Bluebird day in the Bonds
The lesser-known of two ridges.
What an awesome day. Beautiful trails, beautiful weather, views for miles and the trail (mostly) to ourselves.
At 20 miles, this out-and-back is a long hike for a casual day hiker. However, it’s pretty doable if you keep a steady pace since the first and last 2.8 miles on Zealand trail are very flat and easy. The rest, however, is more typical of the Whites.
The hike starts at the end of Zealand Rd, one mile past the trailhead for Hale Brook Trail. As mentioned, Zealand trail is super easy, but it’s not boring. At first you’re hiking through a beautiful forest with tall trees all around – reminiscent of Washington State – then it goes through what I call “Moose Country” over lovely ponds filled with beaver dams on super nice wooden bridges.
Zealand Trail and Ethan Pond Trail converge at 2.8 miles and the climb begins on Twinway (AT). There are some pretty waterfalls on short but steep climb up to the cozy Zealand Falls hut. The hut is a nice place for a break on a less ambitious schedule, with nice views of the forest that are especially gorgeous in the fall. But onwards we went.
The longest steep section of the day comes in mile 4 as you gain 1,100 feet in elevation en route to Zealand. Then the trail mellows out as you walk over ruck and planks through a sort of rocky marsh surrounded in pink azalea flowers. If you want to peak bag, take the short spur at 5.7 miles to the unimpressive Zealand summit.
From Zealand, there’s a short descent and then a steady ascent climbing boulder to boulder through the woods until the forest drifts behind and see the beautiful open green grassy Guyot off to the left. Just after the summit of Guyot, take Bondcliff Trail (left) as it descends back into the forest towards the Bonds.
The spur to West Bond comes surprisingly quick, but itself feels quite long as you lose preciously gained elevation, then rise again until you hit the scramble-y summit. We had the summit and amazing views of Bond, the cliffs, and the Pemi Wilderness all to ourselves, which felt luxurious, but I guess people just don’t think the extra mile (0.5 there, 0.5 back) is worth it. It is, but don’t tell too many people.
After a longer-than-usual summit chill, we headed back down and up again to Bondcliff. It was just a short easy hike from there to the summit of Bond. We didn’t stick around, with our eyes on the prize – a nice open ridge as viewed from West Bond to Bondcliff. There’s a steep and long descent through the forest over big boulders.
You emerge from the forest before too long into the open ridge to Bondcliff. Make sure to stop and look around, or else risk stumbling on the many loose rocks on the trail as the views distract from safety. This one’s a stunner, and worth the undulating journey to get here.
We took the requisite cliff photos, spent some time reflecting on the wilderness below and reminiscing about Pemi Loops past, but mostly we were just thankful we chose Franconia ridge’s lesser known sister and had this open ridge all to ourselves, while across the bowl would have undoubtedly been a different scene.
Then you just turn around and do it all in reverse. So much up to get down, especially climbing up Bond and Guyot once again. Eventually we were jammin’ down the trail, chatting and mostly running on autopilot, one boulder to the next. We made it back down to Zealand Trail in 3 hours, then took our time a bit more looking for moose in “Moose Country”. We didn’t see any, but we did see some beavers swimming around, which was pretty magical nonetheless.