I hit the trail shortly after sunrise. The weather was perfect. My legs felt fresh. There even seemed to be fewer railroad ties on the Wilderness Trail than I remembered. I broke tree line just below the summit of Bondcliff ahead of schedule and brimming with confidence.
Then came the most monumental of my mistakes for the day. I took a look at my watch on the summit of Bond and mentally noted the mileage at which I'd have to make a left to travel the half-mile spur trail up West Bond. The descent down Bond was a blast -- a combination of steep and technical lying right at the edge of my trail running ability. I stole glances at my watch as I approached the mileage for my turn, and sure enough, right to the hundredth of a mile, there was my juncture. I veered left and kept cruising. It had been maybe twenty years since I last summited West Bond, but I quickly suspected that something was not right. For starters, I wasn't going west. Then the trail didn't end at a half-mile. So I kept running a little further. Up ahead, I saw another sign. As I approached it, I realized with dismay that I was at the intersection of Bondcliff Trail and Twinway -- I had somehow missed my turn. Studying the map, I understood what had happened: the juncture where I had gone left was the juncture where the trail to Guyot Campsite split off to the right, a juncture just 0.2 miles beyond the turn for West Bond. After a couple minutes of deliberation and self-reproach, I turned around and ran back towards West Bond. My day was going to be 1.6 miles longer.
Two friends of mine hiked up to Zeacliff to meet me with food and Gatorade. I ended up swinging by Zealand Hut anyway because there was a bit of a, er... hitch... with the Gatorade handoff -- so my Gatorade became water.
The push up North Twin was the hardest part of the day. My feet were starting to hurt. My legs were getting tired. Food wasn't going down. I was out of water. And I was still only halfway through. I kept looking down at my watch, estimating where I'd be had it not been for my navigational mistake. As I crawled down the steep descent off of South Twin, the pity party was in full swing.
I'm really not sure what I would have done had the huts not opened up that very same day. A couple minutes at Galehead Hut guzzling water and chatting with the caretaker got me hydrated and refocused before the long slog around the northern section of the Pemi Loop. In previous Pemi Loop hikes, this section between Lafayette and Galehead Hut has always been my least favorite. It's all tucked below tree line. The miles creep by. My knees hurt just thinking about how rocky and steep the trail is. But I found myself rather enjoying it this time. I was out in the mountains, and that seemed like more than enough.
The same two friends who met me at Zeacliff again met me at the top of Lafayette with water and gels, which seemed to be the only fuel working with my stomach. Franconia Ridge was a delight, as always, and seemed to take no time at all despite the mileage on my legs. One of the nice surprises of the day was the bottom two-thirds of Osseo Trail. Having only ever hiked the Pemi Loop clockwise, I underestimated how much the trail lends itself to smooth downhill running. As I finished the final 1.4 miles of the Wilderness Trail, my watch showed 44.38 miles. Strava live tracking showed around 47. I suspect with the West Bond mishap, the total mileage was around 46. Sitting in the parking lot waiting for my friends to meet me once again, the prevailing emotion I felt was gratitude -- for the spectacular setting of the past twelve hours and for all the people who helped make the adventure possible.
Spencer, Awesome achievement! Glad I wasn’t the only one to make a navigational error on this loop but also glad that it didn’t get you down and you pressed on!