Friday, July 12, 2013

Pemi Adventure Weekend: Backpacking & Rafting

The Pemi Loop hike is a true New England hiker challenge, and Backpacker Magazine calls it one of America's hardest dayhikes. With 32 miles and 18,000 feet of elevation change, it's a very demanding day and has been on my bucket list for a year or two. The loop starts and ends at Lincoln Woods just off the Kancamagus Highway, traversing some of finest ridge lines in NH, summitting eleven 4000ft+ peaks. This loop was also the culmination of Chris's NH 48 finish!

Glider plane flying over Franconia Notch
We had planned to do the loop one day on July 4th weekend, but after tweaking my ankle on a hike 2 weeks prior, I thought maybe we should do it as a 2 day backpack instead. It would be a bit easier this way, allowing for more time to enjoy the views, more time for sleeping, and for other fun things that weekend, like rafting!

Catching a breeze on Flume
Our adventure began on July 4th, staying with friends on Loon Lake in Plymouth, NH, enjoying a BBQ and the lake's fireworks from their kayaks. We were up and out early the next morning, grabbing a bagel sandwich and hitting the trail at 8:30am, a far cry from the usual Pemi Loop start time of 3:30am. It was a hot and humid morning and the breeze atop Flume couldn't come soon enough. Liberty had equally lovely views and upon summiting Little Haystack, we ran into 2 fellow hikers & friends, Emily and Ashley, what a pleasant surprise! We caught up on each others lives, hiked together to Lincoln and Lafayette and enjoying lunch before going our separate ways.

Running into friends on Little Haystack
Chris and I continued down the rugged ridgeline to Garfield, but not before thunder and a rainshower would cool us down. We were alone on the Garfield summit as the clouds drifted by and thunder was no longer a threat, some of the best views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness can be seen from this perch. We could have stayed at the Garfield tentsite & shelter, but decided to walk a few more miles down to Thirteen Falls campsite in the Pemi Wilderness, as neither of us had ever stayed there. The trail to 13 Falls was wet as we followed a brook most of the way. To our surprise, we got the last tentsite at 13 Falls, I guess for a holiday weekend we shouldn't have been. They had set up a large tarp over the kitchen area and had a bear box, so rarely used in the NH Whites. We happily washed off in the wide, shallow falls after dinner and curled up at the quiet tentsite for a well-deserved night's sleep.
Hiking along the Franconia Ridge to Lincoln & Lafayette

The next morning we ate our breakfast and hiked  up and out a few miles to Galehead Hut, where we enjoyed breakfast # 2 of free leftover pancakes from the hut. Surprisingly, hardly anyone was there, just a few others and a croo member or two. We chatted up a few friendly folks before heading into the mist on South Twin. I was told about the steepness of this trail, but found to be more enjoyable than most steep hikes, as it's well taken care of and has some excellently-spaced stepping stones for short legs like mine. We passed a few others going in the opposite direction including a ranger, some day "loopers", and a few hikers making their way from Guyout Tentsite.
Eating leftovers at Galehead Hut

The summit of South Twin was socked in with clouds but the breeze was refreshing on yet another warm day. We travelled along the ridge, a new section of trail for me, and how lovely it was! Covered in moss and flowers and generally flat, I could have hiked that section all day long. Eventually we came to Mt. Guyout, passed the Guyout Tentsite and reached the spur trail to the summit of West Bond.

West Bond has one of the most spectacular views in the Whites, as it looks over fondly to Bond and Bondcliff, it's arching spine bowing dramatically between the two peaks. The light cast on the cliff seems to show every rock and crevasse, you feel like you could almost touch it from there. We were itching to hike it, so without much rest we marched up to Bond, barely stopping as we continued to Bondcliff. This was Chris's final NH 48 summit, so I took a few obligatory cliff shots, was ate some summit chocolate and Chris indulged in a 10 min nap as I wandered in bare feet and took photos. We must have stayed there at least an hour, the sky was full of puffy clouds and blue patches and the breeze felt glorious. We finally made a move to go, as it was all downhill from here.
Hiking to Bondcliff

On Bondcliff
We eventually reached the Wilderness Trail with its railroad ties still embedded in the wide path. We stopped at the Pemi River crossing to wash up and cool down. I changed into Crocs and we blasted our way to the packing lot, eagerly putting the long, flat trail portion behind us. Dinner was had at the Gypsy Café in Lincoln, and Chris booked us a motel room at the Rodeway Inn off RT 3 as a luxurious end to our Pemi backpack. And by luxury I mean a clean bed, hot shower and pool, dang!

The next morning we ate at the curious breakfast place across from our motel. It has a frontier-style theme that was popular in the 60s and doesn't look like it's changed much since. The staff was friendly and the food was fine. We swam in the motel pool, played a little shuffleboard and were soon standing on the banks of the Pemi with an inflatable raft preparing for our next adventure.

About to go rafting!
We drove down RT 117 along the Pemi and scouted out our route, as well as our start and endpoints. We decided to leave our bikes at the en, drive back up north, and raft a few miles from N Woodstock to Woodstock. After rafting we would bike back to the car and eat in N Woodstock.

The Pemi is generally gentle and shallow south of Lincoln, NH, but this season it's been running high and fast due to all the rain, mildly exciting rapids for a blow-up raft. We started off on some small rapids, perfect for our first attempt. At one point we came to what seemed like an impasse, as a group of 4 kayakers got out and dragged their boat on the shore and around the rapids. We thought it was ok for us and carried on, thoroughly enjoying the mild white-water ride. We waved as we passed another couple who were resting on a beach with their kayaks. What a day we were having!

We soon came to another section that was a bit sketchy. We ducked under tree branches and fended off a downed tree with broken, pointy limbs that surely would have popped our raft if Chris wasn't quick with his hands. Another raft, deflated and washed up on a nearby shore told of a more unfortunate ending. We stopped to check our boat a little further down the stream to make sure we didn't have a leak. Just before launching back into the river, we saw the kayaking couple get caught in the downed tree. Both fell out of their boats but were quickly out and walking in the shallow water. The woman started yelling at the man she was with, tossing her paddle at him. After making sure they were ok, we decided it was best to carry on downstream and let them sort out their personal issues.

We paddled in peaceful water to a beach with a long, smooth rock perfect for sunning on. We stopped here to pick wild blueberries and watched the water go by. Chris noticed a floating broken paddle, and then another. He jumped in to get both and soon the other group of 4 kayakers stopped by the beach to chat. They told us they had helped out the couple who fell out of their boats and got one boat unstuck. The other boat remained stuck in some trees and they man never attempted to get it out. They also were pretty sure the broken paddle parts were the woman's whose boat overturned. That couple surely wasn't prepared for terrain like that, they seemed to be out for a more peaceful trip, and the kayakers watched as they ended their trip with a phone call for a ride home.

We continued on our adventure, running into the 4 kayakers every once in a while. At the end of our route we came upon some beautifully sculptured river rocks with smooth scoop-outs perfect for sitting in. We relaxed here for a bit, discussing whether we should attempt the set of rapids, known as "The Ledges" something the 4 kayakers had alluded to. We decided to scout it out and agreed it was doable. We pushed into rapids with our oars and newly acquired broken paddles and successfully ran the rapids, bouncing along rocks and waves, hooting with great joy! It wasn't a huge set of rapids by most standards, but for an inflatable raft for 2, it was exhilarating!

The only downside to the afternoon was realizing we left the bike keys at the start. Thankfully we caught a ride to our car with a newlywed couple and picked up the bikes and raft on our way back. We enjoyed lunch & ice cream in North Woodstock, and stopped by Cascade Park behind RT 3 to watch a father and two sons barreling over the small set of falls on inflatable snow tubes. They looked pretty happy too!

1 comment:

  1. Those gliders are a riot. They take off from the tine town of Franconia on the other side of the notch. There's a flying+gliding club there.