Me Standing on Bondcliff, #44 Thanks Tim L for taking this shot for me!
Zealand Mountain 4260' / Mount Guyot 4580' / West Bond 4540' / Mount Bond 4698' / Bondcliff 4265'
Zealand Road / Zealand Trail / Twinway / Bondcliff Trail / Wilderness Trail
22.4 Miles 4350' Elevation gain
Earl, Sue, Brian, Larry, Dave, Ken, Karen, John, Tim, Marty, Jason and Kevin
I have to be completely honest here. This hike became a monster to me. I have been completely intimidated by it for a couple of winters now. Except for this hike, and the Northern Presidentials, I have been within the goal of finishing the winter 48 for a couple of years. Getting my winters done has not come easy for me. Repeated failures at the hands of deep snow, unconsolidated snow, icy snow, equipment failures, bitter cold coupled with episodes of loss in my family life had begun to sap my will to finish. Along with the growing monster was another, more sinister spectre, the knowledge of what failure could bring. These phantoms have intimidated me for several years now. Part of what has fed my growing fear was the thought of not only bringing myself to face these fears, but of putting Judy and Emma in these situations as well. I was not sure that putting two of the things I love most in the world in harm's way was the right thing to do.
Pre-dawn light on Zealand Road
While I wrestled with these fears, time didn't wait for me to confront them. An experienced dog became an old dog. A dog that at nine or ten winters probably could have made this hike, was now twelve. How could I ask her to make this journey with me now? Could she still do it? My head said she probably could, but what would be the cost? Would this be pushing her further than she should be pushed? My heart said it probably was, but my head still said, "This one last time." I now was using this as my excuse for not getting this done. In the week leading up to this hike I dragged Judy into my world of angst over making this one last big push in Emma's hiking career. In the end our hearts won out over our heads, and Judy stepped down from a hike she didn't feel comfortable about doing herself. The thought of putting her old dog and most loved friend through this grueling test was just too much. Emma didn't care. She wasn't getting a patch anyway.
Crossing the Zealand River
So now the mental struggle with myself became simple. I just had to push myself to go and do this. That in itself is often difficult for me. We got a room in Lincoln for the night before and night after the hike. Judy and Emma would be my support team. The big test now would be my usual struggle to sleep in a strange place, then force myself out of bed at an ungodly hour to meet in the cold hours before dawn for a hike that would start in the dark and no doubt end in the dark. I was still doubting my ability to do this, but I was now committed to trying. We drove through Franconia Notch and windblown snow towards our meeting place at Zealand Road. As we drove past Boise Rock I thought of Thomas Boise whose horse had frozen to death in the notch. He skinned the horse and crawled inside the skin to barely survive himself. The spectre of fear tapped me on the shoulder again, "Are you sure you want to head out in the cold and snow to where you'll be ten miles from anywhere?"
We arrived in the parking lot where headlamps pierced the darkness and belied the folks who were gathering their equipment and getting ready to face this madness with me. Emma jumped out to greet them, but soon jumped back into the car. Thank you! That was easier than I expected! I grabbed my gear and tried to shake off the cobwebs of a restless night. Soon we were gathered and ready, and we started off on the three and a half mile road-walk that made this long hike all the more difficult. Thankfully the road is more or less level, gaining little elevation as it leads to the summer trailhead of the Zealand Trail. The walk went quickly and I began to realize I was not alone in this. I walked with Brian for a good part of the road and learned he was having some very difficult problems of his own, having very recently lost his home and possessions to a fire. My problems seemed to fade a bit as the darkness began to give way to the light of a new day. Snow drifted down and coated the trees, and the wind blew it about in swirls and vortexes.
We regrouped at the summer trailhead. Folks put away their headlamps, changed layers and adjusted packs. The feeling of the day was changing as it became light out and the spectres of the night were chased away with the blowing snow. We headed out on the Zealand Trail through woods dusted with a new snow. It seemed like no time at all to reach Zealand Hut. Indeed, we had made the first six and a half miles of our journey in two hours and twenty minutes, which seemed like good time for a group this size and of varying abilities! There was little in the way of views down towards Carrigain Notch with it being obscured by clouds and blowing snow. We refueled, re-layered and put on our snowshoes at the hut. The snowshoes would stay on for the rest of the hike.
Heading Out Towards Zealand Mountain
We soon set off again, now along the Twinway which early on crosses Whitewall Brook, then begins the steep climb to Zeacliff. The difficulty of the climb was tempered by the beautiful surroundings of birch tree and spruce dusted with the finest of powdered snow Mother Nature could offer. We soon found ourselves at the spur trail for Zeacliff where we regrouped again. There were still no views to be had, but there were some songs to be sung and jokes to be told. It was apparent that each in the group was pulling for the others to make it through the difficulties this hike would offer, and I began to settle into the thought that this was not so bad as I had anticipated. Now that we were on the Zealand Ridge our surroundings changed. The fir trees were wrapped in a thick coating of snow and rime and looked more like they had been molded with porcelain than that they were actual trees. The ridge would rise and fall as we crossed, each time we rose we would pass through the porcelain conifers, and each time we fell we would sink into a thick forest of deciduous trees whose snowy attire made them appear to be made of thick white pipe cleaners.