CONTRIBUTION BY NATE WEEKS
At long last, Andrew finally came from from the PCT last Friday. When I talked to him earlier in the week, we both figured out that we wanted to have a big day over the weekend, so we figured we’d tackle the Super-Extended Pemi Loop. This loop is the standard Extended Pemi, plus Zealand, Hale, and North Twin. We weren’t quite sure of the mileage or elevation gain, but we knew it would be 40+ with well over 12,000′, so we decided to do it with a goal of 16 hours.
We started out super early at 3:40 am. Surprisingly, we didn’t run into anyone else starting up around that time. We never ran, but we walked 12-14 minute miles all the way to Bondcliff trail, where we slowed to ~17 min/mi for the remaining four. I’m sure we woke up everyone who was camped out on the side of the Bondcliff trail on our way up, but that’s what they get for setting up their tents 5′ from the trail in a designated Wilderness Area. Our goal was to make it to the summit for sunrise at about 6:10, and boy did we make it. We got to the summit with about two minutes to spare, just enough to change shirts and throw on jackets. We hung out for a while, watching the sun rise above the eastern Whites as a giant, red ball staring at us through the haze from Hermine.
Bond and West Bond were as awesome as ever and very quiet considering the fact that it was the middle of Labor Day weekend. Guyot was a mob scene, but we got through there quickly and never saw that madness again.
Our trip across the ridge to Zealand and down to the hut was super nice and very enjoyable. We barely saw anyone (it was 8 am) and the morning was gorgeous. Andrew entertained me with stories from his PCT thru hike as we bounced over rocks and across all of the bog bridges. At 9:00 am we made it to Zealand Falls Hut, where we refilled waters and I inhaled three pieces of Lemon Tea Cranberry cake bread, or whatever that stuff was. Whatever it was, it was delicious.
Lend-A-Hand wasn’t as bad as it has been for us in the past, but it’s still a pain in the ass trail to ascend. You’re never there when you think you are, and when you are, it’s Hale. After a few minutes on top, we dropped down the FW trail and made it down to the North Twin trail in quick time. It felt really good to open up our stride down this 2.4 mi section..man, is that trail a cruiser. At this point, we were at 21.6 miles and 6,600′ climbing at 10:30 AM, so while we were about halfway done with walking, we still had a lot of climbing left to do. Climbing North Twin would take care of a lot of that climbing.
We climbed up North Twin much faster than either of us though we could at that point in the day (and probably faster than we should have). Was it our excitement to get back to the normal part of the Pemi? The prospect of views that we hadn’t had since about 7:30? Who knows; either way, we made it up in well under an hour. We were met by a gaggle of people at the first outlook, so we decided to skip it and go straight to the summit. We took a few minutes at the summit outlook and found Michael Blair and Monica there, both enjoying a beautiful day on the Twins. The view was pretty great, and even though it showed us exactly how much of this trip we had left, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Getting over to South Twin was nothing crazy, and we made it up just past noon. We didn’t hang long because, again, there was a big crowd, so down we went on the precipitous final (or first?) 0.8 mile of the Twinway down to Galehead Hut.
Galehead was Galehead, the Hut was the Hut, and the behemoth Cinnamon Raisin cookie that I had was fantastic. This was when we started doing the math; it was 1:00 pm and we had hiked 28 miles in just under 9.5 hours. We figured that if we made it to Garfield by 2:15 and Lafayette by 4:00, we could cruise down the ridge in (at most) four hours and make our goal of 16 hours. With that discussion, we made our way across Garfield Ridge trail.
As aggravating as Garfield Ridge is, I usually like it; this time was no different. It was actually fairly crowded, but really dry and and scenic. Our legs felt each little “bump” in the ridge more than the last, and by the time we had to climb the waterfall up the cone of Garfield, we were both really beginning to feel it. I managed to crush 2 L of water between the hut and the spring at Garfield tent site, so we both took advantage of our last opportunity for water until Lincoln Woods. Brent Ervin, a friend who is the caretaker of the tent site at the moment, came out to say “‘Sup?” We chatted for a few minutes about the crowds. Hey, Brent, I can confirm that the 0.2 from the tentsite to the junction is EXACTLY 0.2, no more, no less. I digress. Garfield was great, one of my favorites. A couple of dudes asked us what we were doing, so we told them. Their response was the same as everyone else who asked; “Holy shit! You guys are nuts.” Yeah..kinda. Next up was the final 3.5 miles of Garfield Ridge trail and the climb we had been dreading all day–Lafayette.
The second half of the ridge finally started to slow us down. I took the only spill of the day on the way down Garfield right in front of two other guys (obviously), but managed to catch myself before I smashed my face on any rocks. Up and down we went, endlessly and painfully. I had forgotten about the huge lump in the middle of the col between Garfield and Lafayette, but I was cursing it the whole time we climbed it. As soon as we broke treeline Andrew stopped for a short break. “Two minutes,” he said, then “No, one minute. No, fuck you, no break. Get up and go.” I laughed at how he argued with himself and then got right up and started climbing the slabs. This climb was every bit as shitty as we expected. Sweat dripped everywhere, chafing was getting strong on all kinds of body parts, and our legs were starting to feel like bags of potatoes. Not only is this climb huge, but there’s also a whole bunch of false summits (three? four?) which is frustrating. Mercifully, at 3:58 pm, we summited Lafayette and took a short break.
On our way down from the summit we saw an AMC volunteer trail steward. He was an older gentleman who looked nice enough, but he decided to stop us. “What’s your plan for the rest of the afternoon?” he asked. We told him we were going to Lincoln Woods; at that, he paused and looked at his watch. “Well, it’s getting kind of late in the day. We have about 3.5 hours of daylight left and you don’t want to be stuck out here after dark. That’s about 11 miles from here, so you’d have to move pretty quickly to get back there before sunset.” Was this guy lecturing us? Yes, he was. Of all of the people on that summit carrying no packs, wearing inappropriate footwear, and definitely no headlamps, he decided to single us out. Why? I have no idea. Anyway, Andrew cut him short and said, “Hey, we’re at 34 miles for the day and I’m pretty sure we can get out of here before dark, so don’t worry about us–we got it.” At that he looked surprised, and I think it clicked in his head that we weren’t just out there screwing around without any idea of what to do. He chuckled, told us he was just trying to keep us safe, and wished us good luck. With that, we tore off down the ridge. Side note: when I say “tore,” I mean the best approximation of a run that we could make at that point of the day.
We made good time cross the ridge between Little Haystack and Liberty, took a couple of pictures, and then painfully threw ourselves down into the col between Liberty and Flume. My legs were on fire on the way down, and when we started climbing, both of us knew that we were toast. Thank God it was the final climb of the day, because I’m not sure how much more juice we had left. Once we finally reached Flume, we collapsed on the summit fore a few minutes and looked around at the nonsense that is a Pemi Loop. Not only did we climb all of the peaks we could see, but we also added on an extra 12 miles and 4,000′ of climbing, plus three peaks that we couldn’t even see. As much as the two of us wanted to just sit on Flume and be done, we both knew that we still had 5.5 miles left and that we’d only get back to the car (and water, beer, and food) by getting our asses off the rocks and walking. So that’s what we did.
We left the summit at 5:40, which left us 1:50 minutes until sunset and two hours to make our goal of 16:00 total time. After the first few tenths of a mile with tricky footing, we threw caution to the wind and opened up on the smooth Osseo. It almost felt alright to haul down, but I could tell that my legs were done and that most of the work was being done by gravity. The 4.1 to Lincoln Woods trail seemed liked it took forever. After we made it to the junction, we walked for about a quarter mile before Andrew said, “screw this,” and shot ahead at a ridiculous sprint. I tried to keep up, but I couldn’t do it. We did that for about a half mile before slowing down to a regular run, which still felt like a sprint at 7:00 min/mi, and powered through the pain until we got to the bridge. I’ve never tried that hard at the end of a hike in my life. It hurt a lot and I didn’t want to do it at all, but it made it so LW was over more quickly, so I did it anyway. Upon completion, Andrew hugged the sign and we bumped fists, hobbling our way across the parking lot with fist bumps and sighs. “That was stupid,” Andrew said, and I agreed. I don’t think we’ll be doing that one again.