No 3k finish for me until next weekend, so something for fun this time. Becky needed 4 peaks on this hike, and I've been raring to revisit the Bonds after almost 30 years, so a Bond traverse sounded completely awesome to me!
Desi, Bob and Joe rounded out the crowd. Except this hike almost never happened. Joe was rightly worried about thunderstorms on the open ridges, so the Moats were coming into play. At the last minute in the morning, the Bonds were back on the schedule. Maybe. Frantic phone calls, and a drive up to Joe's condo. We decided to head over and see what's what for the weather. Near Zealand Road, no one was being decisive, so I took the rare step of saying, let's do it, at least get Zealand, and see what happens. It was a late start, but we had plenty of daylight.
The usual trip up the Zealand Trail. Sort of. A new bridge replaced that horrible span that leaned right and was treacherous with ice or frost on it. And the drained beaver pond I had heard about. It added some interest to the now familiar trip. Up to the hut, where we ran into Brian's cousin-in-law. Neat. We camped there for a bit, and I climbed up a bit on the falls.
Then Bob and I lost everyone. They thought I went up the trail, I thought the trail crossed there. So much for my memory. We caught up, and began what I consider to be a monotonous and relentless climb to the ridgeline. This was the worst, I kept telling myself, wondering if I was really going to have the legs for the traverse getting this pooped already. The clouds were threatening, and we got sprinkled on, but that was it. We finally topped out and made our way over to Zeacliff. With 10 other people. Oh yeah, holiday weekend, this was not going to be a hike of solitude. The views were hazy, but decent enough.
Another reason we wanted to get up here was to catch the promised breeze. Boy, did that feel good on this humid day. Now for the lovely ridge walk!
Joe and I scooted ahead, and I ended up losing Joe to a pee break. Ah well, I could stand to stretch my legs and I'd just meet everyone at Zealand. Happily I motored along, feeling great now, and plopped down at Zealand. Only 2 people here, with a third coming along shortly. Maybe 15-20 minutes later the gang showed up, and time for another rest. Lunch in Bob's case. A forty pound turkey sub.
I had been thinking on the way over, and having expected a short day when I got up, thought it would be good to get out kinda early, so I asked if it was OK to just do the rest on my own. I only got smart-assed answers from the usual suspects, so I guess it was OK. I felt bad about bailing on them, and not spending more time shooting the breeze, but I also enjoy my solo time, so away I went.
I made fine time at this point, still feeling great. Up and over the bumps of Guyot, stopping at each and having them all to myself. Damn, these are some fine summits.
Now off to West Bond. Or not. This is another great summit, but I went there 2 years ago, and I figured another mile and 30-45 minutes would not help at this point. So off to Bond. Or not. I was down to half a liter of water, and I knew there no water to be had for many miles. So off to Guyot Shelter. I had forgotten how flipping far DOWN this was. Argh. Why do they always build these damned things so far down. “Staying for the night?” “Nope, just getting water.” “Awesome!” Yeah, I knew they had to be packed this weekend. Filled up two liters and then chugged my way back up, up, up. Argh. Then I saw the most demoralizing sign in the world.
Say, what? 8.1 just to the Lincoln Woods Trail??? There's miles after that! I knew Bond was the halfway point, but geesh, this made it seem like there was no way that was true. Sigh. OK, off to Bond, now on ground untramped by yours truly in 28 years. Damn, that makes me feel old. Pretty easy climb despite how it looks from afar, and I just kept on moving, adjusting speed to avoid having to stop. The skies started opening up, as I could see they would from Guyot. All the dark stuff hung around the Twins. Once one top, someone said “Salty!” Huh, wha? It took me a few seconds, but there was Tim who I haven't seen in some time. We chatted, finding out it was Roberta's 48 finish coming up on Bondcliff. Oh yeah, this peak is a gem. I could see the lovely open walk ahead of me. This rocks.
I looked back, amazed at how small Zeacliff now looked. I left ahead of them, wishing them well if I didn't see them. I was anxious to trod across this splendid ridge. I headed into the scrub, breaking out quick enough, and I kept marveling at the slides on W. Bond. Yeah, they definitely look do-able.
The breeze came and went. Much appreciated when it came, much desired when it didn't. I remember Bob describing the last climb up Bondcliff as demoralizing, but I didn't think it as such. To be sure, I was definitely slower at this point, but it came and went quick enough for my tastes. And then, there it was. Vertigo Rock. That rock that everyone gets their picture on. I have an old picture looking straight down from somewhere up here. I sure as hell don't have one of me on it, and today would be no exception. My vertigo's gotten worse, I took one step across the crack, and that's as far as I got. The large gap to the left was enough for my tastes.
I did manage to get on all fours and hold my camera out for this dizzying shot.
I hung around the summit, taking it all in, when Tim and gang came along, and I offered to take some shots. I was honestly flinching anytime someone walked out there, fearful of a slip. Here's Roberta on the rock, and I'm surprised I didn't poop myself when Mike jumped down to that little ledge.
Roberta ran the gauntlet of hiking poles, or as I put it, the Gauntlet of Very Smelly Traversers. I don't know if anyone else smelled. I was too overpowered by my smell. 4 years of sweat in my shirt seemed to release itself en masse. I bade adieu for the last time, and headed on down. I hit the ledge everyone seems to talk about and found it not bad at all. Unfortunately, the breeze was now gone, and I knew the further down I went, the hotter it'd get. Ah well, I just want to get outta here. The going was slower than I'd have liked due to steepness and footing, and I was looking forward to about 2300' where the slope would lessen. Regardless, I found some sections where I could move fast like a wild man, probably looking like I was skiing the way the poles were helping so much.
I arrived at the flatter section quite happily. For a minute or so. I then realized my legs were tired. Really tired. Crap. Many miles left. Worse, there was still quite a distance to the old railroad grade by the river. Sigh. Oh well, want to get out, chug on ahead, now without the help of gravity. As always, time slowed way down as it does on the way out, and it seemed to take hours to reach the Lincoln Woods Trail (I think, I've seen differing mentions of it starting at the railway or at the Franconia Brook Trail). I saw one of the camp clearings and kept on walking. Now was not the time to explore. I'm here, it's all wide and easy now, right? Wrong.
I forgot about the railroad ties. Pain in the butt to walk over. And why is this going up? The river goes down! It isn't much of an up, but my legs know it! Geez Louise. Then my feet started hurting. Badly. I dug out some debris out of my left foot and all was fine for a mile or so until I realized it was more blisters than anything else. Great. All the happy memories of today were fading into misery. The Franconia Brook Trail junction just would not come, either. I'd spot something, hoping it was a sign, but nope, just another illusion. Just keep walking. Just keep walking. I started to wonder if I was in trouble at this point. I hadn't really prepared for this mileage. Never mind that, steady diet of cigarettes and water (filling up yet again, hoping sufficient quantities of giardia were not present).
About 30 years later, I came to the junction. Hallelujah, familiar ground, having been here last year. The Falls and Black Pond junctions ticked off quickly (the latter startling me having come up so quick). My feet were in serious pain by then. I had overdone it. Just keep walking. Repeat. Ad nauseum.
I kept watching anxiously for the Camp 8 clearing to no avail. I knew from there, a measly 1.6 miles awaited me. Just keep walking. A large dose of sunlight came into view, but there was no joy at that point. I could feel the entire balls of my feet sliding around. Cursed wet socks. Cursed me for not bringing a spare pair. Just keep walking. After that, it was excruciating. Every step was misery, every pebble on the trail was torture. I was gritting my teeth in pain, swearing under my breath on the last mile, willing the bridge to come into view. When it did, it was less relief and more “it's about damned time you showed up.” I cannot tell you how thankful I was when for once, those stairs were not gated, saving me maybe 50 extra feet of walking. It was 7 o'clock. I hobbled to the car, just wanting to get those damned boots off.
Yeah, my feet were a painful mess. I had sandals with me, glad for that choice to let my feet air out. My boots were rank. I thoughtlessly (perhaps more lazily) threw them in the backseat and paid for that all the way home. It took 3 days for my feet to recover, and finally on Wednesday, my calves were reasonably free from pain and stiffness anytime I sat still for a while.
Was it worth it? Hell, yeah! That hike is a classic for good reason. I have been wanting to get back to Bondcliff for the longest time, and it was such a nice preview of what's in store for me post-list. Sure, there's things I would've done differently, but this is how one learns. And I'm a strong believer that no one is so smart they can't learn something in their so-called expertise.
As it turns out, it was wise of me to bail on my friends, despite some guilt at that. I had flippantly told my wife she would hear from me by 8:00, no later than 9:00, not really taking reality into account. It turns out the crew got out at 10:15. She would've been flipping out at that point. I had forgotten about that until around Bond. Things happen for a reason, things turn out for a reason. It's never failed me, though sometimes it takes a long time to realize that.