• Jon Secord

Lauren's Pemi Loop

Hi everyone, my name is Jon Secord, and I’m a landscape photographer living in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to partner up with Stacey at White Mountains Helicopter, working together to capture unique images of my favorite area- the White Mountain National Forest. Every flight I’ve gone on was amazing in their own way, but today I’m going to talk about the most meaningful one, when I went up with my girlfriend Lauren.

I’ll save most of the sappy stuff, but it’s no question that these mountains have played a huge role in our relationship. Our first real adventure together was going to Sugar Hill to see the lupines, we hiked Franconia Ridge for the first time together, patience was tested on a Jefferson/Washington traverse, and our laughter echoed across the valley under the stars one night on Zeacliff - so many of our best memories together have happened on these peaks and trails. After my first flight back in June, I knew right away that I had to get Lauren to join me, but her (slight) fear of heights meant I had an uphill battle. Over the summer, I would occasionally drop hints about flying, and although she was still apprehensive, I could see that she was slowly warming up to the idea. Finally, one beautiful, sunny morning while figuring out where to hike (Willard again, Hedgehog, Jefferson?), we got the last minute invite to come up and fly. I think surprise was on my side, because Lauren just said yes without really thinking. We quickly walked the dogs, packed the car, and made our way up north. Once we arrived in Warren and talking to Stacey, we decided to do a Pemi Loop flight, counterclockwise to work with the afternoon sun. To me, this is probably the best use of an hour flight, because we got to see the majority of our favorite hikes. After taking the doors off and double checking all of our gear, it was time to fly. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when the helicopter is just starting up, and you feel the subtle shake as the rotors spin- the excitement makes it hard to sit still!

I still get a bit of pre-flight anxiety (I think Lauren would agree), but once we gain altitude and the view starts to open up, it’s easy to be totally absorbed in the scenes unfolding beneath you. Whenever we hike together, we always like to sit and try to point out the different peaks, trying to find new perspectives on familiar hikes- but nothing can compare to seeing them from a helicopter.

After a few minutes, we started moving over the edges of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, catching our first looks at the backside of Franconia Ridge, with great views of the Lincoln Brook Slide. I was photographing into the sun at this point, which is why we chose a counterclockwise loop, but this got us so excited for our return to Lafayette. Now we were really getting to the good stuff :)

Bondcliff and the slides on West Bond are always a highlight during flights here. I had seen photos on Instagram before the flight, and saw that there was some great color blanketing the valley, and it was amazing! We had focused on Bondcliff during previous flights, flying on the other side to capture the Bondcliff view, so this time we just skirted the sides as we continued around our loop. Seeing a few hikers making their way down the trail really gave some perspective on the scale here- more on that later.

The next part of the flight is where we saw the best early fall color- the Zealand Valley. Some days we just don’t feel like a bigger hike, and the area around Zealand is one of my favorites to spend the day exploring. Middle Sugarloaf was just glowing in the late afternoon sun!

Finally, we were on to the main event. I had talked up how awesome flying over Franconia Ridge is to Lauren all summer, and I was so excited for her to finally see it! I love the approach toward Lafayette from the north, knowing the classic ridgeline view is just around the corner, with glimpses of the other Pemi Loop peaks in the distance.

One thing I always hope for during flights is hikers on the trails, and a beautiful Saturday afternoon on Franconia Ridge was sure to deliver, so I got my telephoto lens ready and crossed my fingers!

Success! Amazing conditions with plenty of hikers along the ridge, and I couldn't help but laugh as I looked over to see Lauren waving to everyone as we passed by. Lafayette has been the focus of many of the flights I've taken, but this was easily the best trip. On the way back toward Warren, Stacey asked if we wanted to take a pass over Moosilauke...of course! The "Gentle Giant" really lives up to it's name from the air, where the contrast between the (mostly) rugged and rocky summits of the White Mountains is obvious. I joined in by waving to these hikers, and we continued on to land.

An hour later, walking together through Hannaford's in Plymouth, it was hard not to run up to every stranger to tell them what we just did! I always feel a sort of post-flight hangover, and it can be hard to process all the emotions from such a crazy and unique opportunity. But instead of trying to explain it to fellow shoppers, we grabbed some pizza and drove home, another shared experience in the mountains stronger.

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