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Trip: A Long Winter Hike (Twin Mts. and The Bonds)

A Long Winter Hike

by Tim Kennedy

Over the years, I’ve hiked all of the New England one hundred highest peaks in winter and enjoyed every trip. Winter hiking and winter peak bagging has been a great thrill for me over the last forty years. Breaking an unbroken trail for hours can test your physical and mental endurance when the snow is deep and the air is cold. But, all the cold and fatigue are forgotten in those few minutes on top of a 4000-footer in winter.

I’ve read many stories about big trips to places I can only dream about, but adventure can also be had in the “hills” of New England. This story is about how I bagged the “Bonds” in winter. Four of us bagged what are now five 4000-footers on one winter trip. I still have not heard of a group repeating this trip after all these years over totally unbroken trails. The fact that it took twenty-two hours may explain why.

My hiking partner, Richard Clark, suggested that we combine all the Bonds and the Twins on a single winter day trip. We were all just crazy enough to think it was a great idea. These guys were some of the early pioneers of the New England 4000 footers in winter. March 6, 1981 was the fateful day that Richard, John Moon, Ed Cote and I spotted a car at the Wilderness Trail on the Kancamagus Highway and then drove to the Abnaki Lodge on Little River Road in Twin Mountain. The elderly lady who owned the lodge told us to stay put if we got lost and the snowmobiles would rescue us. I could not picture a snowmobile going up North Twin.

Saturday morning we were up at 3am for hot coffee and donuts. Our gear had been checked many times and we had been hiking all winter, so we were ready. At 4am we left the lodge with our headlamps lighting a feeble path for us. We were finally off on our adventure. The temperature was a balmy 30 degrees; much too warm. We booted over to the North Twin Trail on a snowmobile trail. We were forced to put on snowshoes at the North Twin trailhead. It was still dark when we got to the first wide stream crossing. I did not like this at all! The warm weather had opened up the stream so there we were in the dark, on big wooden snowshoes, trying to cross this open stream on the snow covered rocks. Somehow we got across and the second and third crossings were much easier.

The snow got deeper and deeper as the early light of dawn ushered in the daylight. The last two miles to the summit of North Twin were grueling. Our snowshoes were sinking nearly eighteen inches into the powder snow. Back in those days, we all used thirty six inch wooden green mountain bearpaws. The shape is very similar to the Sherpa snowshoes that came along in later years. Where did all this snow come from? Count fifty steps and drop to the rear, count fifty steps and drop to the rear. Is it my turn to break again so soon? Ed and I joked about paying each other to take an extra turn. The weather on the summit ridge was blah; low clouds, fog, and a very light wind. We all knew that we would not get any views all day. One summit done and still a long way to go.

The trip down to the first col was exhilarating. Richard and I plowed downward breaking a nice path for the others to follow. It was now 11am and time for a break. Cold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sure can taste good along with cold water. We thought that the worst had to be over and South Twin was just ahead.

The summit of South Twin came quickly, but we had a tough time finding the trail toward Mt. Guyot. Richard scouted ahead with no luck. This was no place to flounder around looking for a blaze under the snow. Somebody finally remembered that the trail slabbed to the right. We went back to the last place we had seen a blaze and started looking to our right. Sure enough; we scooped snow away from a few likely tree trunks and found a beautiful white blaze. The next two miles were a nasty obstacle course. The trail had not been broken all winter. Even the evidence of cut branches was hard to find. It was one long tangle of bent over snow laden trees to be climbed over, crawled under, and pushed through. I was getting very wet. The actual trail was always visible if we sighted along the snow on one knee and used lots of imagination. The side of Mt. Guyot finally loomed ahead of us.

We hoped to find the trail broken around Mt. Guyot since two other groups were scheduled to backpack in. We never saw a track. In fact, we could not see anything due to the fog. The summit of Mt. Guyot is rounded and we had to use compass bearings to finally get to the rounded bump heading toward the Bonds. It was windy on top and I was soaked in my 60/40 jacket, wool longjohns and wool pants. I was starting to shiver violently.

We hurried over to the sheltered area where the cut off to Guyot shelter was located. Hypothermia was a very real concern so I stripped off all of my wet clothes and put on my extra set of dry long johns and dry wool shirt. That sure felt good! I drank half a bottle of water. Several chocolate bars and several handfuls of gorp later, I felt like my old self. Boy, were we having fun or what! Break time was over and we still had over ten miles to go to get to the car.

I was the only person that needed West Bond in the winter so John and Ed started breaking trail toward the summit of Bond while Richard and I went for West Bond. It sure was nice to not have that frame pack on. I felt that West Bond was great because of the sense of isolation and remoteness in winter. It was an adventure.

Time was again becoming a factor as we rejoined John and Ed on top of Bond. We wanted to be off the top of Bondcliff before dark. As in many previous trips, the sun finally peaked out from under the clouds just before sunset. That was a beautiful sunset. I distinctly remember that we were on top of Bondcliff at exactly 6:30pm in the pitch black, and we couldn’t find any evidence of a trail off the summit. It had been over fourteen hours since we had started.

We bushwhacked off the summit with the light from our headlamps probing into the absolute darkness ahead of us. We looked like four fire flies in the darkness. The belt on my frame pack broke as I pushed through the snow laden trees. The switchback that we finally hit was a grand sight and seemed as wide as a highway. We agreed to stay on the trail, but I think it would have been much shorter to compass out. The three and a half miles down to the Wilderness Trail seemed endless. We were beat! I did begin to feel better as the night progressed and my 60/40 parka began to dry out. At 11pm we finally came to the Wilderness Trail. It sure felt strange to take off our big snowshoes after so many hours and so many miles of breaking trail. The five miles left were flat and easy and it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other. During the entire trip, we never saw another person or any sigh of a broken trail. It was like those adventures to far off isolated places. Only it was right here in New Hampshire. We got to the car at 2am on Sunday, March 8, 1981. I’m sure that none of us have forgotten those twenty two hours. What a way to get from one side of the “Pemi” to the other and bag 5 peaks along the way. It certainly was a long winter’s day!

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