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Downtown Temple,NH

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pemi Wild Ultra

Lots of folks have done the infamous Pemi Loop in New Hampshire's White Mountains (voted the 2nd hardest day hike in America by Backpacker Magazine in 2005). The 33+ mile loop starting at the Lincoln Woods trialhead, summits ten 4,000 footers with nearly 10,000 ft of elevation gain. Now that's what I call a day hike!

Chris Dunn of acidotic RACING wanted to add a new twist while maintaining a friendly competition so he organized what he affectionately called the Pemi Wild Ultra. Five teams of 2 would head out at 4am on Saturday morning and the first team back wins (and winning means you get to shower, eat and drink beers first).

The teams headed down to the suspension bridge for the start and were told the rules:
  1. teammates must stay together the entire race
  2. have fun and enjoy this epic adventure
At 4:11am (I know, I said it was a 4am start but come on, we all got around 1-2 hrs of sleep and got up at 3am so we were a little slow out of the gate!) we were off....sort of. All five teams started to walk. Wait a second, I thought this was a race?? After about 10 seconds most teams began to run easy. We were officially racing.

As far as I know, only one of the teams (Chris and Ken) had done this loop before, although they had done the clockwise version. Today we'd be doing the counter-clockwise loop. Mike Wade and I had a simple plan: run the runnable sections if possible and walk the climbs (no exceptions). Turns out we'd be doing a lot of walking. Who knew there was so much climbing in the White Mountains!

It had rained during the night and was raining lightly when we started. My the time we got to the first climb the rain had mostly stopped but not before contributing to some of the wettest, muddiest trails I've been on in quite a while. We had traded places with team Jay and Steve a few times since the start and would generally stay together nearly half the loop.

At one point early on we put some time on them but they got it all back on Bond when my I haven't been a Boy Scout since the 70's navigational skills totally failed me. In fact, we got so turned around we (ok, me) actually started heading down the same trail we just came up and only stopped after running into Jay and Steve coming UP. Whoops. We were in the clouds with no views but that was a major screw up. Thankfully it would not be repeated (much).

(photo-from the summit of Bondcliff)

We'd get a glimpse of team Chris and Ken and team Kevin and Scott a little later at West Bond. We were returning on the spur trail and they were heading out. We'd do this one more time at Galehead Hut, as they were coming in and we were heading out. Galehead would also be the last time we'd see any of the other teams until the finish.

We rested about 10-15 minutes and refueled at Galehead hut before continuing on the second half of our journey. It was around 9:30am and we'd covered 15.9 miles, knocked off 5 of the 10 4000 footers and been going at it for over 5 hours. I was surprised how little running we'd actually done. If we weren't climbing we were sloshing through wet, muddy trails. I felt great but wished we could run a bit more.

The Garfield Ridge Trail from Galehead to Mt Garfield and Mt Lafayette was easily the hardest of the day. This 6.9 mile hellish section of the Appalachian Trail took roughly 3 1/2 hrs, maybe a bit more. Standing on the summit on Mt Garfield we could see (barely through the clouds) the summit of Mt Lafayette but there is no ridge between the two, we'd have to climb all the way back down Garfield before heading back up Lafayette. Ah crap.

(photo-Garfield Ridge Trail)

The good news was the skies were beginning to clear and Lafayette came out of the clouds just as we got there, offering spectacular views of the Pemi Wilderness. Just after 1pm we reached the summit of Lafayette, chatted briefly with Jim Dunn who was offering support and encouragement to the teams, had a photo op and finally we were off. 22.8 miles down, roughly 10.5 to go!

(photo-Mike and Steve on Lafayette)

Standing on the summit looking down Franconia Ridge was a welcomed sight. We were both looking forward to running....finally. The Franconia Ridge trail at least offered some runnable sections not to mention GREAT views on both sides. Plus, our last peak was in sight (Mt Flume).

(photo-Mike on the Franconia Ridge Trail)

Although I enjoyed the time on Franconia Ridge, mentally (and physically) I was getting tired. I wanted to be done. I had plenty of food and water but my feet were starting to get tired and sore. 9+ hours of wet, muddy trails will do that. As it turned out, the muddiest trails of the day were yet to come (somewhere between Mt Lincoln and Mt Flume). We had no idea where or how close the other teams were. In fact, we started hearing voices behind us around Mt Flume and thought it was the other teams. All this did was make us run faster and harder (gee thanks guys!). We would later find out it wasn't the other teams afterall but at the time we really thought they were close.

I had hiked the Osseo Trail up Mt Flume about a year ago so I had a good idea what the last 4-5 miles were. Once you get past the ladder section, the last 3+ miles to the Lincoln Woods Trail is very runnable. Mike pretty much dragged my down the mountain as my feet were killing me. I ran just to keep him in sight. Near the bottom we started checking our watches a bit more. Initially we figured (guessed) we'd be somewhere in the 12 hr range. That wasn't going to happen this day. However, we did want to keep it under 13 hrs so we ran the final 1.4 mile stretch along the Lincoln Woods Trail and finally rolled into the finish in 12 hrs 53 minutes.

My first thought: never again. A few days removed, well maybe once more :-)

Of course our prize for winning was a shower, followed by Lasagna (thanks Ken!), washed down with a couple of Redhooks (thanks Chris!). Once cleaned up we packed up the cooler with a few beers and headed back down to the trailhead to meet the other teams, offer congrats and of course a cold beer!

Good times.

A few pics from our adventure.