Here we go again! Lately I’ve been ramping up my mileage and training intensity in anticipation for the Kilkenny Ridge 50 Mile Race that I foolishly registered for this coming September. I needed some epic days of mileage, mountains, and elevation gain to prepare my body for the impending doom that is coming. What better training run is there in the North East for a big race other than a good old fashioned Pemigewasset Loop?!
I came into this effort with somewhat low expectations. I’ve been training hard this month and getting very little rest days in. Last year I had set a new personal record on this loop I didn’t think I had a PR in me today but I would give it my all and see what happens anyways! The goal of today was to get a good baseline of my fitness when compared to last years effort.
The Pemi Loop
The Pemigewasset Wilderness is a 46,000 acre protected forest deep in the heart of the White Mountains National Forest of New Hampshire. Unlike much of the surrounding land the Pemi Wilderness is known for its relatively untouched, and low impact beauty which draws trail runners, hikers, and outdoors enthusiasts from all over to enjoy. This place is simply beautiful!
The Pemigewasset Loop (AKA Pemi Loop) is a 29.5 mile route with 9000 feet of elevation gain that traverses the surrounding ridges and 4000+ foot peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It’s common for backpackers to hike this loop in 3 or 4 days. However, it’s a true test of endurance for trail runners to complete in a single day push. Today would be the third time I’ve attempted the “Standard Pemi Loop” as a trail run. This is an unsupported route so I needed to carry all the backcountry gear necessary for spending several hours in the wilderness alone.
I’ve spent years trying to optimize my packing list. I want to be as light as possible in order to actually run without stuff bouncing all over the place. Here’s everything I packed for the day.
- Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0
- Patagonia Cap 1 Shirt
- Nike Trail Run Shorts
- InjiInji Trail Socks
- Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Trail Running Shoes
- Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Watch
- Garmin InReach Mini
- Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp
- Imzu Bluetooth Headphones
- 1.5 Liter Salomon Reservoir
- Ultimate Direction 20oz Flasks
- 1 Liter Katadyn Flask (Dirty Water)
- Katadyn BeFree water filter with Quick Fill Adapter
- 2x Tailwind Naked Packets
- 2x Honey Stinger Waffles
- 2x Cliff Bars
- 2x Salt Tabs
- 4x Ibuprofen tablets
- 4x Decongestant tablets
- Small Med-Kit (assorted first aid, band aids, gauze, etc…)
- SOL Emergency Bivy
- Body Glide Stick
- Bug Repellent Stick
Hitting the Lincoln Woods Trail
I pulled into the Lincoln Woods parking lot at 8AM on the dot. The parking lot was already almost at max capacity! I got my gear together, tightened my shoe’s a bit, and walked over to the suspension bridge that marks the starting point of the route. After a couple of deep breaths and stretches I hit “START” on my watch and off I went.
The Lincoln Woods trail is flat, featureless, and full of people. I set a good pace here putting in an 8 minute mile as a way of “getting this out of the way”. I was looking forward to gaining some elevation on the Osseo Trail!
Osseo Trail Climb
The first big climb of the day would be ascending Mount Flume on the Osseo Trail. Gaining 3000+ feet over the course of 5 miles. The Osseo Trail starts out pretty tame but steepens quite a bit up to a point where it ascends a series of ladders. I was feeling strong and optimistic by now. I popped out on the summit of Mount Flume in 1 hour and 22 minutes. I stopped for a few seconds to take pictures, but quickly moved on towards the next peak in line… Mount Liberty.
Franconia Ridge – High Point!
It only took about 20 minutes to get from Mount Flume to Mount Liberty as they’re only a mile apart and the trail between is pretty easy. Mount Liberty’s rocky summit was busy with hikers so I didn’t stay long. I took a few pictures and hustled onward. So far the weather was holding out and I was stoked. I was looking forward to getting above treeline for a bit on the ridge ahead!
Once on Little Haystack I knew the highlight of the day was ahead. Running the Franconia Ridge is an amazing experience! The ridge rides long the back of Mount Licoln and Lafayette offering incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks. The trail itself has patches of rock scrambling that makes it interesting!
I could see that Mount Lafayette had a pretty thick cloud cover on it from Mount Lincoln. Luckily no rain yet! just a little mist. But I knew there wouldn’t be any more views from the Franconia Ridge today. I reached the summit of Mount Lafayette at 2 Hours and 45 Minutes. That’s when I realized I was AHEAD OF MY PR PACE! I couldn’t believe it. I actually had a chance to beat my personal record!
Garfield Ridge – AKA Purgatory!
The Pemi Loop is a funny thing. It really messes with your mind! After running over the amazing beauty that is Franconia Ridge you’re forced to drop a bunch of elevation on the Garfield Ridge trail. This trail is wet, muddy, Dark, rocky, gnarly! Sections of ankle deep mud pits are the norm. Along with basically down-climbing a flowing waterfall.
Everytime I do a pemi loop I tell myself it will be different. “I’ll keep a smile on my face no matter what” I say, but that’s never the case. The Garfield Ridge Trail put me in a dark place. I was also having some stomach issues at this point due to a poorly mixed batch of TailWind. I basically just put my head down and started the grunt-fest waiting for the summit of Mount Garfield to show up!
Mount Garfield – Wrong Turn!
Eventually Mount Garfield did show up thankfully. I stepped out on the short spur trail to the summit and snapped a picture. Almost there!
After taking a couple moments to compose myself I was excited to run downhill for a while. I turned around on the spur trail I had came up on and BLASTED down the trail right through the Junction of Mount Garfield Trail and the Garfield Ridge Trail. I was cruising… feeling good… and that’s when I noticed I WAS GOING THE WRONG WAY. Despite having been on Mount Garfield 6 or 7 times before I managed to take the wrong trail. I was heading down Mount Garfield trail northbound towards route 302. This is the trail most day hikers take to summit Mount Garfield. Fortunately my Garmin Fenix 5 managed to warn me that I was off course about 1/2 mile down the trail and I turned around to correct my mistake.
So, I climbed BACK up to the summit of Mount Garfield and turned left to continue on the Garfield Ridge trail. Surely I had blown any chance to beat my PR. Or so I thought!
Galehead Hut – Another Chance!
While descending Mount Garfield I decided to refill my water at a reliable watershed spring I figured I’d be quick and this would prevent me from dilly dallying at the Galehead Hut longer than necessary. After refilling my water my stomach issues subsided and I was able to crank up my pace a bit.
I arrived at Galehead Hut at 5 Hours 30 Minutes into my journey… and once again realized that I still had a chance to break my PR! I somehow managed to make up the lost time I had lost by making a wrong turn at Garfield! I quickly used the Hut’s sink to top off my water and motored on.
South Twin and The Bonds
Onto the last HARD climb of the day. Ascending South Twin via the Twinway. A relentless 16% grade slope that seems to go on forever (in reality its only 1 mile!). This climb took me about 30 minutes to complete. I felt much stronger than I did last year… No quad cramping this time.
I reached the summit of South Twin and let out a sigh of relief. The hard part is over! Now onto the reward… The Bonds! Bondcliff in particular might be my favorite peak in the White Mountains. The exposed summit and beautiful ridgeline is hard to beat. There’s no easy way to access the bonds, if you’re up here you worked for it!
I picked up my pace descending South Twin, traveling over Mount Guyot and dropping back into the woods for a bit before the last significant climb of the day up Mount Bond. Tagged Mount Bond and didn’t waste any time. Without missing a beat I continued on to the last peak of the day Bondcliff!
With the end in sight my adrenaline kicked in and I was cruising at a pretty good pace. Looking over at Bondcliff from the shoulder of Mount Bond is always breathtaking… I took plenty of pictures despite my urgency! Gotta smell those roses right?
Bondcliff and Lincoln Woods – The Goal is in Reach!
I tagged the summit of Bondcliff and had a quick conversation with some fellow trail runners I bumped into. Now it was time to get down the Bondcliff trail and to the finish line at the end of the Lincoln Woods Trail.
The Bondcliff trail starts off a little gnarly on the descent but eventually grades out into pretty easy footing. I was able to run most of the bondcliff trail and really crank up my pace near the bottom of the descent. Once I got on the Lincoln Woods trail I knew it was time to go into grind mode. I drank the remainder of the water in my 20oz flask, ate a stinger waffle and started to run… fast (for me at least).
At this point I knew I had to set a sub 9-minute pace during the 5 mile flat-ish run out on the Lincoln woods trail in order to beat my previous record. The first mile passed by in 10:19… “Need to go faster!” I told myself. I was huffing and puffing pretty good. Next Mile, 9:53… Next Mile, 8:27… Only 2 miles left! I can do this! At this point I started seeing the obvious signs of civilization. Families dressed in flip flops, jeans, and their sunday best attire. The classic sign for pemi-loopers to know if they’re close to the parking lot at Lincoln Woods. I managed to crank up my speed yet again laying down two sub 8 minute miles!
That’s a Wrap!
I put one foot onto the suspension bridge marking the end of today’s adventure and clicked “STOP” on my watch.
9 Hours and 15 Minutes! New Personal Record!
Today was pretty epic. Another Pemi Loop, another great experience in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and a new Personal Record despite making some mistakes along the route! Sure, it’s no FKT but I’m pretty proud of it given the circumstances. I had some stomach issues that luckily didn’t last too long but other than that it all went pretty smoothly. I definitely feel a lot better about the training I’ve been putting in, my gear, and nutrition plan. It all seems to be paying off. Getting pretty stoked about the races I have coming in the next month!