On Columbus Day weekend in 1998 my friend Brad Johnson and I headed out on what would prove to be one of the more miserable — and productive — backpacking trips of our lives. For three days we hiked in a light but steady rain through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The temperature hung in the mid-50s throughout the weekend.
On day one, we took the Zealand Trail to the Ethan Pond Trail, followed by a stream crossing so difficult we had to take off our packs and throw them to the other side before we could start hiking along the Thoreau Falls Trail.
We camped near the junction of the Wilderness and Bondcliff trails, telling ourselves that at least our day in the rain had consisted of level hiking. Surely the rain would stop before we started climbing the Bonds the next day.
No such luck. We reached the summits of Bondcliff, Mount Bond and West Bond in clouds and rain, slipping and sliding the whole way. We considered staying at the Guyot Campsite, but, as I recall, it was already full, and we were afraid that if we stopped there we’d have to do more hiking than we should the next day.
So we trudged on, hitting Zealand Mountain and heading for Zealand Falls Hut. We had planned to tent out near the hut. But at that point we were so wet and miserable that I declared my intention to keep right on going to the car if we couldn’t stay at the hut.
Following a steep descent, we arrived at the hut just as darkness was falling, only to be told by one member of the crew — or “croo” — that there were no openings. Another member, though, said that half the people with reservations hadn’t showed up, and let us in. Within moments, we’d changed into semi-dry clothing and were having supper put in front of us. Neither Brad nor I had stayed in an Appalachian Mountain Club hut before, and it was just what we needed following two days in the rain.
The next morning, I wrote an entry in the hut journal, which I actually found and took a photo of this past weekend (above). After breakfast, Brad and I headed out in the rain once again, taking the Lend-a-Hand Trail to the summit of Mount Hale before heading back to our car and home. We’d climbed five of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains that weekend, putting both of us well on the way to completing all 48.
On Friday we took the very easy hike to the hut along Zealand Trail. We stayed at the hut with the intention of taking a longer hike on Saturday, camping out and returning on Sunday. But we were both still woozy and decided against it. So on Saturday morning we headed to the summit of Mount Hale (photo at left).
While we were loitering at the top, a group of five students from Tufts University arrived. We learned that the Tufts Mountain Club had sent students to hike to the top of all 48 4,000-footers during the weekend. The five students we met had chosen one of the easier mountains, though one with a not-particularly-interesting view.
From there Tim and I descended along the Hale Brook Trail, stopping at the Miss Wakefield Diner on our way home.