December 11, 2017: Whiteface Mountain (the one in Gilford, that is)

I only ever hiked Whiteface in Gilford once before, and that was a tick-filled experience in May of last year. I’ve read about the cliffs on the southern side of the mountain several times, and after recently seeing some new photos of them and reading additional descriptions on how to get to them, I decided to head out today to hike beyond the summit to see if I could find them.

Now, this would probably have been a better idea last Friday, before there were three inches or so of snow on the ground. A faint herd path that could possibly be tricky to find without snow cover is made more difficult to find once there’s a coating of the white stuff.

After dropping off a shipment of Christmas gifts at the post office, I headed out to Gilford and followed Belknap Mountain road to its end, parking in the small lot along the side of the road. A woman, who I assume lives in one of the nearby homes, was out walking her very happy and friendly dog on the road. Well after they had passed by me (and we exchanged hellos), I headed down the dirt section of the road a little further to get to the trail… and was greeted again by the dog running toward me, wagging its tail. This might scare or startle some people who are wary of dogs running loose – but I’m rather used to it at this point and it didn’t bother me (especially since I could just tell that the dog was happy and friendly, and just wanted to say hi). I put out my mitten-clad hand for a sniff, and before I could even pet the dog, it was already running back to the driveway it came from.

I easily found the clearly marked trail, located between two houses, and headed up. It looked like there hadn’t been much activity on the trail since the snow; it appeared that there were just two sets of human and dog tracks – one set each ascending and descending. I was fairly sure there wouldn’t be enough snow for snowshoes (and there wasn’t), but I had brought along my microspikes, leaving them attached to my pack with a carabiner to start. I followed the trail up through the forest, eventually reaching the halfway point at its junction with the Piper-Whiteface Link trail. Here is where I decided to put on my spikes, since the trail would eventually get rockier, with open ledges closer to the summit.

After donning my spikes, I stepped over the broken-down remains of a rock wall and continued on the Whiteface trail (blazed blue). I was somewhat surprised to see that absolutely nobody had been out this way since the snow on Saturday afternoon. (The tracks I saw on the trail earlier headed toward Piper at the junction.) I was occasionally surprised by the sound of cracking ice under my feet, and realized I needed to watch out for lightly frozen puddles hidden under the snow. In one spot, I actually broke through a frozen muddy spot with my right foot and got a bit of a muddy boot (but partially frozen December mud is easier to get off a boot than wet June mud, especially when you can use the snow to help clean it off).

I soon reached an ATV/snowmobile trail coming up from the western side of the mountain, which is shared with the hiking trail the rest of the way to the summit. Here’s where I had to start watching out for those partially frozen puddles, since some of them can be a little deep. The dead giveaway is a large, perfectly flat area in a low section of the trail. I came across about three or four of these on my way to the summit, and was careful to follow whichever high side looked to be the most stable. I succeeded in keeping my feet only snowy and not soaked, so that worked well.

As I neared an open area, I noticed some larger tracks (that is, larger than the chipmunk and squirrel tracks I had been seeing so far)… which were clearly coyote tracks. They looked sort of fresh – maybe from overnight or earlier in the morning, rather than from yesterday. I just hoped they weren’t super-fresh and that I was making enough noise so that I wouldn’t meet up with the coyote that made them.

I emerged from tree cover onto the ledgy false summit, which has excellent views to the west over Lake Winnisquam, north to the White Mountains (though I couldn’t see any further than Red Hill today due to clouds), and northeast to the rest of the Belknap range. After a few quick photos, I continued on to the high point of the summit.

Once at the summit, I continued beyond, briefly following the ATV trail and then looking in the junipers for the faint herd path that leads to the cliffs. I read some conflicting descriptions – one I recently read said the herd path was on the left, but photos and other descriptions made me think the cliffs would be to the right. I wandered around to the left, came back. Wandered over to the right, came back. Continued further down the ATV trail a bit, then came back (and regretted going that way, since it was kind of steep). I decided that trying to find a faint herd path under snow cover, even as little as it was, was futile and probably not a good idea when I was alone on a trail that doesn’t seem to get much traffic this time of year (at least until there’s enough snow for snowmobiles).

I returned to the summit and headed back down the same way I came up. I didn’t see any other hikers on the trails at all, and it didn’t look like there were any other footprints after mine on the lower half of the trail. Sure enough, mine was the only car in the parking lot when I returned.

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December 8, 2017: Round Pond & Weeks Woods

After a difficult Thursday at work, I was so ready for my planned 4-day weekend (using up time off that I would otherwise lose after year-end). I originally thought about hiking up Whiteface (the one in Gilford) and continuing past the summit to see the cliffs. But my heart was telling me to go to Round Pond – even though I’ve been out there several times recently.

For today’s hike, I started from the East Gilford trailhead just off of Wood Road. When I arrived at the parking area just before 8:30 AM, I was surprised that there were no other cars there. Then I remembered it was Friday, not Saturday. There were also a lot of heavy equipment tracks in the parking lot and just beyond the gate. (Not really surprising since there is occasionally some logging done in the area – though I don’t think any logging was done this year.) Poorfarm Brook was babbling away at the start of the trail. It looked like there may have been some recent repairs to the trail, possibly due to the heavy rains and flooding we experienced just before Halloween.

At the fork, I chose to follow the more scenic East Gilford trail instead of the Fire Road. This leg of the journey, as well as the Round Pond trail, always turns out to be longer than I remember – though it’s by no means a long hike. Just beyond the bridge crossing over a wider section of Poorfarm Brook, I spotted some relatively fresh-looking drainage work on the upper end of the Fire Road, where it meets the Round Pond trail. A drain tube had been installed and covered over with large gravel – much needed in this extremely wet area. I continued on the Round Pond trail, and soon reached the Round Pond-Piper Link trail. From here, it’s a pretty short, easy jaunt out to Round Pond.

When I reached the pond, it was nearly all frozen over. I only spotted a section of open water within a 10 to 20-foot margin of the northern shoreline. I continued a quarter of the way around the pond, just until I arrived at the junction with the Klem-Mack Loop. Since it was in the low 30’s and I was on the shady side of the pond, I just took a few photos and headed back (after finding a loose, softball-sized rock along the trail and throwing it out on the pond to check the ice – it chipped it, bounced, and skidded, but didn’t break through the ice), eating my snacks as I walked. Luckily, when I got in the Jeep this morning, I discovered the extra single-serving bag of Combos the hubby didn’t eat last Saturday while we were running errands, so I claimed them as one of my hiking snacks.

On my way back, something about the steep slope just north of the pond was calling to me. I just felt this incredible urge to climb it and see where it went. Looking at my map, I did see it was indeed a high spot, and I remembered reading something about it in a hike report (I think there’s a geocache or log book there or something). Anyway, I could make out a relatively easy way up through the sparse trees, and soon found a herd path near the state forest boundary line. I followed it up and in the direction of the Round Pond trail, thinking it might take me to the summit of this rocky hill… but very soon I spotted another hiker up ahead and realized I had nearly reached the Round Pond-Piper Link trail and passed by just south of the hill’s summit. (Checking the old Dave Roberts map when I got home, I saw the name of the hill was Heator Mountain – I knew it had a name but couldn’t remember it out on the trail.) I think sometime I’ll come back and do some actual orienteering with the map and compass – it’s a pretty good place to practice, since the forest isn’t very dense, there are some easy landmarks like the state forest boundary, and it’s mostly surrounded by trails, so if you walk in a straight line you’ll eventually get to one of them.

The return trip was much faster, since all the uphill sections of the Round Pond trail were now downhill, and I took the slightly shorter Fire Road back to the parking lot. This hike only took me a little over two hours, so it wasn’t even 11 AM yet. I decided to stop at Weeks Woods for a second short hike on the way home.

Driving back on Route 11A towards Laconia, I turned in at the Gilford Town Hall and parked at the end of the Public Works building’s parking lot closest to the road. My friend Cat had recently mentioned a great view at Weeks Woods, which I thought I had seen before (and wasn’t impressed with). But it turns out the view Cat was referring to was actually beyond the Weeks Woods property.

I followed the eastern side of the yellow-blazed Lower Loop trail, then got on the blue-blazed Upper Loop trail at its eastern end. After stopping at the Picture Post to do my citizen scientist duties (taking photos as instructed and uploading them online), I continued on the Upper Loop trail briefly until the Upper Loop forked to the left and I continued straight ahead on the trail that leads off the property. (Note: If you use the Picture Post, north is no longer marked on the top. If you’re facing the sign on the post, and consider the side of the octagon closest to you as the “bottom”, north is the side of the octagon just to the right of that, at the bottom-right corner. Don’t follow the diagram of the octagon shown on the sign to determine which side is north – or just use a compass.)

Soon I reached a spot where the wider trail continued straight ahead and a well-worn narrow trail branched off to the right. Though I have no maps for these trails (and I wasn’t able to find any online), they were certainly well used and I knew all I had to do was head towards the sun to get back. After following the trail through lots of twists, turns, and junctions, and passing by several logged areas, I somehow managed to reach the viewpoint, where there was a bench crafted of logs overlooking a large field with a view of the mountains to the northwest. I stood on the bench to take a couple of disappointing iPhone shots that just couldn’t compare to the view I was seeing with my own eyes, then continued following the trail along the upper end of the field.

Originally, I thought this was simply the opposite end of the same field I had seen from the scenic overlook at the corner of the Weeks Woods property on earlier hikes. But it turns out it was the field next door (and, I believe, one of the fields that Beans and Greens farms). Following the trail and making some left turns without truly knowing where the trails would lead, I eventually ended up back at the bench. Here I made a right, figuring I would somehow finish a loop and end up either back where I started or on a different section of the upper loop. At one point, I encountered a huge pine tree that had fallen directly on (along, not across) the trail, and had to go around it. Sure enough, I soon emerged at the Weeks Woods boundary where I had initially left the property, just above the Picture Post. With my mission for this little trek accomplished, I just headed back down instead of completing the loop.

I returned to the parking lot, took off my backpack, put it and myself in the Jeep and headed home. Somewhere between Piche’s and Bolduc Park, I suddenly realized I didn’t have my mittens. When I first arrived at Weeks Woods, I had put on my backpack and tucked the mittens under the waist strap of my pack. I knew exactly where they were: in the Gilford Public Works parking lot, right next to where the Jeep had been parked. So I turned around just over the Laconia town line, headed back to Gilford and retrieved my mittens. It had only been 15 minutes, so as I figured, nobody had picked them up yet.

I’m looking forward to another day off on Monday and doing some additional exploring! Now I just have to figure out where.

November 24, 2017: Round Pond South

For this year’s #optoutside I met up with Cat and Lucy for a 7ish-mile round trip out-and-back to Round Pond and continuing on the Round Pond South trail to the scout camp.

After checking out Round Pond, we headed south into the scout camp, eventually emerging onto a camp road. We took advantage of one of the picnic tables among the tent platforms to enjoy some lunch and watch a feisty little chipmunk darting about before heading back up to the pond.

There isn’t any snow on the trails yet, but we did encounter some patches of ice and frozen mud, as well as standing and running water from recent rains.

Other than a family and two dogs hiking through the scout camp, we didn’t see anyone else on the trails.

November 12, 2017: Mt. Major, minus the summit

Continuing in the pursuit of Lucy’s Belknap Range redlining goal, we hit (the usually ridiculously busy) Mt. Major today to finish up the trails in that portion of the range.

We arrived at the large parking area along Route 11 in Alton just before 7:00 AM. There were very few cars there at that time, but that would change drastically by the time we returned.

We began on the blue trail, which is the most direct route to the summit. It’s the most heavily used trail, and quite eroded in spots. We were only on this trail for just under three-quarters of a mile, then began following the Brook trail (blazed yellow) to the right. The plan was to continue on the Brook trail for a bit (just under a mile), then take the North Straightback Link trail (blazed green) to the north summit of Straightback mountain.

However, we eventually reached the junction where the yellow trail rejoins the blue. After a little under a quarter-mile back on the blue trail, I realized we somehow missed the North Straightback trail, and we turned around to return to the junction nearly a half-mile back. I also realized on our way back, that was the spot where I told Lucy to follow the trail to the left (which was the yellow trail) at a point where it looked like a fork with a trail branching off to the right – but I didn’t notice a sign or any blazes on the trail to the right, and thought it was a false trail.

Turns out, that was indeed the start of the North Straightback Link – there used to be a sign there, but either it was now gone or I had somehow missed it. It also doesn’t help that the green used to blaze this trail is a dark green that tends to blend in with the bark and evergreens (more recently blazed green trails in the range now use a more visible bright lime green instead). This trail doesn’t seem to get much use, and can be a little tricky to follow in spots due to the color of the blazes, as well as blazes that are farther apart (possibly due to blazed trees that have fallen down).

After a relatively quick, but often steep and occasionally rocky, half mile, we reached the Dave Roberts Quarry Trail at the north summit of Straightback Mountain. We took a left here, heading south, and in several yards we reached the Quarry Spur trail, which we followed for three-tenths of a mile to the Belknap Range Trail (blue).

After a short while on the BRT, we were retracing our steps on the section we had hiked earlier before turning around when we realized we had missed the North Straightback trail. Intentionally missing the Mt. Major summit by three-tenths of a mile, we took a right onto the Jesus Valley-Beaver Pond trail, which is the longest route to return to the parking lot. It’s a somewhat scenic journey, though, passing by a stream and a marsh, and with relatively easy hiking on the lower half over snowmobile trails. Since my phone had died by this point due to the cold weather, I have no photos of the hike after the Quarry Spur trail. For more information and photos from the Jesus Valley-Beaver Pond trail, see the report from my January 3, 2016 hike.

At the end of the JVBP trail, we returned to the parking lot via the lower end of the Boulder Loop trail (blazed orange), which was just four-tenths of a mile. In all, our hike came out to about 6.8 miles, including retracing our footsteps where we missed the North Straightback Link, and took us a little more than four and a half hours.

Since we started relatively early for this time of year, stuck to the outermost and lesser-used trails, and avoided the typically crowded summit entirely, we saw only a handful of people and two dogs on today’s hike.

November 5, 2017: Mt. Shannon & Goat Pasture Hill

With the recent storm damage, I decided to stick to the Belknap Range this weekend and help Lucy with her redlining, instead of heading up north to the White Mountains. Since I’ve hiked these trails before, I only took a handful of view/scenery shots; most of the photos I took were documenting blowdowns we found along the way so that trail maintainers and other hikers are aware of them.

We came across about a dozen new blowdowns, several of which required us to bushwhack around them, and others we were able to climb over or walk under.

We started from Hidden Valley scout camp, along the shores of Lake Eileen. We walked the camp road part way around the lake to reach the bottom of the Mack Ridge/Mt. Shannon trail. After about a quarter-mile on the trail, we reached a split and followed the yellow trail east to the ledgy summit of Mt. Shannon.

From Mt. Shannon, we then headed north on the blue trail, following it 1.4 miles, over a few stream crossings and past some marshy areas, until we reached Old Stage Road. Turning eastward again, we followed Old Stage Road for an easy three-quarters of a mile to the red trail.

We left Old Stage Road and headed south on the red trail, following it for nearly two miles, over Goat Pasture Hill, along the shore of Sunset Lake, and back to the scout camp.

There was still a lot of water remaining from last Sunday/Monday’s storm. The usual wet areas were extremely wet and muddy, and while the streams certainly weren’t raging rivers, the water was higher than it was this time last year. Rock hopping had to be done carefully, as many of the rocks we used to cross the streams were wet and mossy. The trickiest crossing of the hike was the last one, halfway down the red trail just below the blue trail connector, but it was doable with care and each of us using one of my trekking poles for balance.

We saw no other hikers on the trail today. Other than the occasional chipmunk or squirrel, the only wildlife we encountered was something with wings on Old Stage Road, which took off with some thunderous flapping, scaring the crap out of us as we walked by. We never saw what it was, but I guessed it may have been a turkey, grouse, or a large hawk.

Since the primary purpose of this hike was to cover some more trails for Lucy’s redlining patch, we included an out-and-back on the blue connector trail that runs east to west from halfway down the red trail over to the blue trail. It’s a short, easy section that mostly follows along a beautiful stream – out and back on this trail was just under a half mile total. We considered doing the same with the eastern end of the Mt. Shannon yellow trail (which is what I did when I was redlining last year), but we were ready to head back and instead decided to complete that section as a small loop hike another day.

In total, we hiked a little over six miles in just slightly more than four hours, finishing before noon and before the afternoon rain started.

October 27, 2017: Piper-Belknap-Gunstock Loop

Having several vacation days remaining to take before the end of the year, I took advantage of a long weekend and nice weather after several days of rain, and headed out for a hike in the Belknap Range.

As expected, after three rainy fall days in a row the trails were wet, leaf-covered, and a bit muddy – though there was nowhere near the amount of mud I was hiking in this past spring. The trip up the Piper Mountain (blazed red) trail was relatively quick – in about 45 minutes, I had reached the summit. I sat down on a rock bench to eat one of the three pieces of cheese I had brought along (three summits, three pieces of cheese – not exactly planned that way, but it makes sense), took a couple of photos, and then departed the summit via the Old Piper (blazed orange) trail, since it was quite windy.

Following the Old Piper trail to the Belknap Mountain white trail, I reached the summit of Belknap in a little under an hour. It was still pretty windy, so instead of climbing the fire tower and taking a break at the summit, I ate my second piece of cheese on the go as I started down the blue trail.

From here, it was a quick 40-minute trek over to the summit of Gunstock. I descended the blue trail halfway, then followed the Saddle trail (blazed white), and the Brook trail (blazed yellow). Here, I sat a little longer at one of the picnic tables on the deck of the (closed for the season) Panorama Pub, snacking on my final piece of cheese and some trail mix.

I returned to the Brook trail, passing another hiker along the way who was just reaching the summit. A short way along the trail, I took a right onto the Gunstock trail (blazed orange) to return to the Carriage Road. I had intended to take the Winter Shortcut trail to avoid the really steep, bouldery section… but forgot that in order to do so, I would have had to follow the white trail toward Mt. Rowe for a short distance where it split off from the orange trail. So I just carefully picked my way down over the rocks, wet leaves, and a ridiculous amount of acorns, using my trekking poles and somehow managing not to fall. Usually, when I take this trail, I’m ascending. I can only remember one other time I descended on this trail. About a quarter to a third of the way down the trail, I found myself at the scenic overlook. Whoops… I missed a turn! Fortunately, I only had to backtrack several yards to pick up the trail again. Descending the Gunstock trail actually took me longer than the hike up Piper – about an hour and ten minutes.

October 21, 2017: Round Pond, Mt. Anna, and Mt. Mack

On this beautiful, bluebird day, I met up with my friend Cat for a 9.5 mile hike in the Belknap Range. From Cat’s house, we headed out toward Round Pond on a private trail through her neighbor’s property.

It’s unseasonably warm again, but not unbearable – a high in the low 70’s was forecast for today. When we reached the pond, it was gorgeous – bright and sparkling under a cloudless, sunny sky. We made sure to take the short herd path to the shoreline to check out the beaver dam – but we didn’t spot any beavers or otters, just the calm water and stunning foliage.

We continued on the red trail through the Boy Scout camp property, and when we reached Old Stage Road, we followed it eastward to the blue trail up to Mt. Anna. There were some quite steep parts on the way up, and at times we had to catch ourselves to avoid slipping on the copious amounts of fallen acorns.

Just below the summit of Mt. Anna, we stopped on a ledgy overlook for a brief lunch break before continuing on. From the junction at the summit of Mt. Anna, we headed northwest onto the red trail toward Mt. Mack. The first half of this section was relatively easy hiking over ridgeline, followed by the second half with its somewhat steep climb up to the summit of Mt. Mack. We then returned to the pond via the red/orange and orange trails on the southwest third of the Klem-Mack loop. On the orange trail, we met up with a couple and their dog, who had all hiked up from the scout camp and were on their way to Round Pond, but thought they were going the wrong way and turned back (this part of the Klem-Mack loop can be confusing). Cat invited them to follow us to the pond, and when we got there she gave them directions back to the scout camp and we continued on our way back to Cat’s house.

The loop totaled about 9.5 miles (including our little side trip to the beaver dam, and another short off-trail excursion to a rocky outcropping after seeing some unreadable directions painted on a couple large rocks) and took us just over five hours, including breaks.