Twinway and Bondcliff Trail at 10:23 a.m., turn left and head toward Mt. Guyot. It is great to be above the tree line, but the weather turns a bit and the temperatures dip - lots of clouds scudding over the mountain tops. I fear our beautiful day is ruined. We are cold by the time we hit the tree line and I have not brought more than a short sleeve and a long sleeve Techwick shirt, a windbreaker and my rain jacket. I put it all on and zip the leggings back onto my pants. The wind is whipping as we start across the ridge, bagging Guyot at 10:35 a.m.

Lesson learned: Always bring more clothes than you think you are going to need. At the best, you'll be warmer and at the worst, your pack will weigh a bit more.

At 10:54 we stop at the junction of the Guyot Campsite and eat lunch. We change into our second pair of socks and drink some Gatorade. This is our longest stop of the day. We are back on the trail by 11:15 a.m. and bag West Bond at 11:46 a.m. I love the last climb up to the top - so worth the effort. The views are astounding. Bondcliff ridge is spectacular. At this point we realize we aren't going to make it to Bondcliff in 7 hours, our original hope-to-get-there time. We push on to Bond at 12:38 and meet a woman and her Aussie who is on her way to West Bond, her last 4,000 foot peak. Whooo hooo!

The climb down to the ridge from Bond is very steep and the thought of having to climb back up gives me a queasy feeling in my stomach. We push onward and arrive at Bondcliff at 1:55 p.m. After a glorious 9-hour hike, we are done and the thought of having to walk back to the car... Well, I can't comprehend how we can do it. I keep fantasizing about a helicopter sensing our need and flying over to pick us up. No such luck. After a bit of calculating on our fingers and realizing that it has taken us 9 hours to bag all 4 peaks, we start back toward Bond with a sense of urgency - no cell service and almost no charge and loved ones to call who expect us down by 7 or so. I think we are looking at more like 10 p.m. Oh my.

Nancy hits the wall as we walk back toward Bond. She needs to tighten her boot and can't untie the laces, which are in a hell of a knot. She is laughing at herself as I lean down to help. Although she is still smiling, she is also in that little space of hiking hell where the body starts to break down because the reality of what we are asking it to do is not ok. We keep going and stand atop Bond one more time at 3:12 p.m. But let me tell you in no uncertain terms: From Bond to Bondcliff and Back is a Bitch.

I still feel pretty good - my knees are holding out, and other than general tiredness and sore feet, I feel optimistic and strong. From Mt. Bond to Mt. Guyot, we encounter lots of mud on the trail. Often there are log bridges, some new, some old and disintegrating, to help us stay out of the goo. On the way out to the peaks, happy, stoked for the challenge and full of moose memories, we deftly avoid the mud, stepping around, over, on stones and branches, not letting the muck suck us under and keeping our boots pristine. But now, on the way back, we don't give a shit about mud on our boots. There is no extra energy to negotiate our way around the thick black, boot-sucking sludge - right through it we go.

We pass Zealand Mountain and arrive at the view area on the Twinway, which is where the trail starts to descend steeply. I hit my wall and join Nancy in the hurting category. The trail is made up of large rock and boulders, and is very rough. Every single step takes total focus, placing feet in exactly in the right place, lowering our bodies down with as little momentum as possible. The muscles in our bodies are screaming, begging to rest, and we force them on... carefully...ever so carefully.

And we listen, intently - knowing that when we hear rushing water we can finally let ourselves feel wildly hopeful. We know that the Zealand Hut is 2.9 easy flat miles from our car. We also know Zealand Falls is right next to the hut and we will hear rushing water when we get close. Finally... we hear the falls and soon afterward, the sound of voices, and then, thank God, we see the hut.

We pound through the last almost 3 miles on the Zealand Trail, holding our bodies together by sheer will and orneriness, and finally reach the parking lot at 8:32 p.m. We have our picture taken by some nice folks we have been leapfrogging on the trail all afternoon. My big toes are numb and sore, my hips are screaming, my hip bones bruised by the pack's waist belt, my triceps quivering from using the poles to guide me down the miles and miles of trail we covered (22 miles, 67,489 steps, 1,976 calories). I have never been so glad to sit down and open cold Diet Pepsi in my life. And we still have a three-hour drive ahead of us.

What we learn is that we are strong, able, courageous women. We can do this kind of hiking. BUT we really don't want to hike this way. We would rather do 9 hours like we did on the way out - taking pictures, stopping to sit on a hot rock for lunch, taking our boots off for half an hour, looking at every view, resting occasionally - rather than doing a death march. Just not as fun. Now we know we can do it and now we also know that we don't want to.

Four peaks, a moose and a major life lesson - Whooooooooooooo Hoooooooooooooooooooo!

14 of NH 48
14 of 67 in NE
14 of the NE 100 Highest