In July of 2019, I lead a team from Hudson Valley Hikers across the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. We backpacked 22.4 miles, climbed 5,828 feet, and bagged 6 New Hampshire 4000 Footers: Galehead, North and South Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff. We camped at Guyot Shelter about halfway through. The Bonds are a spectacular range set in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Because its at least a 6 mile hike into the woods to get to them, they are like a more private version of Franconia Ridge.
The highlight of this trip was our traverse of the Bonds Mountains with their stunning views of the surrounding wilderness. Despite its designation as a “wilderness,” the Pemigewasset boasts a densely packed selection of trails. The previous year while traversing the region along the AT, my group had already hit South Twin and Zealand Mountains. This year we wanted to make up Galehead Mountain a North Twin. The most obvious route was to come in along the Gale River Trail and visit Galehead first, then climb the much higher Twins.
After hitting both Twins (North Twin is an approximate 2 mile out-and-back), we would follow the Appalachian Trail / Twinway Trail to the Guyots and turn south toward the bonds. We would spend the night at Guyot Shelter, then continue south bagging all three bonds and then descending into the Pemi Valley. The last leg of our trip was a 6 mile walk/run along old railway beds toward Lincoln Woods Visitors Center.
I like to make sure everyone in my hiking group arrives in the area the night before our trip and gets a good night sleep. Four of us split a room at a motel in Woodstock, while another camped near the Lincoln Woods Visitors Center. We met at Lincoln Woods at 6:30 AM, then got breakfast in Lincoln before driving around the wilderness to the Gale River Trailhead. We hit the trail sometime around 7:45 AM. Parking areas in the white mountains fill up VERY EARLY. Be sure to meet early and account for long drives between trailheads.
Day 1: Galehead and The Twins
After hiking 4.6 miles and climbing about 2500 feet, we arrived at Galehead Hut with its view south down the valley formed by Galehead (right) and Southwest Twin (left). We had arrived in a little less than 3 hours, so we were ahead of schedule.
Galehead Hut is one of AMC’s smaller mountain huts and sits on the small col between Galehead Mtn and its giant neighbor, South Twin. The famous Huts offer overnight stays, breakfast and dinner for reservation only. The fees are hefty, but it takes a lot to run these little resorts in the sky. Appalachian Trail Truhikers can sometimes arrange to stay at the huts for free in exchange for doing chores. The huts are open during the day and they offer an assortment of beverages and snacks.
From the hut, we ascended South Twin. This climb is no joke. The trail goes up 1200 feet in just 0.8 miles. Fortunately, it is well maintained and many rocks form something like steps. My estimated time for this climb was about an hour, and I think it took a little less than that.
After having a snack at South Twin, we made 2 mile out-and-back visit to North Twin. The North Twin Trail was a bit muddy in places, but it was a pleasure walking through this lush green forest. From North Twin, you can look down at Galehead and Galehead Hut. Galehead (4024 feet) is a barely perceptible bump along the Garfield Ridge as seen from North Twin (4761 feet.)
From North Twin, we walked back to South and stopped for another snack. Then we descended east along the Twinway toward the Guyots. There are a few possible stealth camping options along this section. Be sure to camp in the trees, not on a bald area. You should camp at least 150 feet from the trail on a spot that has already been cleared. Don’t clear a new spot! Good campsites are found, not made.
Shortly before arriving at the Guyots, you come out onto a large bald. The trail here is rocky, so be careful not to twist an ankle. There are excellent views of the Bonds and Franconia Ridge. From here, the Appalachian Trail and Twinway go Northwest over Guyot toward Zealand. The Bondcliff Trail heads South over Guyot toward The Bonds. We went South and then took a break at Guyot Spur while we waited for our group to get back together. Guyot campsite is just a short walk from here.
Guyot (pronounced “Gee-Oh”) Campsite is one of several back country campsites operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. These sites are staffed with caretakers during the busy months. The caretakers maintain the site and surrounding trails and teach newbies how to leave no trace while camping and hiking. Some people complain about the $10 fee charged for using these sites, but some of these sites see over 100 campers per night during the busy season. That’s a lot of impact and it takes money to maintain these places.
Tent Platform Anchors
Many mountain campsites have platforms. You’re required to set up on a platform if space is available. Most caretakers will let you sleep in the dirt overflow area only if all platform space is taken. The platforms help prevent erosion and destruction of the fragile mountain ecosystem. Camping on plants kills them. Without plants, the soil washes away and leaves nothing but rocks. You can’t camp on rocks. Platforms make sense.
If you carry an ultralight style tent like my Tarptent Notch, setting up on a platform may be a challenge. Most of these tents need to be staked out to stand up, but tie down options on the platforms are limited. You can make your life a lot easier by carrying a few tent platform anchors. These anchors can be wedged or hooked into the slots on the platform to make a tie-down point just about anywhere.
Chasing the Sun
Its a short walk from Guyot Campsite to either Guyot Spur or West Bond. Either of these peaks would make an excellent perch for watching the sunset. We went up to Guyot Spur, but the sunset never appeared. We did have a nice show at the platform the next morning.
Day 2: The Bonds
We woke up early the next day, had breakfast, and struck out toward West Bond. West bond is just a half mile away and 500 feet above Guyot Campsite. The climb at the very ends is a little sketchy, but the views from here are worthwhile.
From West Bond, we headed over to Bond Mountain. Bond is the highest of these three, but has the least spectacular view – especially in the clouds. We were able to get some shots of Bond Cliff as the skies broke. This is a rocky descent and it was a bit slow walking into the strong winds.
We spent some time hanging out at Bond Cliff. The views from here are spectacular. To the West you see the full Franconia Range. In the North you see Garfield, West Bond and Bond. To the South lie Carrigan and the Hancocks. From other prominent peaks in the White Mountains, looking down means seeing highways and towns. Views from Bondcliffs exposed ridge offer nothing but wilderness. It was a real treat. Arriving early from Guyot Campsite meant having this place nearly all to ourselves.
Deep Plunge and a Long Walk Out
The map makes the climb down from Bondcliff look steep and perilous, but there was only one sketchy part right at the top. Most of the descent followed a well maintained path down switchbacks with even footing. The first three miles of the hike out to Lincoln Woods do lose about 2300 feet of elevation. Then there is a mile of gentle descent down a smooth trail. The last 5 miles follow an old railroad bed which now makes a popular walk for locals. We power walked most of the way out.
Finally completing our journey, we got dinner and beer in Lincoln, then went and got our cars.
Over 2 days we hiked 22.4 miles and climbed nearly 6000 feet. We traversed 6 White Mountain 4000 Footers. Surprisingly, a lot of people would do this hike in a single day. A lot of people would do the entire 30 mile Pem-Loop in a single day. Personally, I enjoyed spending time at the open summits, in camp, and sitting by fresh streams and rivers. If you have a whole weekend, why not take that time to fully immerse in the wilderness?