Friday we (party of three) spotted a car at Lincoln Woods (Kancamagus Highway and Pemigewasset River) and drove around to Zealand Campground (Rt. 302). Easy ski to the hut, nice snow. On the trail at 6:30. Temps 25 to 30 F all day and light snow most of the day.
We thought about going via Thoreau Falls Trail but heard the steep section was unskiable so went went via Shoal Pond trail, a longer route. The trail was broken to about a mile past Shoal Pond. There was a crust layer at 10 inches so we didn't bog and could keep moving. There is plenty of snow back there, 50 inches or so.
We lost the trail a number of times but followed the thread of Shoal Pond Brook and soon encountered the trail again. But when we reached the Pemi River we had a very hard time finding the Wilderness Trail and lost the better part of two hours. The river is pretty open. One of our party tried to cross on an ice shelf. It broke and he got a soaked boot and came this close to rolling into the shallow river. The others ran across and somehow that went ok. (I love my Patagonia guide pants with that robust internal cuff.) We found, lost and found the Wilderness Trail a number of times and it was breaking trail and slow going until about two miles past the junction of the Wilderness Trail and Thoreau Pond Trail, where encountered two guys pulling heavy sleds, on snowshoes. (Maybe they dropped the bottle of scotch we found in the trail, enough for a good swallow each.) The going steadily became easier and we got to the car at six, so 11 1/2 hours on the trail.
This trip is not to be underestimated. Routefinding is a challenge over much of the route. Blazes are rare and the trail is growing in. I brought a mapping GPS (DeLorme PN-60) and it was helpful, but when you are in thick spruce looking for a winter trail maybe a hundred yards off a GPS isn't magic. It was one of the more physically demanding trips I've ever done, right up there with a summer Pemi Traverse, but harder because it involved not just skiing but falling, grabbing trees, crashing into trees, straining to cross the countless little gullies, etc. etc. Writing the next day, I am knackered, tired, battered, bruised and beat up.
We went light, no tent. We had our sleeping bags of course and a bivvy would have been possible, but we figured worst case would be a headlamp finish on the easy trails near Lincoln Woods. I would strongly recommend bringing, for a party of two or three, a spare ski pole (three part collapsible) and a pair of snowshoes. Without snowshoes, a broken ski or even a broken binding could strand the skier, and there are thousands of opportunities to break a ski. Ten miles from the Kank is no place to be stranded: there's nobody back there but the moose, and barebooting ain't gonna happen. (Naturally we had neither snowshoes nor a spare ski pole.)
So, a great trip, not quite an epic, one successfully accomplished by three reasonably trail-savvy guys, a trip I have no desire to repeat, and just a small but persistent feeling of having gotten away with it.