Pemi-Bondcliff backpack

We spent four days and three nights backpacking in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the central region of the White Mountains National Forest.

Every year at this time we try to get out for an extended camping and hiking trip.  The weather this year turned out to be fantastic. We delayed our trip for a day to skip the showers on Wednesday, but other than a brief shower during the hike in on Thursday, we had four days of spectacular sunny, warm weather. Read on!

Family photo on Bondcliff. Pemigewasset Wilderness, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Last year was our first attempt to go backpacking, after many years of car-side camping.  The kids are seasoned campers now, and we bought new backpacks for John and Mara, with Andy inheriting John’s old pack, to make it possible for them to comfortably carry more gear. We started from the Lincoln Woods trailhead near Lincoln. Although Lincoln is now an overgrown tourist town, and Lincoln Woods may be the busiest trailhead in the Whites, it allows easy access to a spectacular section of the Whites.  We headed up the East Side trail, alongside the Pemigewasset River, for our first night at an established campground less than three miles up river.  A campfire was a smoky challenge, given the afternoon rainshower, but s’mores always make camping fun.

The second day, my plan had been to continue up the east side and cross the bridge to come down the Wilderness Trail back to Camp 16.  We learned, however, that the two necessary bridges have been removed, because this is now a Wilderness area.  So instead we forded the Pemi right here, per the guidebook, and headed up to Franconia Falls (which Andy persisted in calling Foccacia Falls).  The kids did a great job of rock-hopping and fording, and we were at the Falls by mid-morning. 

We have to ford the Pemigewassett River on our annual backpacking trip.

Despite the chill, and the kids’ initial trepidation of sliding down the chute into the big pool, they were soon sliding through the “death chute” over and over.  In another area, where we were trying to cross a tricky fast-water section, one kid slipped and knocked over another who knocked me down and, in a span of a few seconds, John and Andy and I were washing down river.  Scary, but other than some bruises we dragged ourselves out just fine.  Andy said, “let’s do that again!”

Mara rides the chute at Franconia Falls.

We hiked on up to Camp 16, a total of about three miles this day.  There is no longer a campground there, but we quickly discovered a large number of sites hidden off in the woods.  We found an ideal spot, well over the 200’ minimum distance from the trail, down by the river.  We enjoyed the gorgeous late-afternoon sun on the river and had another fine meal capped by s’mores. 

Andy climbing Bondcliff. Pemigewasset Wilderness, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The third day our goal was to day-hike Bondcliff, the kids’ second time up a 4,000-footer.  Unfortunately, we met a forest ranger as we hit the trail, who informed us that our gorgeous campsite was illegal because it was too close to the river.  (Debatable, based on my measurements.) So, we spent an hour relocating to an inland site and got a late start on the hike at 10:30am. At right Andy shows the rocky scramble near the summit. I took a neat panoramic photo with my iPhone.

An ambitious 9-mile day for the kids, the weather was fantastic and we saw quite a few other hikers as we plodded up the trail.  We summited in early afternoon and enjoyed our lunch surrounded by incredible 360° views – acknowledged by many as the best view in the Whites.

The fourth day, we headed straight out the Wilderness Trail to Lincoln Woods, bypassing another stop at Franconia Falls due to a lack of time. All around, a great trip with just enough challenge on the hiking but with lots of time for relaxation at the campsite.  I look forward to more hiking and camping trips ahead.

Don’t miss the photo gallery!


This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2021, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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