Pemi Loop – White Mountains, NH
Our first attempt to do the pemi ended up turning into the “Semi-Pemi” as we ended up cutting through the Franconia Brook Trail due to attempting it with too many people who really didn’t want to finish. By day 3 you’re pretty exhausted and just want to be done so rather than making people continue on when they didn’t want to we bailed out.
Learning my lesson of going with a large group, I decided to try to solo hike the Pemi (just Java and I). This time attempting it in counter-clockwise as when checking the forecast I knew day 3 and 4 were forecasted for bad weather and I really wanted to hike the bonds as I never hiked them prior. Well, as forecasted, by day 3 it was pouring rain and was only getting worse so I made the decision not to be on Franconia Ridge when bad winds and possible lightning was in the forecast. So I basically hiked the “Semi-Pemi” twice but from opposite sides. So technically I felt like I did the entire pemi just not at one shot which is why I knew I needed a third attempt to prove to myself that I could hike the whole Pemi.
It was a success! As of 7/20/2016 this has been our longest backpacking trip with the pups! We approached the loop Clockwise so we started up the Lincoln woods trail to the Ossee Trail.
Day one we are always moving a bit slow due to pack weight, not being used to climbing 4k feet up and taking 1 million pictures. We reached the summit of Mt. Flume close to 2pm and greeted with some amazing views. We continued over to Mt. Liberty and luckily for our tired legs that was the last summit for Day 1 for us.We set up Tent at Liberty springs campsite around 7pm so just before sunset. It is a nice campsite that has water, bear boxes and an out-house.
Day 2 was pretty tough. If it weren’t for the absolutely amazing views on Franconia Ridge trail, distracting us from how much our bodies hurt we probably wouldn’t have made it to Garfield Ridge Campsite. Going up Franconia Ridge is a bit tough and very rocky ridgeline but being above treeline the entire time really did lend itself to some breathtaking views. I would say the hardest part of the whole trip for me was the descent down Lafayette and up Garfield. It felt like the longest 3 miles of my life.
Day 2 was also the hardest for the pups. A lot of pups cut up their paws and get some bad blisters on this section due to how rocky the Franconia Ridge trail is. Night 2 we made it to Garfield Ridge Campsite around 8pm and luckily were able to set up tent with the last bit of daylight the sun had to offer us. What a long day that was!
Now, onto day 3! Day 3 was pretty relaxing for us. We continued down Garfield Ridge trail until Galehead mountain. I will note the Galehead hut saved me enormously. By day 3 I was tired of eating the same cliff bars and trail mix every day and desperately wanted something more “cooked” in my body. Here comes Galehead hut with the best tasting soup I’ve ever put in my mouth. Now I don’t know if it was just the lack of real food and pushing my body so hard for the last 3 days but I literally spent every dollar I had getting snacks at Galehead Hut and it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER. God even the cookies (yes, I bought 3 cookies for dessert after I ate two bowls of soup) were fantastic.
Dogs aren’t allowed inside Galehead hut so I did have to eat everything outside with the pups but I didn’t mind one bit.
Okay, Back on the trail to SouthTwin! As we got to the summit of SouthTwin we heard some thunder and saw the dark clouds over Franconia Ridge side of the mountains. We had to pick up our pace a bit as I really didn’t want to get caught in the storm. So, we quickly captured my Guyot and at that point we knew time was of the essence. We probably did our fastest pace of the entire hike from Mt. Guyot to Guyot Campsite.
We arrived around 5pm (also, our earliest tent site arrival time) and the moment the tent was set up we heard the sky break and down came buckets of rain. We threw the pups and all our gear inside and just listened to the awesome sound of rain in the mountains. It did lightning and thunder for a bit but around 6pm it calmed down enough for us to cook some dinner and get our stuff ready for bed. All night it was on and off storms with some really intense wind but the pups didn’t even bark and the rumbles in the sky, they may have been too tired to care what the sky was up to.
Finally, our last day on the trail! Day 4 was A LOT of walking. We hit West Bond, Mt. Bond and Bondcliff all before 1pm. Crossing the bonds it was REALLY windy for us. I think the winds hit up to 60-80mph but it felt like 100mph with how hard it was to even move at times. After Mt. Bond toward Bondcliff the winds let up a bit and the clouds cleared for us to really get to enjoy the view. There were parts that were very rocky again and could see it being bothersome to pups who don’t have thick padding on their paws.
There is also one pretty steep section of the trail after Bondcliff that Java did not want to go down. It was a good 4ft jump and he doesn’t really like heights so I had to carry him down while trying to not fall myself. It was the only section of the entire hike I had to help him with the jump. The bonds really are amazing views. The trail is pretty amazing too and just a completely different feel to it than the Franconia Ridge side. I’m not sure which side I like better but they’re both worth a long visit! Once we got to the wilderness trail it felt like
The bonds really are amazing views. The trail is pretty amazing too and just a completely different feel to it than the Franconia Ridge side. I’m not sure which side I like better but they’re both worth a long visit! Once we got to the wilderness trail it felt like 100mile walk from there to the car! We knew we were “so close” to being done but the trail just didn’t want to end for us. Also, with how flat the last 5 miles are, you begin to feel how much your entire body hurt. Well, we finally finished around 5pm and immediately went out for burgers and beer! Even ordered an extra burger for the pups to enjoy!
I do recommend this hike to everyone but please be careful of your pup’s paws. Java’s paws were fine but we do A LOT of hiking and trail running. Please also remember to pack enough food and water for both of you!
Lastly, if you’re thinking of hiking the Pemi here is some useful information I found online about it:
What is the Pemi Loop?
The “Pemi Loop” is one of the ultimate challenges of the rugged White Mountains. This is a very difficult route which could be anywhere from 32 to 38 miles depending on which 4,000 footers you would like to bag. More importantly, it traverses through one of the greatest wildernesses in the Northeast; the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
The “Pemi Loop” is a loop-shaped hiking route along several trails in the Twin and Franconia Ranges of New Hampshire. These ranges are part of the White Mountains, and lie within the White Mountain National Forest. “Pemi” refers to “Pemigewasset”, a name shared by a nearby river and by the designated Wilderness Area in which the hike takes place (and also by a small mountain nearby which is not part of the loop). The loop runs over some of the highest and most scenic mountains in New Hampshire outside the Presidential Range.
Don’t bother looking for trail signs marked “Pemi Loop”; the loop consists of a concatenation of trails. From the Lincoln Woods trailhead, the basic loop takes the Lincoln Woods Trail to the Osseo Trail. Just below the top of Mt Flume the Franconia Ridge Trail begins. It passes north over Mt Flume, Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette. From the top of Mt Lafayette the Garfield Ridge Trail takes you east, over Mt Garfield, to the Galehead Hut. From there the Twinway climbs South Twin and then dips a bit southward to the summit of Mt Guyot, where you turn due south on the Bondcliff trail, passing over Bond and Bondcliff. At the south end of the Bondcliff Trail turn west on the Wilderness trail to rejoin the Lincoln Woods Trail.
There is no official definition of the “Pemi Loop”, and many who hike it like to include additional peaks nearby, in addition to the basic loop just described. The most obvious candidates for side trips are:
Galehead Mountain – via the Frost Trail from Galehead hut.
North Twin Mountain – via the North Twin Spur from South Twin.
West Bond – via the West Bond Spur from the col between Guyot and Bond.
How far is it / how long will it take?
The first question is easy to answer, though the answer, will of course, depend on whether any of the “side peaks” are included. The second question is far more difficult, as it depends on multiple factors including weather, trail conditions, how much gear you’re carrying, and your normal hiking pace. In the table below I’ve given “book times”, which are calculated as follows: half an hour per mile of distance, plus half an hour per 1000 feet of climbing.
Long before attempting the Pemi Loop, you should have a good idea of how far your own hiking pace differs from “book time” on White Mountain trails, and the effects of pack weight and weather, but do not forget that a thirty-mile hike is a very different thing from the typical short hike. Fatigue may slow you down much more than you expect.
As a practical matter, a hike of the Pemi Loop may also include some side trips to reach water sources and/or camping sites, which are not included in the distance totals.
Distances and elevation gains are only approximate and may not add up exactly. Trails can be re-routed from year to year, and maps have limited accuracy. In particular, total elevation gain may be off by a few hundred feet.
|distance||elevation||book time (hrs)|
|Basic Loop||31.5 mi (51 km)||9,160 ft (2,800 m)||20:15|
I think that the Backpacker Magazine article computes an “elevation change” of 18,000 feet by counting both ups and downs.
How do I get there?
The loop begins and ends at the Lincoln Woods trailhead on the Kancamagus Highway (NH rte 112), about five miles east from Interstate 93 in Lincoln, NH. There is ample parking available for $3 a day. If the parking lot is full you can park a quarter mile down for free or along the side of the road.
Where can I camp along the way?
The following campsites and huts are near the trail:
- Liberty Spring Tentsite
- Greenleaf Hut (not dog-friendly)
- Garfield Ridge Campsite & Shelter
- Galehead Hut (not dog-friendly)
- Guyot Campsite & Shelter
The Huts require reservations and a fee, not pet-friendly, and are only open seasonally.
The Campsites and Shelters are first-come-first-served. A fee is charged in the busy season ($10 per person per night, dogs are free).
You can also try to find your own back-country campsite. This is not easy, due to difficult terrain and the National Forest rules.
NOTE: the rules can and do change:
- You may not camp (except at designated campsites) within 1/4 mile of any hut, shelter, campsite, or trailhead.
- May not camp above treeline (defined as where the trees are under 8 feet tall), except when there is at least 2 feet of snow on the ground.
- You may not camp (except at designated campsites) within 200 feet of any trail within the Pemi Wilderness, nor the Liberty Spring Trail, Falling Waters Trail, nor Old Bridle Path. No camping within Franconia Notch State park.
- May not camp within 1/4 mile of the East Branch Pemigewasset River below Franconia Brook, nor within 200 feet of the East Branch Pemigewasset River up to Thoreau Falls Trail, nor within 200 feet of the lower part of Franconia Brook (below the second island above Franconia Falls).
- As a practical matter, considering treeline and terrain, this all means that you can only camp in the established campsites, or fairly low on the Osseo or Bondcliff trails (but at least 1/4 mile above the Pemi River). Seasoned bivouacers have sometimes found spots outside the various restricted areas, notably near the top of Mt Flume, along Garfield Ridge, and along the Twinway, but these will be small, uncomfortable, and generally waterless.
Should I be worried about bears?
No, not really. The biggest risk is that a bear may find your food while you sleep. So far that’s a very rare event, but WMNF rules require you to properly hang (at least ten feet up and five feet out from the nearest tree trunk) your food, or store it in an approved bear-proof container (available for rent in many places, including for free at the Androscoggin ranger station in Gorham). That’s a good idea anyway, because while the bears may not have learned that hikers = food, the mice certainly have.
Where can I find water along the way?
Going Clockwise, the trail stays near waterways until about 2500′ elevation on Mt Flume. After that, the trail stays on top of the ridges, though detours are possible if need be. All the tent sites have a water source the goes through the tent site. During long periods of no-rain, this is not a reliable source but every time I’ve hiked the area all three tent sites had enough water to fill up our bladders.
What time of year should I try this?
The loop has been hiked in all times of year, even as a one-day hike in winter. However, most hikers prefer to hike in good weather, with ample day length, and without snow on the ground: that means June through September. Beware of black fly season in late spring, and avoid the hottest summer days.
What happens if I get lost or injured?
You should plan on being on your own for at least several hours. If you stay on trails, chances are someone will find you sooner or later, but you’d best be prepared for the weather in the meantime. In winter, “later” can mean weeks. Do not count on your cell phone – it probably won’t work in most of the area of the Loop.
If you’ve told somebody where you’ll be and you don’t return, they can call the WMNF rangers, or simply call local police, who will figure out who is in charge of mounting a rescue. A number of organizations share rescue responsibilities in the WMNF; in the Pemigewasset the agencies involved are likely to include U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Mountain Club, Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue and Upper Valley Wilderness Response. These are skilled and dedicated people, many of them volunteers, but they have to a) find you b) carry you out on a litter. The carrying alone will usually take at least two dozen people and several hours. If the weather is dangerous rescuers will usually wait for better weather before beginning a search.
New Hampshire law allows the state to bill you for emergency expenses if you “acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue.” Heading into the woods with no preparation is exactly the sort of situation this law has in mind.
In short, self-rescue is the name of the game. You should be familiar not only with the trails you plan to hike along, but also with trails and roads you might need to travel in order to reach help. For example, you should know that the Flume Slide trail is steep and difficult, and therefore a terrible choice in winter or when injured, and that Haystack Road is closed all winter and spring.