After spending all of last weekend indoors due to sub-zero temps, I was really looking forward to getting back out on the trails. Since it was on my hiking “to-do” list, and I wanted something nearby, I chose Mt. Rowe, one of the peaks in the Belknap Range in Gilford, NH.
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The Mt. Rowe trails are very easy to get to. Ample parking is available at Gilford Elementary School, provided you’re not hiking on a school day. The parking lot was completely empty when I arrived around 8:30 AM, and there were only two more cars and a bicycle when I returned from my hike. You can find an excellent map, as well as detailed descriptions of the Mt. Rowe trail and North Spur trail on the Belknap Range Trails website.
Weather conditions were pretty good for hiking today. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s, feeling more like early April than late February, so it was quite muddy.
The Mt. Rowe trail, blazed in blue, is a relatively easy route to the top. There are some steeper sections and switchbacks, but it’s mostly gentle climbs and there’s no scrambling needed. BRATTs has done some maintenance on this trail, so it’s very well marked and in pretty good condition. About three-quarters of the way up the blue trail, there’s a small open area with two standing-height picnic tables with a peekaboo view of Laconia. When I reached the top of the blue trail, I took the Ridge trail (blazed in white) to the left, to the top of Mt. Rowe.
At the top, I was treated to a great view of the ski slopes at Gunstock. Actually, I had an excellent view of pretty much the whole resort, from the parking lot to the top of the slopes. It was very tempting to hang out up here a while longer watching (and listening to!) the skiers schussing down the mountain.
Also at the top, there’s an EarthScope station, which monitors movement of the Earth’s crust with a GPS and satellite uplink. There’s an informational sign on the fence with details about how data is collected and used (you can also read more about the Plate Boundary Observatory here). And further ahead at the peak you’ll also see a cellular tower. I didn’t continue beyond the tower, but the Ridge trail continues on down the other side of Mt. Rowe to the Gunstock parking lot.
I turned back, followed the white trail back to the blue trail, and after a short distance on the blue trail, I took the North Spur trail (blazed in orange), then the Benjamin Weeks trail (purple) back down. The orange and purple trails were snowier, but there were still some bare spots here and there.
On the purple trail, there are three rather large stream crossings. In the summer, they probably aren’t a very big deal. But since we’ve had a mild, wet winter, and there’s a lot of melting going on right now, the trail was very wet and the streams were quite full. Additionally, there was ice over some parts of the stream, too thin to safely walk on. It was difficult to see where to cross.
At the first crossing, I took off my microspikes and found some rocks to hop across. As I was deciding on the best route, I spotted a raccoon on the other side. I watched him a little warily, thinking it was suspicious to see one during the day, but he just looked at me and climbed a tree. After I crossed the stream and was putting my spikes back on, I saw the raccoon watching me from further up the tree. When he saw me looking at him, he climbed higher. Once my spikes were on, I looked again and he was looking back at me from further up the tree. Again, he saw me looking and climbed higher. I took a few steps, he saw me looking at him again, and he climbed even higher up in the tree. After that, I couldn’t see him anymore.
The second crossing was a little trickier – there was a lot of ice covering up the stream, and I could see there was several inches of space between the ice and the stream, so if I were to fall through, I could possibly be up to thigh-deep in ice and water. Somehow, I managed to find a slightly narrower spot with a couple of rocks to use for crossing.
The third crossing was just as ice-covered as the second, but again I found a couple of rocks solid enough to cross. The rest of the hike down the purple trail was muddy but uneventful.
I didn’t see anyone else on the trail until I returned to the bridge by the elementary school. There, I saw a man with a toddler and a dog, looking at the stream. And on the other side of the bridge were two women looking at the map on the kiosk.
I’m very interested in hiking this one again, in the summer after we hopefully haven’t had rain for a while. Maybe then it won’t be as wet!