The Pemigewasset Loop, known locally as the Pemi Loop, is a classic White Mountains backpacking trip. Most registers record the route as 31.5 miles and around 18,000 feet of elevation change, and hikers of the full loop will knock out eight of New Hampshire's 48 4,000-foot peaks along the way (Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Bond and Bondcliff). Hiking anything less won't earn you the status of a Pemi veteran. For truly ambitious hikers, up to four more 4,000-foot peaks can be reached via spur trails off the main route (Galehead, North Twin, Zealand, and West Bond). In order to achieve the highest degree of glory the Pemi can bestow, extreme hikers tackle loop in a single day.
As if the distance and elevation change weren't enough of a challenge, this hike throws in mile after mile of brutally rocky trail. In many places the trail is nothing more than a ribbon of boulders through the woods. The hours of hiking steep grades on uneven, often wet, rocky surfaces quickly take their toll on knees and ankles. There is no shame in packing stretch bandages and ibuprofen. Backpacker Magazine rated the one-day hike of the Pemi as the second hardest day hike in the United States (behind a one-day hike of the Timberline Trail). Of course, for most of us this isn't a day hike, it is two or often three days of backcountry bliss.
The loop is a concatenation of trails that takes you along a horseshoe-shaped ridgeline. Hikers will set foot on no less than seven trails: Clockwise they are Lincoln Woods, Osseo, Franconia Ridge, Garfield Ridge, Twinway, Bondcliff and Wilderness before a return on Lincoln Woods. In several locations from above tree line hikers have the unique experience of seeing almost the entirety of their hike laid out before them.
There are three official campsites with shelters along the loop (Guyot, Garfield Ridge, and Liberty Springs). All are operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The three shelters cost a nominal fee for camping on a platform with access to a bear box, composting toilet and a nearby water filtration source. For a higher price, the Galehead Hut, near the midpoint of the loop, offers beds and warm meals to those who book in advance. Even if you are not staying at the hut, you can often purchase snacks or warm drinks. Check the AMC website for the operating season and costs.
The loop can be hiked in either direction, and there are arguments to be made for the merits of each. Hiking clockwise knocks out the highest peaks, and therefore the greatest elevation gains, early on while legs are strong. Going counter-clockwise, on the other hand, tackles the most rugged and rocky half of the hike on fresh legs, allowing wobbly-kneed hikers to descend the tamer trail. Hikers should also consider the weather when deciding which direction to hike. At 5,089 feet and 5,249 feet, respectively, Lincoln and Lafayette are considerably higher than peaks on the opposite side of the loop, and they will be subject to stronger weather. It may be windy and hailing on Lafayette and partly cloudy on Bondcliff on the same afternoon. The Lincoln Woods Visitor Center and all of the AMC maintained shelters and huts post weather reports daily during their operating season.