Backpacking Bondcliff: 7 Months Pregnant

A photo of a 7 months pregnant backpacker with a giant smile on her face getting ready to crawl into her tent after a long day of hiking. The backdrop shows a lush green forest

I decided to celebrate the beginning of my third trimester with a 3-day solo backpacking trip to one of my favorite 4000 footers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire: Bondcliff (elev. 4265′). There’s not doubt about it, backpacking while pregnant adds some extra challenges, but for me it has been totally worth it!

For my trip up Bondcliff, I decided to take a slow and steady approach, breaking what I might normally do in one or two challenging days into a much more manageable 3-day trip. This allowed me to take the extra time my much heavier than usual body needed to do the hike and to have fun with it. The rewards for my efforts were a few gorgeous days enjoying the wilderness and then the spectacular views from the summit of Bondcliff :)

Pregnant backpacker sitting at the edge of Bondcliff

Trip Report: Bondcliff Backpacking Out-and-Back

  • Date: August, 2021
  • Activity: 3-Day Solo Backpacking Trip
  • Difficulty Level: Strenuous
  • Trail Name(s): Bondcliff via the Pemigewasset Wilderness and Franconia Falls (~18.8 miles total)
    • Day 1: Lincoln Woods Trail (2.8 miles, relatively flat) to the Wilderness Trail (1.8 miles, relatively flat) to dispersed camping on the Bondcliff Trail.
    • Day 2: Bondcliff Trail to the Summit of Bondcliff (~4.4 miles, almost all of the elevation) then back down to dispersed camping along the Bondcliff Trail (~4.4 miles)
    • Day 3: Wilderness Trail (1.8 miles, relatively flat), then the out-and-back to Franconia Falls (0.8 miles roundtrip), and finally the Lincoln Woods trail back to the car (~2.8 miles, relatively flat).
  • Location: Pemigewasset Wilderness, White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
  • Access and Amenities: Parking available at Lincoln Woods trailhead with a $5/day parking fee. Flush toilets, running water, and ranger station available at trailhead.
Pregnant backpacker standing at the edge of Bondcliff
The exposed cliffs of Bondcliff Mountain, with me standing out near the edge.

Why Bondcliff Via the Pemi While Pregnant?

There are a lot of different reasons why I chose Bondcliff for my third trimester backpacking trip, and planned it as a three day hike. I discuss five of the reasons below.

Crossing over Franconia Brook as I headed into the Pemigewasset Wilderness

#1. The first, is that the 4.6 miles of trail into the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the base of Bondcliff trail is a very easy hike. I figured that if I hiked out to the base of Bondcliff trail and my body, for whatever reason, wasn’t feeling up to hiking the 4000 footer I could always turnaround and hike back out again and call it a successful backpacking trip even if I didn’t climb the mountain.

Easy, flat terrain along the Wilderness Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness

#2. There is an abundance of dispersed backcountry campsites along the Wilderness Trail and the lower part of the Bondcliff trail, so I was able to set up a base camp out of site of the trail and far away from everyone else. This allowed me to leave most of my backpacking gear at my campsite while I did the more challenging hike up the Bondcliff Trail carrying nothing more than I would usually carry for a day hike. Since pregnancy has made me much heavier, slower, and more easily out of breath, I appreciated climbing the extra elevation without the additional weight of my full backpacking gear. (For those interested in the details, I actually ended up choosing a backcountry site on the far side of Black Creek about a mile up the Bondcliff Trail.)

The rockier terrain of Bondcliff Trail, including a large number of stone steps

#3. Unlike most 4000 footers in the White Mountains, the trail up Bondcliff requires very little hand-over-foot scrambling, and it doesn’t include any boulder fields. It is mostly a slow, steep, and steady climb the whole way up. Though the stone stairs gain enough altitude to ensure a hearty workout, the trail isn’t nearly as rugged as a lot of the other trails and not quite as hard on the knees. Given the extra weight and joint issues associated with pregnancy this made it a relatively good option as 4000 footers go. Although some trail descriptions mention a section of Class IV terrain near the summit, there is really just one spot that requires you to climb up a steep section of rock which has large slope-y steps that have been blasted/carved into it. I found it to be easy to navigate even with my bulkier body (caveat, if you are hiking with a dog it could be tricky trying to carry the dog up the steps).

The trickiest section of the Bondcliff Trail, which is maybe a 10 – 12 foot section you literally have to climb

#4. Did I mention that the summit has some of the most spectacular views in the White Mountains? The cliffs themselves are very cool, and you get a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains including the Franconia Range and the rest of the Bonds. For people who are feeling energetic, two additional 4000 footers can easily be included in the hike (both Bond and West Bond). However, I decided to take it easy and despite my early arrival a the summit decided to lounge at the summit for a couple of hours enjoying the view and a surprising amount of solitude for one of the White Mountains most spectacular summits. (Most of the time I was up there I was only sharing the summit with one other person; thank you to my fellow hikers that graciously agreed to snap the photos of me standing at the summit cliff).

Happily standing at the edge of the cliff enjoying the gravid-y of the situation before heading back down

#5. Although the Lincoln Woods Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Whites, a midweek hike beyond it to the Wilderness Trail and Bondcliff Trail can allow you to escape the crowds and appreciate some of the quiet and solitude that the Wilderness has to offer. The place that I chose to camp allowed me to get far enough off of the beaten path, and to have enough staggered timing, so that I was able to stop on multiple occasions and appreciate the fact the the only sounds were the occasional chirping of the birds and the gentle breeze above my head. That kind of quiet is becoming more and more rare in the NorthEast.

A quiet patch of wilderness

Final Thoughts

As my pregnancy progresses, the nature of the hikes and trips I feel comfortable taking is evolving with my body. In general, I’ve found that I need to reduce my daily mileage, need to hydrate more, eat more frequently, provide more support for my joints, and take more frequent breaks while pregnant. I also spend more time considering bail out plans (just in case) and am starting to choose less remote hikes. Although I’m planning on beginning to taper down to less rigorous treks, I’m hoping that with the support of my friends, loved ones, and health care providers I’ll have the opportunity to get in some more hiking in before the baby comes :)

A happy pregnant backpacker with a full pacl.
A happy hiker heading out of the Pemi

P.S. I’ve made a number of modifications to my pack and gear to help accommodate my ever changing pregnant body, and the lack of maternity hiking clothes generally available on the market. I’m planning on saving that discussion for an upcoming post, but for now, one of the most useful modifications I’ve found is to use a padded seatbelt cover over the band of the hip belt and to tighten the hip belt down below the below (see photo above). That way the hip belt can be used as a “belly band” to help support and stabilize the belly at the same time as it allows part of the weight of the pack to be carried on your hips. For me, the added belly support from the padded hip belt makes hiking with the pack on more comfortable than hiking without it!

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