By Elliott Taylor
This whole Pemi trip happened just because a few of the guys at the shop and I had been itching to go on a multi-day backpacking trip and had been eyeing trails in the White Mountains since mid-winter. We fell in love with Franconia Ridge and when Jason suggested the Pemi Loop we knew that was our spot. The Pemigewasset Loop, for those unfamiliar, is a 31.5-mile loop in the Twin and Franconia Ranges of the White Mountains in New Hampshire which is regarded as one of the toughest day hikes in the U.S. We were up for the challenge and wound up planning it as a three-day trip. But putting together a three day trip with five people who work for the same company is WAY easier said than done. After several push-backs, we finally found some time in early July and just like that the Pemi was a go.
After opening up the shops in New Haven and shuffling cars around we finally hit the road to New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon. We arrived at the parking lot near the trailhead with about an hour and a half of daylight left at best. That’s also about the time the rain started. Since we were trekking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction we had several miles of trail that at one point was an active railroad route. This meant that while it was a completely flat trail with little to no elevation gain, the old railroad ties made for constant footing adjustments which only got worse after last light. We pushed on for a bit putting in five miles total before going off trail and setting up camp. It was at this point that after unpacking my pack I realized I had left my Arc’teryx Atom (only insulating layer) in the car, a mistake I would regret the next night. For most of us, this was the first time setting up rain flies so there was definitely a bit of a learning curve. A couple of us put them on upside down at first and had to play around with different tensions and tie down points. After several adjustments we had it set up so that we could maneuver around the entire campsite with four hammocks setup without getting wet.
At that point, we ventured out a ways to hang our food for the night. This entailed tying a rock to some paracord and sending it up into two trees that we then suspended the food between. It was fun to see the whole idea come together after throwing the rock several dozen times. By the time that was all said and done we went to sleep for the night. A lot of people are skeptical as to how comfortable a hammock is for sleeping, but I always sleep like a baby in my ENO. This night was especially peaceful with the sound of rain hitting the fly.
We woke up the next morning fairly early and fired up the stoves to make breakfast knowing that we had a big day ahead of us. Since it was a little colder that morning it was a treat to hold onto the dehydrated backpacking food pouch as it cooked. After hanging around for a while, we finally broke down camp and were on our way again. Spirits were high as we hit the trail and took a slight detour to check out an old train bridge before heading up to the Bondcliffs. At this point, it wasn’t raining but there was a thick fog and the trees were all saturated so we were all in rain gear. As we headed up to the tree line it became evident that among the five of us there were several different paces. We began to spread out a bit and regrouped once we hit the alpine zone.
Visibility above tree line was about 50 feet at best but the views of the cairns emerging from the mist were spectacular. The heavy mist was getting blown around and after a few hours, we knew we were going to be soaked. As we continued on, our group got more and more spread out until finally regrouping after about a 20 minute wait at the Galehead Hut. We were now all tired, hungry, cold, and absolutely soaked. The hut was a small sanctuary where we could use the bathroom, warm up a bit, and buy snacks. We each had a bowl of “potato soup” which was essentially watery, powdered, mashed potatoes – best thing I’ve ever eaten (not). Upon hitting the trail again, the crew was looking pretty battered and the pace had slowed drastically. We spread out quite a bit again and pushed on for a couple hours more until we finally found a decent place to set up again for the night.
Setup this time around was much less cheerful since it was now full on raining and the temperature had dropped significantly. We had a small discussion and realized that given our late arrival and unexpectedly slow pace it was unlikely we would be able to actually complete the entire loop. The plan was to split up from Jason, hit Garfield, Lafayette, Franconia Ridge and Little Haystack on our own and then take a side trail down to a parking lot where Jason would be waiting to bring us back to the car. I was personally pretty disappointed but some of the group seemed pretty relieved to be cutting out about 8 miles. That night I skipped dinner as I wasn’t hungry and went straight to sleep knowing that it was going to be a cold miserable night’s sleep even with a borrowed Nano Puff vest for insulation.
Continue on to Part 2 here.