A winter trip to the Bonds is something I’d been wanting to do for a while. I mentioned it to one of my hiking partners back in February and this weekend everything worked out for the trip. My partner already had hiked Hale in the winter, but I hadn’t, so the plan was for me to hike into Zealand Hut via Hale, then my partner in the morning would hike in from the winter Zealand parking lot and pick me up at the hut on his way through. My husband was willing to drive up with me on Friday so that I could drop my car off at Lincoln Woods, and then drop me off at Zealand to start the hike. This worked out nicely so that no one would have to do a very early morning carspot.
On Friday, with the carspot done, my husband dropped me off at the gate on Zealand Road and I headed to the Hale Brook Trail. The roadwalk wasn’t unpleasant and easily done in microspikes. The weather was definitely cloudy and rain was forecast for the afternoon, with just clouds at this point.
Once I started up the Hale Brook Trail the ground conditions changed, with the snow was getting a bit mushy. Partway up I switched to snowshoes, happy to get them on my feet and off my back! They helped tremendously and I made a steady ascent to the summit, seeing only one other person who was descending. A short way from the summit, the rain began. This time, I did put on the jacket (unlike on Waumbek), because I knew I still had a ways to go before the day’s hike would be over and the temperature wasn’t all that warm.
The summit was a bit dismal on this day, in the rain and clouds, but I was happy to be there and then descending the Lend-A-Hand Trail toward the hut. At this point, all I had to do was to keep moving quickly down the trail and by doing so, staying warm. Staying dry wasn’t going to happen given the conditions, so I kept hiking down, down, down, crossing the ledgy area, then through the boggy area, and finally seeing the quarter-mile sign, indicating that I was close to the hut.
Arrriving at the hut, I was pretty wet, and not the first time I’d arrived to Zealand in this condition. There was only one person at the hut, an injured member of another party, so I got into dry clothes and settled in for the afternoon. Soon other hikers started arriving and the drying racks started to fill up with everyone’s wet gear. Once the caretaker arrived we were treated to a fire in the woodstove which made the dining room nice and cozy. So cozy, that as we were playing cards after dinner, we had to move away from the stove!
The woodstove did a great job of drying almost everything out, boots included and by the morning, I had dry clothes to start another day of adventure. My partner was to pick me up at the hut at 8:00a. Knowing my partner’s personality and abilities, I knew that it would probably be earlier than that and I was right. I was ready to go at 7:00a, and I wasn’t surprised to see him show up before 7:30a. After saying goodbye and gearing up in snowshoes, we started up toward the first peak of the day, Zealand.
Steadily, we progressed up the longest ascent of the day to Zeacliffs. As we gained altitude, the fog got thinner, blue patches of sky appeared, shadows appeared and then we were in full sunlight. Stepping out on to Zeacliffs, we were treated to an amazing undercast! All of the highest peaks looked like islands in the sea of rolling clouds. This made hiking in the cold rain the day before worth it!
We continued on to Zealand, enjoying the clear views and undercast the whole way. At the spur trail, we caught up to a few a of the guys that I’d met at the hut, who were doing the same hike as us. We’d leapfrog with them for part of the day, each group enjoying the hike.
After our quick stop at Zealand, we headed to Guyot and as we came into the open, we were again treated to amazing views in all directions. The undercast was still present, but starting to lift and we were surrounded by mountains rising on all sides around us.
After a quick break on the south summit of Guyot, we headed to West Bond, still wearing our snowshoes. While there was some exposed rock over Guyot, we carefully moved around and over it, knowing that as soon as we got back into the trees, the soft snow would return and the snowshoes were the best way not to posthole. Postholing was easy to do, given the warm conditions and deteriorating snow pack. Continuing on and arriving at West Bond, we had a perfect view of Bondcliff in the brilliant morning sunshine, with some snow still clinging to the jagged ridge and cliff face.
Continuing on our way up to Bond, the trail continued to be good for snowshoes, not so easy in microspikes. After enjoying Bond’s summit, upon the advice of another hiker, we decided to change to microspikes. This would prove to be the worst decision of the day, and my partner was right when his instinct was to stay with the snowshoes until we got to the bottom of the col between Bond and Bondcliff. We postholed and had to gingerly hike down Bond. I knew there were large rocks under that snow, I certainly didn’t want to get an ankle twisted or stuck under a rock down in a posthole. At one point, I actually did get stuck. I postholed, and then the snow caved in around my lower leg and foot, and I couldn’t pull it free. I actually had to dig my foot out, getting down to my ankle before I could wiggle my foot out. Once past the deeper snow, the ascent up to Bondcliff on patchy snow and rock was much easier.
Arriving at the summit, we had a nice break, eating lunch, taking pictures and enjoying the really warm temps – we passed some groups between Bond and Bondcliff and many people were wearing short sleeves and shorts. The last time I was on Bond, I didn’t get the classic hiker picture taken on the ledge, this time I made sure I got that done.
Soon it was time to leave the views and the peaks and start the long trip to Lincoln Woods. We descended to the steep ledge, put on our snowshoes and headed down to the Wilderness trail. With a quick pace, we headed down through forest with the ridges rising around us, at first crossing streams that were well snow bridged and as we lost elevated crossing streams that were open. The snow pack started to get smaller and finally, when I didn’t think we’d get there and really needed a break (we hadn’t stopped since we left Bondcliff) we were at the Wilderness Trail.
Now the hardest part of the hike began. Not physically, just mentally and more so for my partner who started at the 302 and not at the hut. The difficult part was keeping focus on a trail that looked pretty much the same for five miles. The trail was wet, slushy, and icy, with quite a few little run-off streams to cross, and then one larger brook, with a rotting snowbridge. Safely across, we kept going and soon came to the end of the Wilderness trail, crossed the bridge, and knew it was less than three miles to Lincoln Woods. Still walking, the Osseo Trail junction came into view, then the yellow easel appeared and the suspension bridge close behind it. Across the bridge, up to the parking lot and we were done! Less than ten hours from leaving the hut, we had finished the hike!
What a great way to end the winter season! A trip to the Bonds is always special, but this one had so many varied moments, from hiking in the miserable cold rain to get to the hut, discovering the magnificent undercast at Zeacliffs, and being surrounded by superb views and peak, to just staying in the game at the end. Special thanks to my husband for the carspot and being willing to leave me by the side of the road to walk off into the woods for a few days, and to my hiking partner for his strength and patience throughout the day.