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Pemi Loop Advice

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Pemi Loop Advice

Postby mmcguigan » Tue Jan 18, 2011 11:23 pm

I'm planning on trying to do the basic Pemi loop in February. The plan is to hike about 14 hrs a day and finish in two days. I know a lot depends on mother nature but has anyone out there done a two day winter Pemi and is willing to pass on a little advice/wisdom?
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby AlexeyD » Wed Jan 19, 2011 2:47 am

Haven't done it in winter (only as a day hike in early fall), but I'm familiar enough with the area to venture a few guesses. Of course as you say everything depends on Mother Nature, but all else being equal, I would expect the following sections to be at least somewhat likely to be broken in: Wilderness Trail (at least to Bondcliff junction, possibly all the way to Bondcliff), and the Franconia Ridge, esp. between Little Haystack and Lafayette. For the rest of it, you can probably expect to be breaking trail for most if not the whole way, especially the stretch between Lafayette and Bond (which is about half the entire loop). I would be most concerned with the section between N. Lafayette and Garfield (aka the Garfield Ridge) - this section is tough and slow-going even in the summer, I can only imagine what it's like in February. If you can make it that far on the first day (assuming you're going clockwise, that is, the Franconias first, the Twins later), I believe there is a former campsite in the col below the summit cone of Garfield; even if you can't find it you can probably find decent camping spots in that area. Again to emphasize, however - it will be a LONG day to get there, and I don't remember there being too many good spots before then, although you could probably scratch something out if need be. If you travel in the other direction, the terrain is somewhat easier (Bondcliff Trail is very low angle for most of the way, until just below the summit) and hence you'll want to use this opportunity to crank out as much mileage as you possibly can on the first day, since the second will be a tough one (due to the aforementioned difficulties with the Garfield ridge). Camping at the Guyot tentsites might seem tempting and logical, but doing that leaves you with a hell of a lot of mileage to cover on your second day, much of it very tough, so I'd try to make it to somewhere below South Twin if you can (the ridge there is tree-covered and fairly level, so you'll likely be able to find decent sheltered spots). Bottom line, a winter Pemi loop in 2 days is a tough proposition any direction you go, IMO. Sounds awesome, however - in fact after all this talk, I might want to have a go at it myself...

Good luck!
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby Sam Page » Wed Jan 19, 2011 4:06 am

I'm looking forward to this trip report!
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby nartreb » Wed Jan 19, 2011 4:38 am

Quick thoughts, I haven't done a winter loop but I've done the summer loop and hit most of the peaks in winter.
1) Two days is a very challenging way to do it. Weight of camping gear and a hard pace / very long hours each day.
2) Will you be solo? Trailbreaking will be key. I hope you're in shape!
3) Much of the loop does get a little traffic; people day-hike to Galehead and combine it with South Twin, for example, or go to Guyot from the Zealand hut, or make a very long hike to Bond from Lincoln Woods. The western Garfield ridge is definitely the least likely to be broken out. The snow smooths out some of the rocky trail but there are lots of Pointless Up and Downs on that ridge which will be a royal pain in deep snow. Also it's surprisingly easy to lose the trail there, get ready for the joys of bushwhacking through firs. Can you say spruce trap?
4) 14 hour days is a lot. That's a lot of hiking in the dark. I actually think you're being a little too conservative; if you can do a winter presi traverse in 14.5 hours, the pemi loop should not take twice as long even with more gear and sections of trailbreaking.
5) Plan your camping options around availability of water. Otherwise you'll spend extra time (and carry extra fuel for) melting snow.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby AlexeyD » Wed Jan 19, 2011 5:05 am

Natreb, I must respectfully disagree with you regarding point #5: while finding liquid water in February along the Pemi ridge sounds like a nice idea, I would not bet on it, and to be honest, the amount of extra fuel you'd need for melting snow on a 2-day excursion is pretty insignificant compared to the total amount of weight you're carrying. I also tend to agree with the OP's time estimate. The Presidential Traverse might have a lot of elevation gain, but most of it is either on well-traveled trails or above treeline where the snow tends to be hard-packed; if there's a lot of untracked snow there chances are you will not be doing it in the first place. I would actually expect the winter Pemi Loop to be slower going overall, except for the easy sections on the Wilderness/Bondcliff Trail and the Franconia Ridge. Anyway, if the Pemi loop is 32 miles total, 14 hours/day is slightly more than 1 mph average per day, which to me seems like a reasonable estimate in mid-winter conditions with a pack. Of course if conditions are unexpectedly good it can go considerably faster than that; you just never know. I'd keep checking Views from the Top and other condition report sites for the latest conditions on the relevant trails.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby nartreb » Wed Jan 19, 2011 5:16 am

Yeah, I'll have to mostly concede point #5; I've always carried the fuel anyway just in case I couldn't reach my planned spot or there was some very unusual deep freeze conditions. But I like to aim for a spot with a good flowing stream, just to avoid sitting around waiting for snow to melt.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby mmcguigan » Wed Jan 19, 2011 12:51 pm

Thanks everyone for the great feedback and for the heads up on Garfield Ridge. I think I will also carry a little extra fuel - just in case. To answer your question, there will be four of us so we can switch off on trail-breaking. Another question, snowshoes or no snowshoes. I'm not very adept at using them. Most of my climbing is on hardpack, glacial stuff down in South America. When we did the Presi, we postholed the whole trip and, to be honest, there were a couple of spots that just about killed me!
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby hikerbrian » Wed Jan 19, 2011 1:09 pm

I'll just further re-emphasize the difficulty of the Garfield Ridge trail. The Pointless Ups and Downs will likely combine with drifed snow to make this section pretty slow going. Also, we had to bust out the map and compas at Garfield Pond and bushwack through thick brush for 100 or so yards before we found the trail heading TOWARDS Lafayette (might be easier to keep the trail in the reverse direction, not sure). My journal for this section says only, "Spruces were mean." So just be ready for this section so you're not surprised. Take pictures and write a trip report!!! I'm jealous.

edit: I strongly recommend you bring the snowshoes. Really strongly.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby AlexeyD » Wed Jan 19, 2011 2:10 pm

mmcguigan wrote: Another question, snowshoes or no snowshoes.
I second Hiker Brian's position on this one: definitely snowshoes. The Pemi loop in Feb. will most likely be nothing at all like Andean hardpack (this coming from personal experience with the latter). I feel your pain on them sometimes being a pain to use, but I think you'll be glad you had them on this one.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby nartreb » Wed Jan 19, 2011 2:45 pm

Snowshoes, definitely. I'd expect to use them from Liberty to Haystack, from Lafayette all the way to Galehead, and from South Twin to Guyot. Could be more (e.g. Bondcliff trail), could be less, depending on weather and how many others have been on the trails.

If the snow's deep (and by end of Feb it's not unknown for the blazes, which are at eye level in summer, to be buried), the below-treeline sections will have you forcing your way through tree limbs that are high above the trail in summer. Probably not like the Andes at all :)
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby bdynkin » Wed Jan 19, 2011 3:34 pm

Here are my 2c...

Camping spots: you can actually camp in any protected flat spot in winter beacuse it's unlikely that you will find any flowing water in Fewbruary unless there is a thaw. Just melt snow - that what one always does in winter, right?

Snowshoes: most likely needed. BUT! This is new England. If we had a hard thaw followed by hard freeze in February - maybe you can avoid snowshoes. But remember: most of the traverse is below treeline hence deep snow.

Distance/elevation gain: if you go past Garfield on the 1st day you'l cover ~2/3 of the elevation gain and ~1/2 of the distance. After Galehead hut it's just South Twin (Bond is not a big climb) and after Gyuot campsite there is almost no elevation gain left and not so much distance - just go over Bond and you are "almost" done. I think AlexeyD forgot where Gyuot campsite is located. When you come down from Bond cliff to Wilderness trail it's about 5 flat miles to car.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby mmcguigan » Wed Jan 19, 2011 5:04 pm

Thank you all for the great information and advice!!!!! It REALLY helps in the planning and will definately increase our odds in completing the loop. I'll make sure to let you know how it all turns out - after I heal!!!!
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby AlexeyD » Wed Jan 19, 2011 7:08 pm

bdynkin wrote: if you go past Garfield on the 1st day you'l cover ~2/3 of the elevation gain and ~1/2 of the distance.


All the way to Galehead Hut on the first day? I'd think that would be pretty tough. Garfield Pond is probably a more realistic destination, and even that's not a walk in the park by any means. Remember how slow the Garfield Ridge section was even in the summer?

Edited: here is another thought: you can also try to get there as early as possible Friday night and hike to Bondcliff junction by headlamp, and camp there (or even a little ways up the Bondcliff trail - there are nice camping spots along the stream there). It's a quick and easy way to shave off about 5 miles, plus you may actually be able to find running water in the stream. Of course this means you'll have to do it counterclockwise, which means leaving the Garfield Ridge for the last day, but if you camp at Garfield Pond or beyond, that's essentially the only hard part that day - once on the summit of Lafayette it is mostly downhill with only minor ascents of the other Franconia summits, on a trail that's likely to be broken at least part of the way.
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby mmcguigan » Thu Feb 10, 2011 1:48 am

Anybody been on any part of the pemi loop recently with any insight on current conditions to share? Our current plan is to begin about 9:00 pm friday and finish, maybe, sometime late saturday afternoon. We're goin pretty lite and counter clockwise so any info would be totally appreciated. Thanks for all the great info so far!
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Re: Pemi Loop Advice

Postby nartreb » Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:04 pm

Collected recent reports

Look for two reports covering most of Garfield Ridge, and one report of a Bonds traverse, all about ten days old.
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