Last week’s goal was to put in a big back-to-back effort. It was set up to be a Pemi loop and Sandwhich Range traverse but work took precedent on Friday and settled for a quick run up Chocorua. The Pemi Loop didn’t disappoint though and while being my slowest one to date, it is worth a short write up on the experience.
The legs were still fatigued from a couple 20 mile runs the previous week. I did a Presi Traverse the previous Friday and a big loop around Chocorua on Sunday. This week I logged a couple 8 mile runs on dirt roads before heading out for a “casual” pemi loop, my sixth time running it. The goal wasn’t for speed, just to get in the time on feet. That could have meant anything from 7.5 to 10 hours. The goal was to use poles, hike the ups, and jog the flat / downs and take a few photos along the way. I’ve got some bigger mountain runs lined up this fall so this was just a builder run.
I knew there would be some clouds / fog early which could make for a dramatic sunrise. This meant getting up very early (3am) to get to Lincoln woods and gain the Franconia ridge to have any sort of chance at seeing it. At 4:40 I crossed the East Branch bridge and started my run into the darkness.
Less than a mile into the run I tripped on a root. First lesson, if you want to run your fastest loop, start at dawn, not dark. Night running adds difficulty in many ways, visibility is one of them. My energy level was noticeably off too - likely due to the lack of sleep. It was also very humid and the effort to get up the Osseo Trail was high.
Clockwise vs Counter Clockwise: I like to switch up the direction I take on the loop but I find clockwise is more enjoyable. Pros: you knock out the bigger peaks right out of the gate, less dehydrated makes the long stretch before the Garfield spring (one of the two reliable water sources on the route) more tolerable, you have more control of speed on the 4 mile stretch of rail trail back into Lincoln Woods meaning if you’re really close to your goal time this is your chance to accurately predict splits. CCW loops let you knock out the rail trail first which mentally is really nice when you’re fresh. Both the climbs to Flume and Bond Cliff are equally runnable in my opinion, Osseo Trail perhaps a little more so on the descent. You’ll also find descending off South Twin more difficult than climbing it, and the climb up / down Garfield is technical in either direction but CCW lets you climb the steeper side and descend what I’d consider the “easier” west side. The CCW climb up Lafayette is better climbed than descended and same with running the Franconia Ridgeline but on tired legs it’s extremely challenging. Impressive times have been thrown down in both directions so it’s really depends on personal preference.
I made it up Flume in time for the sunrise. Everything was wet as if the clouds were rung out as the flowed over the peaks. It was clear that based on the conditions and how I was feeling that today was going to be a grind, a really slow grind. It was visually stunning and it kept me moving across mud pits and wet rocks. The undercast ebbed and flowed as I made my way to Lafayette. I took some time to capture what I could with my iphone and processed some images using Lightroom Mobile. I always forget something on these runs and today it was a plastic bag with a screen cloth. I’d have to wait until Galehead Hut to grab a napkin and re-use a plastic trailmix bag to keep my phone dry and clean.
Around 8:30am the AT hikers started to mobilize from their stealth camp spots in the saddle nooks between Lafayette and Galehead. I made sure to ration my water accordingly - 2 x 500ml soft flasks is good for most Pemi Loops but I’m always bone dry by the time I start the climb up Garfield. The summit of Garfield was in the clouds so I dropped the 0.4 miles down to get re-up one of my flasks. The next stretch was painfully slow - much of the trail to Galehead hut feels like it’s sloping to the north at a 20 degree angle. It was super wet here and the 2.5 miles are a challenge in dry conditions.
I made it to the hut and took some time to eat and refill my water. I brought a couple dollars for hut treats and enjoyed a brownie while taking in some instant coffee I brought along. Once satisfied I moved along to the next climb - the push up South Twin. This is the steepest ascent in the clockwise direction but I also really enjoy it. It gets you back above treeline and fast. At a good clip, a fast hiker can cover the 0.9 miles / 1,100’ in around 20 minutes. The fastest time on Strava shows an impressive 15:38 and my PR is probably around 17 minutes.
Side note - cell service seems to continually increase. I have ATT and while there’s no service down in Lincoln woods, Verizon and ATT service is available along most of the Franconia Ridge, Garfield Summit, and spotty from Galehead to Bond Cliff.
As I crested on to South Twin, I passed a hiker who stopped me to ask if it was raining, that’s how wet I was from the humidity. I get why he asked that because it was hot and dry from South Twin onward. Out of the clouds and in the sun, I started to bake and passed a gentleman hiking in his underwear. It felt good to run again now that I was on dry rocks. With the weather clearing up I actually stopped to take more photos. It was evident that it would be more of a nine+ hour effort.
The good news I physically felt good but mentally I was tired and ready to be done, how most runners feel after Bond Cliff. The descent went well, no falls or near misses. I was out of water so I was anxious to refill a bottle at the first chance. It’s a tease because there is a spring not far off the summit (0.5mi) but it was pretty dry. As was the Black Brook stream crossing which will run up high in the early summer and after rain events. I waited a couple miles until the trail crosses below to get some water. For those asking about filtering, I’ve never filtered water from these sources in all my time living on the east coast. My general rule is that if it looks like it might need to be filtered, it probably should be.
The final four miles on the rail trail were tough and even though I ran a good pace, I’d still take a 30 second walking break every mile. It was a good mental exercise and with no major aches or pains I’d call it a success.
Once across the bridge I dunked in the stream for several minutes, cooling down the core and doing some light cold therapy. The legs would thank me the following day.
Any questions on running a Pemi Loop, comment below. It’s a bucket list run that is high on difficulty but also extremely satisfying, no matter what your pace is.