Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pemi Loop Run - Clockwise

Lincoln Woods trailhead suspension bridge
I have wanted to do a Pemi Loop (detailed information here) ever since I heard about Ryan Welts setting the FKT (Fastest Known Time) in August of 2009. Around that time I was hiking in the White Mountains often trying to cross some 4000 footers off my list (I am still at about #30 out of 48) and  was inspired to begin trail running after reading about Ryan's and Larisa Dannis' pursuits in long endurance hikes and runs in the mountains on Views From the Top. Ever since then, I have been working my way up to longer distances and have always enjoyed running in the mountains the best.

This past spring has been good for training as I have been spending more time working on my climbing, so I figured it would be as good a time as any to get up there and try the classic Pemi Loop (information here) around the mountains of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

My day began around 4:30 am, starting my drive from Sebago Lake, Maine where my wife and kids were staying to the Lincoln Woods trailhead in New Hampshire. My training partner and friend Justin Contois was going to be meeting me there around 7am and I wanted to make sure I got there early to get ready. Justin pulled in around 6:45 and we were ready to begin the long trek we had planned for the day at 7am. The forecast was for humid air and temperatures around 80 in Lincoln, but the higher peaks were forecast to be in the clouds with 35-50 mph winds, gusting to 65, and a high of 60 degrees.

Elevation Profile
Map of GPS track

The day's run would total 31.5 miles and 9,160 feet of climbing and I was anxious to get underway because I had no idea how long it would take us. Our plan was to run it at a leisurely pace and since I had never been on 5 of the mountains, I wanted to take a lot of pictures and enjoy the views. We began our run out on the Lincoln Woods trail about 1.2 miles to the Osseo Trail which would start our 3000' climb to the top of Mt. Flume. The following peaks for the day would be: Liberty, Little Haystack (not an official 4000 footer), Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Bond, and Bondcliff. When we reached the top of Mt. Flume there is a small amount of exposure that let us know the winds were probably around 40mph or so, footing was a little tough with the wind was trying to push us over.

Osseo trail, the climbing begins

First View of Mt. Flume

One of the many wooden staircases on the Osseo trail

A little ways to go to Mt. Flume
View from Mt. Flume summit to Mt. Liberty

Summit rock on Mt. Liberty

In the clouds on the Franconia Ridge

Coming down Mt. Lafayette towards Garfield
As we started the descent from Mt. Lafayette, we encountered the stronger winds and misty rain. Footing on the wet slabs was a little difficult and I avoided falling a few times. At this point we were about 10 miles from the car in the short direction, so we were both trying to be extra cautious.
Garfield Ridge Trail, less than 6 miles to the Galehead Hut

Nice light on the Garfield Ridge Trail
Starting to feel some of the fatigue from this morning's climbing, Justin and I decided to take in some more substantial calories. We snacked on some Clif bars and homemade granola bars we brought, rather than just the gels we had been eating until this point in our adventure. We were both getting a little behind on our water consumption, but had to ration it until we arrived at the Galehead Hut (our water refilling spot). Despite my best intentions to keep my water from running out, I gulped the last sip of water about 3.5 miles from the hut. Luckily we came upon a trailside spring, so I decided to roll the dice and fill up my bladder without any filtering or treatment. A hiker was passing by and showed his disgust with my lack of concern for water filtering, but offered no assistance. Not that I was looking for help, but he seemed to lack the generous nature of most hikers or trail runners I've come across. Nevertheless, we pushed on to the hut.
One of the many rocky sections on the way to Galehead Hut

Foggy summit of Mt. Garfield

Heading down Garfield to Galehead Hut

View of South Twin from Galehead Hut

Galehead Hut, refueled and heading up South Twin

Looking down from the stout, rocky climb up South Twin

Climbing South Twin we ran into Miguel Gonzalez, Ray Priebe, and Nathan Sanford running down the mountain on their own 25 mile loop - up the Bonds from Lincoln Woods then back to 13 Falls and back. Miguel and Ray are from Sterling, MA and I went to high school with them, it was interesting to see them up in the Whites on the same day and trail. We chatted a bit and went our own way around the Pemi. I figured it might be a possibility we ran into them later on the way out.

Some of the runnable sections on the Twinway

Looking at West Bond's scars from Mt. Bond

Starting the run across the bonds

Looking towards Franconia Ridge in the clouds

Mt. Bond looking at Bondcliff, last climb of the day

Ridgeline of Bondcliff

Coming down the descent from Mt. Bond

We hit our last summit on Bondcliff and descended to the Wilderness Trail where we would have a long 5 mile semi-flat run out on the old railroad. Taking the descent fast we soon arrived at the base and ran slowly to the bridge. I was feeling sluggish and Justin kept pace with me on our run out. I think the days miles just finally let me know that I had enough. We broke it down into segments, 2 miles to Franconia Falls, then another 3 to finish. Once we arrived at the Osseo Trail junction, we spotted Ray and Miguel just finishing up their 25 mile loop through the Pemi and ran the last mile or so in with them.

Once we finished crossing the suspension bridge at 9 hours 30 minutes, we promptly returned to the cars for a gear drop and rehydration and ran into Larisa Dannis and Rob Lalus. We discussed the run and our next adventures and races. They were just finishing up an Owl's head run and we talked about the Vermont 100 race coming up in a few weeks. She is running it and Justin is signed up to pace someone there, the event is a lot of fun and I hope to run it someday - maybe next year.

Having enough of the heat of the parking lot, we made a beeline for the river to have a soak in the cool water. After the right amount of time spent cooling down, we headed over to the Woodstock Brewery for some food. We then made our way back to our homes for the night, Justin back to MA and me back to Maine. I had a great time out in the mountains and can't wait to run this loop again, although I have to figure out a way to take about three hours off the time.

For the past year or so, I have been running with Justin for a lot of my weekday runs and we have been on many long runs together. All the time spent together has helped me to improve my times, confidence for the longer runs and climbing ability. I am glad we were able to get out on this adventure together as he is moving to Virginia in early August. It was a fun time out on the trails and a great way to close out his permanent time up in Massachusetts. I wish him good luck down in Virginia and we are already starting to talk about some long trail runs next summer when he is back visiting.

The next challenge will be the Bear Brook Marathon, designed by Ryan Welts. Should be a good time, and I'm looking forward to running some new (to me) trails in the state park. This will be my first marathon distance race. Next. I am planning on running a Pemi Loop in August in the opposite direction and hope to take a few minutes off the time. I will either do the loop with Eric Ahern or will attempt a solo run.


  1. Nice write up man. Glad to share this experience with you.

  2. Thanks, we'll have to plan an annual run in the Whites. I had a great time!

  3. if you're planning a pemi run in august, make sure it's in the first half of the month. they are closing the lincoln woods trail:

    there a lots of folks in the area (myself included) who would be interested in heading up if you don't want to go solo...

    nice write up.

    1. Hi Eric,
      Thank you for the information, it's definitely in need of repair. I was planning on going August 24th, so I may do a double/single pressie traverse instead. Thanks for the invite too, I have to limit my time over there - I have two little kids that I hate leaving for too long.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. I see you have the Pemi Loop scheduled for this June. I am considering doing it on June 14 weather permitting. When are you considering doing it?

    1. I won't be around the weekend of the 14th, I am thinking the 21st or 28th maybe. Enjoy your run and I hope the weather is good!

  5. A friend and I will be doing the Pemi on the 28th so maybe we will see you there. this write up was helpful; thank you!

    1. Hi Tricia,
      Thank you for reading. I may be shifting my plans around and run a Pemi Loop on the 21st or July 4th weekend. Have fun on your adventure and I'm glad I could help with the trail description.