Backpacking the Bonds in November

Backpacking the Bonds in November

The Bonds are a group of three peaks – Bondcliff, Mt Bond, and West Bond – 11 miles from the nearest road in the middle of the White Mountains Pemigewasset Wilderness. They are spectacular mountains to climb with breathtaking views. With daylight in short supply, I decided to backpack out to the Bonds on a 1-night trip instead of trying to do an out and back in a single day which I have done in summer when the days are much longer.

We have been having an unusually warm and dry November and I’ve been taking advantage of it by climbing some of the tougher peaks that I have remaining on the Grid spreadsheet. The Grid is the uber peak list of the White Mountains and requires hiking all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers in each calendar month of the year for a total of 576 summits (most people take 4 years or more to finish the list). This trip counted as my 9th month out to the Bonds, which are usually hiked as a group. I still need to hike them in December, February, and April, which will be much more challenging due to winter weather and trail conditions.

Bondcliff Mountain, also called The Cliffs of Bond
Bondcliff Mountain, also called The Cliffs of Bond

All three of the Bonds have above-treeline exposure so it’s important to pick safe weather (not too cold, not too windy, no lightning) to hike them. For this trip, I was expecting temperatures in the 40’s with wind speeds up to 30 mph on the hike in, nighttime temps in the high 20’s with 40 mph winds (at elevation), and temperatures in the high 50’s when hiking out with 30 mph winds.

The scarred face of West Bond Mountain (left)
The scarred face of West Bond Mountain (left)

Given the wind forecast, I decided to sleep at the Guyot Campsite, which is about 400′ below the summit of Mt Bond (4600′) and well protected from the prevailing northwestern winds. It has wooden platforms, so I brought a semi-freestanding tent which is easier to set up on them than a trekking pole tent. I also made a point to bring a warm hat and gloves, a warm sleeping bag, high R-value sleeping pad, and an isobutane stove with me in addition to my regular 3-season gear. I haven’t used some of this gear in a while (see below), so it was fun to rediscover why I bought it in the first place! It really is superb.

For this trip, I did an out-and-back from Lincoln Woods, just outside of Lincoln, NH. The first part of this hike is a 6-mile walk along the Lincoln Woods Trail to the point where the Bondcliff Trail begins to climb to the Bonds. It goes fast, like well under 2 hours, but I’ve hiked this one segment so many times that I kind of dread it now. If there is a hell, it would be having to hike this trail over and over for the rest of eternity! I know many White Mountain hikers who would agree.

The Lincoln Woods Trail follows an old logging railroad grade.
The Lincoln Woods Trail follows an old logging railroad grade.

The next 4.6 miles climb to Bondcliff (4265′) gaining 2750′ of elevation. Parts of it are steep, but on the whole, it’s a pleasant grade, although the trail is quite rocky. I was feeling pretty strong though on the way up and made it to the summit of Bondcliff in 2.5 hours, stopping only at 3100′ (last water) to filter some water.

The Bondcliff Trail climbs the exposed west face of Mt Bond
The Bondcliff Trail climbs the exposed west face of Mt Bond

The most challenging section of the trail was up next, running from the Bondcliff summit to the summit of Mt Bond. While it’s only 0.8 miles and 750′ of elevation gain, the trail is completely exposed to the weather and full of large boulders, requiring careful footwork to ascend. I’ve fallen backward among the rocks on this ascent in the past and remained miraculously uninjured, but it has my utmost respect as a result. Many of my friends feel the same way.

Once on the summit of Mt Bond, it’s a pretty easy descent to the West Bond Spur and a short hike out to that summit. Once at the top, I dropped my gear and sat facing Bondcliff which has an aesthetically pleasing curved profile that I never get tired of viewing. I don’t believe in a higher power, but if there is one, they surely had a hand in forming Bondcliff.

Bondcliff from West Bond
Bondcliff from West Bond

I backtracked from West Bond and hiked down to the Guyot Campsite, which has a series of wooden platforms perched on the east side of Mt Bond. The place is completely overrun in summer when it’s packed to the gills with campers, but there were only three of us that night. I grabbed one of the platforms with an open view of the sky hoping to watch the stars at night. While it was very clear that night, the moon was also very bright, obscuring the milky way above. Guess I’ll have to go back out there again sometime (twisting my arm).

The Guyot Campsite on Mt Bond
The Guyot Campsite on Mt Bond

I got all set up by 3:30, cooked a simple dinner, and was in my sleeping bag by 4:30. It was pretty cold out (the forecast was for 29), so I turned all my bottles (wide mouth) upside down so the lids wouldn’t freeze and slept with my water filter in my sleeping bag to prevent it from freezing. I’d brought a sleeping bag that I haven’t used much in recent years, a Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20, and slid into it to stay warm. I’ve owned this bag since 2006 and it is still in perfect condition, although the top fabric is a bit faded. By 5:00 pm, I was gone and fast asleep until 7:00 am the next morning. God, I love sleeping outside!

The next day I only had about 750′ of elevation gain from reclimbing to the summits of Mt Bond and Bondcliff on the way back to Lincoln Woods. There was some wind when I was walking in the open on Mt Bond and the wind was pushy although only when it gusted. Once I dipped below treeline again at the south end of Bondcliff, I followed the trail all the way back to Lincoln Woods, retracing my steps from the previous day.

This was a great trip and I fear the last time I’ll get to use 3-season gear on an overnight this year. Winter is right around the bend.

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