Trip Preview: New Hampshire’s “Pemi Loop”

This summer, I’ve fallen deeply in love with hiking the White Mountains. My first experience hiking legitimate mountains came last August, when my good friend Tyler Neville of Livin’ Deliberately took me up to the peak of Maine’s tallest and most iconic mountain, the great Katahdin. I really had no business being there — geared only with some Nike sneakers, an Under Armour backpack, and a few bottle of water — nevermind making it over the famous Knife’s Edge between Pamola peak and Katahdin’s summit, but I made it nonetheless and was instantly hooked. With views like this, it’s not surprising that I fell in love so deeply and so immediately:

Author photo.
Pamola peak (right) as seen from near the summit of Mt. Katahdin.

So, early this summer, I set out on May 19 to hike my first 4,000 footer in New Hampshire. There are 48 such mountains in the Granite State, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), and I tackled two on that cloudy day in May: East Osceola (4,156′) and Osceola (4,340′). Unbeknownst to me, I took the most difficult route possible, hiking up East Osceola from the Green Pond trail off of the Kancamagus Highway. Having not hiked seriously since the journey up Katahdin, I was exhausted at the end of that day, but I hungered for more.

Since then, I’ve climbed 17 more of the NH 48, bringing my summer total to 19 mountains (plus one in Vermont, Camel’s Hump). 19 out of 48 in three months isn’t bad, considering I’ve had a full-time job for the last ten weeks. However, my last day of work was this past Thursday, and I’ve got exactly two weeks until I head back to school in Standish, Maine. I plan on not doing much for those two weeks, except finishing all 29 of the remaining 48 4Ks in NH.

It may sound insane, but hear me out – all but six of the 29 mountains left can be done in one trip, but those trips will take multiple days. To start this lofty plan of mine, I’ll be tackling the “Pemi Loop” in the heart of the White Mountains alongside that same Tyler Neville from last August, as well as his girlfriend Colleen, an experienced hiker in her own right — together, they completed a four-day, 70+ mile hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail in Maine before then climbing Katahdin themselves.

The Pemi has been described as “America’s second-hardest day hike”, as it spans slightly upwards of 30 miles and covers over 9,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss, so 18,000 feet of elevation change overall). The world record for time on this grueling loop is just over 6.5 hours, which makes every inch of my body hurt just thinking about.

While this is generally done as a two-day trip, I’ve gotten creative and modified the traditional plan in order to fit my personal goal of climbing all 48 4Ks before the end of August. In almost the exact middle of the Pemi Loop lies “Owls Head”, a 4,025 foot wooded peak only accessible by one trail, which takes you up a massive rock slide over which you gain upwards of 1,000 feet in something like 3/4 of a mile. I figured it’d be easiest to work this mountain into the Pemi Loop, so I don’t have to hike it by itself — it’s over nine miles from the nearest road.

So, instead of a two-day, 30-mile trip, the three of us will tackle a route that covers just over 46 miles and split the hiking up into three days. Overall, we’ll summit 11 of the 48 4Ks, including the 6th, 7th, and 8th highest peaks in the state (Lafeyette, Lincoln, and South Twin, respectively). With some rain in the forecast for Tuesday afternoon, we’ll hike 12 miles up to the Guyot Campground on the first day. Day two will be a 16.4-mile trek down to Owl’s Head and back to the 13 Falls Tentsite in the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Day three looks to be the highlight of the trip, as we’ll cover the 16.9 miles of trail to the starting point of the trip. This day will include a traverse of the famous Franconia Ridge, one of the most beautiful sections of trail in New Hampshire.

Panoramic view from the summit of South Twin mountain on July 24. Author photo.
Panoramic view from the summit of South Twin mountain on July 24. Author photo.

My first attempt at a backpacking trip was a bona fide disaster (read about it here, if you really want), largely due to my lack of preparation and incredibly aggressive mileage plans (60 miles over three days…). This time, the plan is more realistic, and I’ve spent a lot of time making sure I’m better prepared for three days in the woods. Tyler’s done the traditional loop before (read the story here), so most of the trail we cover will be familiar to his feet as well.

If we can manage to make it through the impending rain on Tuesday afternoon, this should turn out to be an incredibly fun and fulfilling adventure. Tyler is a whiz with the camera and a fine wordsmith himself, so he’ll surely have some photographic and literary documentation of our trip at the end of the week, which I’ll be sure to share with you all as soon as it’s available.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to reporting back after a successful trip.

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