Single-Day Winter Bonds Traverse
There are 46 peaks in the Adirondacks and 48 peaks in New Hampshire over 4,000 feet. Fun fact: four of the 46 in the Adirondacks are actually less than 4,000 feet (Blake, Cliff, Nye, and Couchsachraga), but tradition has kept these peaks on the list despite the survey results. Similarly, a recent survey determined that Mount Tecumseh in the White Mountains is also less than 4,000 feet, but it’s undecided if it will remain on the list. People who climb all 46 in the ‘Daks earn the title of 46er, and those who climb all 48 in the Whites earn a spot in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Four Thousand Footer Club.
In an effort to maintain my sanity while working a desk job, I’ve been peak bagging in the Adirondacks and White Mountains nearly every weekend. An added bonus is that I’m working on getting my hiking legs prior to starting a thru-hike. I’ve been gradually checking peaks off the list and am currently at 34/46 in the ‘Daks and 32/48 in the Whites. Every Friday once the clock hits 4:30, I leave work and joke that I’m making my weekly commute to the mountains.
My most recent (and craziest) peakbagging trip was the Bonds traverse in the White Mountains. The Bonds traverse is a 20-mile hike over Mount Zealand, West Bond, Mount Bond, and Bondcliff. In the winter, there is a bonus 3.5-mile road walk because Zealand Road is closed. While some people split this hike into two days, we wanted to attempt a single-day winter Bonds traverse. I hiked a few of the NH 48 with one of my hiking partners, Richard. Richard and his friend, Serge, planned on a single-day winter Bonds traverse for Richard’s NH 48 finish, and I decided I was up for the challenge.
I woke up at 4 a.m. last Saturday in order to get myself ready for the hike. I made the mistake of staying up way too late the night before working on an “I Love New Hampshire Puzzle,” but my nerves/excitement for the upcoming hike had me wide awake. I ran around the house frantically gathering my things, making a PBJ sandwich, and looking over the trail map. In hindsight, I should have had everything ready to go the night before, but I got distracted by the puzzle. Also, because I’ve spent so many weekends peakbagging, I’ve gotten really good at waking up at the last minute and getting my gear together.
The Bonds traverse can be done NOBO or SOBO. We decided on SOBO (Zealand to Bondcliff) in order to get the road walk and elevation gain over with at the beginning of the hike. I made the drive up from Plymouth to Zealand Campground, where I planned on meeting Richard and Serge. Since Zealand Road is closed in winter I parked at the end of the road just before the gate. Despite my Google research, this apparently is not the right place to park in winter because I ended up getting a parking ticket. If anyone knows the correct location, please let me know.
We started the road walk around 6 a.m. wearing our headlamps. While tedious, the road walk is relatively flat and was a nice warmup for the next 20 miles ahead of us. Once we reached the summer trailhead, it was an easy 2.3 miles to the Zealand Hut via the Zealand Trail. While hiking, I thought about how I stayed at the Zealand Hut with my parents when I was little. That day we had only hiked the 2.3 miles in to the hut, stayed overnight, and hiked out the next day. I laughed at how much longer and crazier the Bonds traverse was going to be.
The visibility was still good when we reached Zealand Hut, and it looked like the blue sky was trying to come through the clouds. We then followed the AT (aka Twinway trail) to the summit of Zeacliff. In classic AT fashion, this section of trail is really steep. On Zeacliff, visibility was still OK but a light snow began to fall.
After another 1.6 miles, we reached the spur trail where it’s a short 0.2 miles to the Zealand summit. It was just before 10 a.m., and we were just under 10 miles deep in the hike. I chuckled to myself because I was a little disappointed that I didn’t achieve my first ten before ten (ten miles before 10 a.m.). The snow was so deep that the sign for this spur trail was actually buried, and we missed the turn on our way back from Zealand. After retracing our steps we made an effort to dig out the sign to help out future hikers.
We continued on to Mount Guyot (not an official 4,000-footer), and this is where things really started getting crazy. The snow had turned into a wintry mix and was now pelting us in the face. I pulled on my raincoat to protect my puffy from getting wet and donned a balaclava and ski goggles for the first time this winter hiking season. I always bring them along just in case, but this was the first time I felt they were actually necessary.
We continued on to West Bond and passed a group of about ten hikers coming from the other direction. We got an eerie feeling as each passing hiker individually wished us “Good luck.” Yikes. We debated leaving our packs at the trail junction for the West Bond spur trail but decided to bring them given the sketchy weather conditions.
Back at the trail junction, we continued ahead to Bond. The once-previously broken trail was windblown with fresh snow and was now difficult to navigate. At this point we were undecided if we should continue on to Bondcliff as the 1.3 miles in between Bond and Bondcliff is above treeline and completely exposed to the elements. We were already halfway through the traverse and turning around would mean back-tracking 13 miles over Guyot and Zealand. Turning around at this point would have sucked. Richard and I had already been turned around on South Twin back in December and turning around would mean he would have to come back another day to finish his 48. Despite the suck factor, we all decided we would rather turn around than risk our safety on the exposed ridge. We decided to continue to the summit of Bond and pray to the weather gods that the visibility would improve.
Luckily, the sky cleared when we reached the summit of Bond, and we could see the trail to Bondcliff. We decided to go for it, took a shot of coffee from Serge’s thermos, and made our way to the summit for Richard’s 48 finish! After a quick celebratory photo shoot, we started the long eight-mile descent. While most people dread this part of the traverse, we were very happy to be below treeline. As we made the slog out to Lincoln Woods I daydreamed about celebratory pizza and beer from Schilling Beer Company.
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