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Backpacking a Bonds Traverse – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

A Bonds Traverse is a 2 day, 20 mile traverse of Zealand Mountain, West Bond, Mt Bond, and Bondcliff Mountain. Bondcliff is one of the most picturesque mountains on the 4000 footers list and many hikers like to pose for photos on its western cliff. While it is possible to day hike this route on a very long day, it’s much nicer to take your time, stargaze from Mt Bond, and watch the sunset or sunrise over Bondcliff.

Bonds Traverse Route

Rating/Difficulty

****/3 out of 5

Distance/Elevation Gain

20 miles w/3700′ of cumulative elevation gain

White Mountain 4000 Footers

  • Zealand
  • West Bond
  • Mt Bond
  • Bondcliff

Recommended Duration

2 days

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

This route passes through the Pemigewasset Wilderness Area. Please observe all wilderness area restrictions. 

Trailhead Directions

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Map 2: Franconia-Pemigewasset (2017 ed), which is the best waterproof map available for this region, although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way.

Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • Zealand Trail – 2.3 miles
  • Ethan Pond Trail – 0.2 miles
  • Twinway – 3.1 miles
  • Zealand Mountain Spur Trail 0.2 miles (out and back)
  • Twinway – 1.3 miles
  • Bondcliff Trail – 0.8 miles
  • West Bond Spur – 1.0 miles (out and back)
  • Bondcliff Trail – 7.9 miles
  • Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.9 miles

20 miles with 3700′ elevation gain.

Scenic Highlights

The following list provides cumulative distances on the route to each view or landmark.

  • Zealand Hut/Zealand Falls – 2.7 miles
  • Zeacliff Viewpoint – 4.2 miles
  • Zealand Summit – 5.8 miles
  • Mt Guyot Summit – 7.1 miles
  • West Bond Summit – 8.4 miles
  • Mt Bond Summit – 9.4 miles
  • Bondcliff Summit – 10.5 miles
  • Franconia Falls – 16.9 miles

Camping and Shelter Options

Water

Natural water sources are plentiful in the White Mountains although you may need to descend to them from ridgelines along side trails if you run short. In any case, carry a detailed topographic map with you and don’t rely on the overview map provided with this trip description to find water sources.

I also recommend purchasing the WMNF Pemigewasset Map in Guthook Guide’s New England Hiker Smartphone App (IOS, Android) which is a GPS guide to all of the trails, trailhead, shelters, campsites, views, and water sources in the White Mountains National Forest. I use it all the time and it is much more complete and current than using the maps bundled with the Gaia Smartphone App.

On the Trail

This route starts at the Zealand Trailhead at the end of Zealand Road. Follow the Zealand Trail towards the AMC’s Zealand Hut passing through forest and across a few easy stream crossings. While hidden by trees, the Zealand River runs besides the trail with numerous pools and cascades where you can swim or wade in hot weather.

Raised walkways over beaver ponds
Raised walkways over beaver ponds

You soon enter a wetland area, where the trail crosses numerous beaver ponds over wooden walkways and bridges. The foliage here is breathtaking in Autumn, when the valley and surrounding hills explode in seasonal color.

After passing a trail junction with the A-Z Trail, the Zealand Trail ends. Continue along the Ethan Pond Trail for 0.2 miles toward the AMC’s Zealand Hut. Turn right when you reach the Twinway Trail junction and continue 0.2 miles to the hut. Before you reach it, there is a short spur trail on your left to Zealand Falls which is pretty, especially after rainfall.

Appalachian Mountain Club's Zealand Hut
Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand Hut

Drop your pack on the porch and go inside the hut to check it out. While reservations are required for overnight guests, anyone can pop into an AMC hut during the day and buy snacks, top off water bottles or use the facilities. All of the huts post daily forecasts and have weather instruments that you can check, along with maps, and guidebooks.

From the hut, continue along the Twinway, climbing steeply for 1.2 miles to Zeacliff, a cliff-side viewpoint down a short side trail (signed) overlooking Zealand Notch that has a great view of Mt Carrigain in the distance. Continue along the Twinway toward Zealand Mountain, passing another trail to your left to Zeacliff Pond, a small alpine pond, which also has a good view of Carrigain. In 1.0 miles, you’ll come to another spur trail on your right which leads to the viewless Zealand Mountain summit and its hand-carved summit sign.

Zealand Mountain Summit Sign
Zealand Mountain Summit Sign

Retrace your steps and turn right when you reach the Twinway,  heading toward Mt Guyot. Guyot (pronounced Gee-oh with a hard ‘G’) is a bald dome covered with low lying shrubs, called krummholz, a German word used to describe the stunted trees that grow on exposed mountain tops above treeline. The Twinway continues over Guyot and leads to the Bondcliff Trail junction. Turn left onto the Bondcliff Trail and follow it 0.8 miles to the Guyot Shelter and Tentsite Spur. I’d recommend that you stay here overnight because it the only spot with a reliable water source for some distance.

Mt Guyot
Mt Guyot

The West Bond Spur Trail leaves the  Bondcliff Trail just 0.2 miles past the side trail to the Guyot Shelter and Tentsite. The open summit is a short hike through stunted trees. This is probably the best viewpoint in the White Mountains to admire Bondcliff’s graceful ridge and a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunset or sunrise. Just be sure to bring a headlamp.

Avalanches scar the face of West Bond Mountain
Avalanches scar the face of West Bond Mountain

Backtrack to the Bondcliff Trail and turn right to summit Mt Bond in just 0.5 miles. Mt Bond also has great views.  It is high enough at 4698′ that you can see the Presidential Range to the northeast and Franconia Ridge to the West.

Mt Bond
Mt Bond

While West Bond and Mt Bond have been easy to climb so far, the same can’t be said about Bondcliff Mountain. Leaving Mt Bond, the Bondcliff Trail descends steeply down a boulder choked trail that’s slow going until you reach the first open ledges on about 1 mile away. This is also a very hot section of trail in summer when the sun beating down on the rocks. Be sure to carry plenty of water and to stay hydrated. Also use caution when hiking along the cliff in fog or high winds. The steep valley below the cliffs is called Hellgate.

Bondcliff Mountain - A sight that never gets old
Bondcliff Mountain – A sight that never gets old

Midway down the cliff, there’s a prow-like ledge that juts out from the cliff and is the perfect place to stand for a portrait with West Bond and Mt Bond in the background. Countless hikers have had their photos taken here and it’s a right-of-passage for many 4000 footer peakbaggers

When you’re ready to leave Bondcliff, proceed down the ridge towards treeline, scrambling down a 15 foot rock ledge called “Hillary’s Step.” I’ve found the best way to climb down this is backwards, so you can maintain a firm grip on the handholds. From here, the trail drops steadily back down to the Pemigewasset River passing through forest with a few easy stream crossings. These may be dry in summer, so don’t count on finding water at them. Significant portions of this trail have been heavily eroded from recent storms, so take your time in descending.

Take a hard right turn at the base of the descent, continuing along the Bondcliff Trail, following an old railroad right of way. Many of the railroad ties are still in evidence to this day.

Railroad ties
Railroad ties

After crossing a bridge over Franconia Brook, there’s a short spur trail to your right which leads to Franconia Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls and swimming holes in the Whites. There are a series off cascades, slides, and pools here that you can frolic in or just soak your feet in the river to cool them off.

Lovely Franconia Falls
Lovely Franconia Falls

If you decide to bypass the spur trail, continue along the Lincoln Woods Trail along the Pemigewasset River, which also provide numerous swimming opportunities. Cross a suspension bridge over the river in 2.9 miles, which leads to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead and the end of this route.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

Published 2018.

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