VMO: Pemi Loop, or Circumnavigation of Owl's Head

Posted by Michael Martin on

So, I knew this was going to be an interesting and tough route, and it did not disappoint.

Friday, 10/7, we magnificent seven were due to meet at Lincoln Woods' TH in the Whites. Shuttle and Wolverine were riding with me and we hit some traffic trying to cross the Tappan See Bridge, so we rolled in just after 1:30pm. Gen, Megan, Trisha, and Doc were there waiting for us. We quickly geared up, and strolled off into beautiful warm sunlight, autumn foliage all around us.

Perhaps we were enjoying this sunlight a little too much, though, as I wasn't paying any attention. Gen stopped. "Aren't we supposed to be on the other side of the river?" "Why, yes, we are." The survivors of route-finding 201 took over. We scrambled down the creek bed, waded the Pemigewasset, and bushwhacked a few hundred feet of forest to get the trail on the other side. This was a silly way to start the trip, and meant that we didn't start up the Osseo Trail until 3pm. No big deal, really, but I would have liked to have had that daylight back.

But once we did start, we were climbing towards Mt. Flume, the first of many peaks along the route. I walked in the back with Shuttle and Trisha. We topped out on Flume at sunset, and paused for dramatic pictures. Our headlamps went on as we scrambled up Liberty. Picking our way off this summit in the dark gave us a moment of consternation, but it was no great matter. The moon lit our way. We quickly reached the AT and dropped down to Liberty Springs, where we re-joined the others for a pleasant evening meal--whisky and chili mac for me. Shuttle and I cowboy camped on the platform, staring up at the stars and the moon.

Saturday at dawn, we all climbed for Franconia Ridge, and enjoyed this great highlight of the Whites. Doc and Wolverine were way out in front; the rest of us stuck together. Lincoln and Lafayette were as wonderful as they could be, with sweeping views of the autumn landscape. The winds were gusty, however, perhaps as high as the 40s or 50s.

Beyond Lafayette, we pressed onto Garfield Ridge. Mr. Scharf had warned me that this would be more difficult than it seemed on the map, and indeed it took us a spell to reach Garfield itself. The place was packed with day hikers and we did not linger. Beyond Garfield, the land became even more rugged, with one sharp up and down after another. Shuttle became especially annoyed to look up and see Galehead Hut above her! Our pace slowed to what felt like a crawl. Shuttle, Trisha, and I pulled into the hut near 4pm, with maybe 3.6 miles to go to Guyot, which is what I planned. Megan and Gen were just leaving. I told them that we would pause at the shelter and consider staying nearby and finishing the route tomorrow. Unlike the others, we didn't plan on driving back till Monday anyway.

We ate some soup in the hut and chatted with other hikers. I decided that we would stay there, and the staff told me that there was a tent site nearby we could use (I vastly prefer sleeping outside). While the ladies enjoyed the hut, I did the out-and-back to Galehead, then we hiked to the campsite, which was a broad, mossy spot near the climb to South Twin. I pitched the Trailstar, and was happy not to be on a wooden platform, as it rained all night. We stayed snug, however, and got plenty of sleep.

Michael Martin posted on

Sunday morning, we were up with the dawn and climbing South Twin, which was no big deal on fresh legs. It was colder, misty, and the wind came up above tree-line, maybe to the 30s. We summited South Twin, headed south, and left the AT near Zeeland, crossing alpine terrain near Guyot. We made good time and pulled into that campsite about 2h20 after starting, so we weren't that far behind the others. Guyot seemed full of inexperienced people and we heard it had been quite loud the night before. We took a lengthy break there, then headed for West Bond.

It hailed on us on that out-and-back, and I worried a little about hypothermia, so I exhorted us to keep moving. I was unsure how much exposed ground there was between Bond and Bondcliff. Bond itself was easy, and Bondcliff was spectacular in the swirling wind and the mist. It was never so cold that I was really worried about us; I never even bothered with a thermal layer, in fact. We topped out and began the very, very long descent, down to the banks of the Pemi.

The walk out seemed to go on forever (we passed so many leaf peepers and hikers getting what seemed to us to be very late starts), but we arrived at Lincoln Woods at 5pm, so that was 51 hours elapsed for the slower pace. I think the fast group was about 48 hours.

So, roughly, 32 miles, 10,000 feet of gain. Doc and Wolverine got 11 peaks (Flume, Liberty, Lafayette, Lincoln, Garfield, Galehead, North Twin, South Twin, Bond, Bondcliff, and West Bond). I got all those minus North Twin, so 10 (I was in a hurry Sunday morning and skipped North Twin, so that sucks). I think everyone else got 9, minus Galehead (correct me if I'm wrong).

The fast crew had lunch with Beastmode, while the slow crew (plus Wolverine) had dinner with Beastmode. How was this possible? Well, a certain Texan got confused between Woodstock, Vermont, and Woodstock, New Hampshire, when it came to booking our hotel. No matter, it worked out.

And it was all over except for the long drive home.

There's no doubt in my mind that the Pemi loop is one of the best routes in the East, especially in the autumn. Every ULer should go do it. It's certainly perfectly walkable in 2 or 2+ days. I think a slower speed would drag for me. My plan (camping at Liberty Spring then Guyot) was okay ... but I confess that I don't care for these crowded, organized sites. If I did it again, I think I would camp on the AT above Liberty Spring (I believe the sites that Gen noted were legal--I'm not advocating breaking any rules) and then at Galehead, or on the AT past South Twin. The loop is tough, certainly, but it's a good challenge.

Beastmode wants to day hike it, and perhaps we will ... in June. I need to be in better shape for that!


Matt Scharf posted on

Here are the regulations for camping in the WMNF: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5363715.pdf

Those sites right along the trail on the wooded sections of Franconia Ridge are technically illegal, I believe.

Michael Martin posted on

Yeah, they're too close to the trail, I suppose.

Megan Berg posted on

Glad you guys got to eat dinner with Beastmode! I am also interested in attempting this as a 1 day hike. However, for me it would be a very long day!

Bryan posted on

I also nabbed Zealand on Saturday and got to the Guyot campsite around 7:30. There was a bourbon crew and a taquila crew! One guy was having really bad hangover nightmares.

Michael Martin posted on

Ah, I didn't know you got Zealand. Good job!

Joffrey Peters posted on

Glad you guys got a little decent weather and some good leaf-peeping opportunities!

For the in-a-day, I was thinking about 12 hours. :D

I also tried to convince DOC that he should run the Hut Traverse with me (more like 20 hours).


Tukta posted on

So bummed I missed this trip [:((]

I'm in for the in-a-day version!