Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Day in the White Mountains (NH)

This past Saturday, a couple local running friends (David and Erich) invited me to tag along on their trip up to the White Mountains to run the Pemi Loop.  While I've been hiking in the Whites plenty of times, I've never done a run there, so I was cautious in my planning, figuring to run about the first 10 miles of the 32 mile loop, and then double back for a 20 mile day.

I got up at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning and by 3:45 I was on the road.  The drive in was quite easy, as there is no traffic at that time of day.  I was still in a partial sleep-coma as well, which may have been why I barely remember the drive.  By 6:15, I was at the trailhead.  We had hoped to start at that time, but it took the three of us about bit of time to get our things together and it was closer to 7 when we headed out.

The forecast for the day had the temperature heading into the low 90s with high humidity.  I drank about 2 liters of water before the start of the run, on the drive up, and had 3 liters of water in my camelbak.  We started off slowly on a flat trail that was formerly a railroad bed, frequently stepping over the old railroad ties still left on what has become the Lincoln Woods Trail.

After about 4 miles or so and a turnoff onto the Bondcliff Trail, we started a very gradual climb, completely runnable.  I believe it was around mile 6 that we started any significant climbing and by mile 7 there was much more power hiking than running.  The climb was pretty steep at times, with your typical New England trail features of rocks and roots along the way.  Anytime the trail leveled, we'd run a stretch and then hunker down into climbing mode when it became unrunnable again.  At one point in the trail, the trees break and you can see the Bondcliff Ridge above:

A little after mile 8 we broke into the alpine zone, above the treeline:

The temperature was quite nice in the morning hours up on the ridge, and despite the loose rock, the terrain was reasonably runnable.  I found it hard to run however because I was simply gawking at the sheer beauty of the ridge and surrounding areas.  The Bondcliff peak has a very dramatic drop off that you run along for a bit:

After summiting Bondcliff, the ridge loses a bit of elevation before beginning the climb to Bond.  Here is a view from Bondcliff of the summit of Bond with David and Erich running the ridge:

The climb to bond starts on the exposed ridgeline and the heads into some distressed alpine pines for a step ascent.  This was all hiking for me at this point.  David and Erich were kind enough to wait for me on the summit of Bond, but soon-after descended into the trees to continue their run (they had 8 more  4000'+ peaks to get over and 22 more miles of running left):

Now on my own, I took stock of how I felt, which was pretty good, took in a bunch of calories (gu and clif bars) and checked in on my water situation.  At the halfway point, I had already downed 2 liters of water and the temperatures were quickly on the rise.  I knew that it wouldn't be long before I got to a stream that we followed for a long ways on the journey in, but i didn't have a water filter or any tablets.  

To look at the elevation chart, you'd assume i could have just charged down the mountain at this point:

Not so, however.  As you can see from these pictures, I had to pick my way through some pretty technical terrain.  As this was the first time I've navigated through these types of trails in running shoes, I didn't try to push it:

As I was saying before, the ridgeline is really amazing though, and I was fun to be running slowly over the ridge to have more time to take in the views:

Alas, with the temperature on the rise and the water situation getting more important, I finally began my descent below the treeline.  Miles 11 and 12 were still pretty steep and technical, so I ran when I could, but i didn't take any chances.  I was starting to get really hot at this point, and I was out of water, so by mile 13, I was really glad when I got back to the stream.  I didn't care much about not having a filter or tablets at that point and drank beyond my heart's content.  To cool off, I gave my head a nice dunk as well:

Much like on the way in, I ran the remaining miles, gaining steam as the terrain flattened out.  This was beyond a doubt the slowest 'run' I had ever done with all the climbing and tricky terrain on the descent and i wanted to see if I still had anything left.  Back down off the peaks, it was downright hot, and I was pretty keen to get to my car which had 2 full bottles of ice water.  I finished my run, downed one of the bottles then soaked in the nice, cold stream for about 20 minutes.  I then changed my shoes (my feet took a beating) and set out for a short hike, hoping to meet David and Erich on the tail end of their run.  Turns out they ran out of water and were dealing with dehydration issues, so I headed back to the stream, had a nice chat with another runner of the Pemi Loop that day and awaited their arrival.

All in all, I learned a lot from running with David and Erich and a lot from my experience in the Whites on this day.  It offered some incredibly beautiful views and an overall great, even if a little hot towards the end, experience.  Can't wait to get back up there!

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