The Zealand Bonds traverse was planned pretty much before we even got done with Owl’s Head the previous week. What else was there to do while walking out from Lincoln Woods? I was heading up for my annual trip to my cabin in Pittsburgh, NH so this would be a perfect trek for the trip. However, I started the week with a sprained ankle and people wondered if I would be able to complete such a journey of almost 20 miles. I managed to pull it off though after a couple of days of rest, ice, and lightly working it. I was good to go and really needing to break from civilization. Isis and I made our way northward on Thursday and made a stop at the Highland Center to see an old friend. Always nice to reconnect with someone you have not seen in a few months and it seemed just like old times and it would seem that things would work out to do some more hiking together. The old troupe may not be as splintered. Isis and I made it to the cabin about an hour and a half later and settled in as well as got ready for tomorrow.
The alarm went off at 5am and I headed back down to the Twin Mountain area. I met Silverfox and Tim (his car spot) at the visitor center. After a brief introduction of Tim, I, and Isis, Silverfox and I were off to the Zealand trailhead in my car. We all got ready and headed up the trail. I of course true to form forgot my sunglasses and Isis' treats. Zealand trail was mostly flat and a great warm up for the group. There was talk about our week and more talk about our hikes (both recent and past). There was plenty of time today to get to know one another. As we walked, we looked at the beauty that was all around us and soaked it all in. The bridge that was once sagging and zig zagged, was now rebuilt and straight. We cruised this part as it was easy to walk. The ascent of the hut was even easy this time around for me and the whole trip from the parking lot seemed to take no time at all. We took a brief break at the hut and enjoyed a snack and the view. We were on our way again shortly and the next stop would be Zealand. Our first peak of the day.
We took the Twinway up from the Hut and tried to be conservative with our energy. It was a long day for us and we had many miles to cover. As usual, I worried if Isis would make it or if I would be packing her out. She just keeps amazing me and winning the hearts of everyone that she meets on the trail. It made me feel good to see them smile when we approached. The sun was starting to warm things up a little and as we walked, the rocks came into play. Then the roots mixed in and we were really working ourselves. Isis was having a great time. Silverfox and I began to get acquainted with talk about ourselves. We managed to get up the steepest sections of the twin way in good time and with minimal stopping. We made a quick detour onto Zealcliff and took in the view. The day was looking spectacular to be above tree line.
As we continued on the ridge, it got a little easier to walk. There was now mud to add into the mix during the 1.6mile walk to the summit. It seemed to pass by again in no time and Isis and I were allowed to take the lead for the .1 spur trail. It was more her summit than mine so, she was out in front. Showing minimal signs of fatigue, Isis claimed her first summit of the day. We stopped for a water break and made our way quickly down the spur again. Then headed the rest of the way on the Twin Way (grabbing a redline for myself). The rest of the trail was a mix of rocks and larger boulders. The three of us kept the mood light and I discussed how I came to be ill and the nightmare it was to find my Hashimoto’s Diagnosis. We ran into a few other hikers this way and most were doing out and backs of the Bonds. With 1.3 to the Bondcliff trail, we made a quick pace over the relatively flat terrain and the rocks seemed to be no issue. I was not really struggling although my breathing was labored as usual. It was warm above tree line so, the arm warmers came off. We lingered a little on Mt. Guyot to take in the spectacular view on a perfect day such as today. Mt. Guyot of course didn’t count for anything except to be part of the hike today.
On our way to West Bond, there were some steeper sections that were getting to be a little strenuous and still able to push through. We passed the time talking about sports, our jobs, and really anything else that came to mind. Generally enjoying the day and the beauty that was above tree line. At the spur for West Bond, we made the turn and with relative ease made our way down the dirt trail. The spur was a little windy and then turned upwards. At this point, Isis and I took lead again so that Isis could be the first on the peak. We made our way up the rocks like so many summits before and came out to the open 360 view that was classic West Bond. Here we fueled up and Isis had a decent helping of her trail mix. Of course, while I was taking pictures, she helped herself to even more. We lingered here and that was fine as I wanted to rest my legs a little and I knew Isis was starting to get tired. She laid down right there on the summit. Silverfox and myself shared some chocolate and then made our way back down. Next stop would be Mt. Bond.
The approach to Mt. Bond was easier coming this way as it was an easier gain and grade as opposed to coming from Bond Cliff. We all walked and didn’t really pass anyone else. The trail itself was in great shape. We still had rocks to maneuver. However, there was no jarring upwards climb. Isis and I worked well together and in no time, we were in the lead again as we approached the summit. Isis was gaining more and more confidence with each hike and even though she remained leashed, she was able to complete peak after peak and today was her biggest hike yet. We walked out onto the summit of Mt. Bond and my little pup found herself a place to lie down. She was too stinkin’ cute as she tried to not shut her eyes and lost. Silverfox and myself took in the views and also had a little something more to eat to carry us over to Bond Cliff. We would have lunch on Bond Cliff.
Heading down the Bond Cliff trail from Mt. Bond was always and adventure. The rocks are big and awkward to get over. Isis being as small as she is did just fine. I think the humans of the group would attest that this stretch of trail was difficult for our legs. We then began our trek across the ridge and on this day, it seemed perfect. There was no wind and the sun was not too bright or hot. Just an all-around perfect day for the group. I always enjoyed this ridge and almost more than any other ridge I and been on. It was magical to me and I can recall some of my best moments on this stretch. Today would be added to that experience. You have to really work for this one. I feel like I earn it each time I am on it. We have no issues making it to Bond Cliff. In fact for the fourth and final time today, Isis is allowed to take the lead. We come up over the rise and discover a few other people up there. I pass my camera to Silverfox who snaps a few pictures of the pup and I on Bond Cliff and we get some of just her too. We had arrived at our final peak and Isis has proven herself to be a worthy hiking dog. We linger of the peak for lunch and Silverfox accomplishes something for himself outside of bagging the peaks. I was proud to be there for it and proud to encourage him.
We then make our way down the Bond Cliff trail and event that seems uneventful. We talk and laugh about the day. Knowing that the Lincoln woods trail still looms ahead. No one ever looks forward to the long death march after a day of hiking. We continue to entertain ourselves with amusing stories and talk about the dog. There were some significant blow downs at the base of the Bond Cliff trail and there was a few more good ones on the flat death march out from the high winds that blew through the area earlier in the week. At the car, Isis curled up in my lap and fell into a most deserving sleep. We made our way back to the Zealand trail head and marveled at the sunset. The colors it cast through Franconia Ridge were amazing. Once back at the car, there was talk of more hikes together and of course, I would look forward to that. Winter was fast approaching and I had plans. I had hoped that those plans would involve old and new friends.
Today was a good day to stretch my wings and learn to fly on my own. Eternally and optimist and believing that myself and my little girl pup are capable of amazing things, today proved it to me. Isis completed the traverse without so much as a whimper and I had a smile on my face from start to finish. Today was truly one of those days that solidifies why I hike. Always great to have company and when you have company that encourages you to be comfortable with who you are, it makes it even better.