April 17, 2016: Sunrise ‘yak + Gunstock-Rowe loop hike

Looking at the weather forecast, I knew today was going to be a gorgeous, warm spring day, and that although it’s still cold in the mornings, the wind would be practically nothing at sunrise and the water would be calm. So I decided to start the day off with a little paddling.

I didn’t stay out long or paddle very far, just 20 minutes and maybe only a mile round-trip at most. I mostly just wanted to get out and enjoy the calm water before too many boats get out there later in the day and later in the season. Early morning is typically water-skiing time, once the water warms up – it’s still too cold for that now (except maybe if someone is water-skiing in a wetsuit… do they even do that?!).

I also wasn’t wearing my typical kayaking outfit (a short-sleeved running shirt and knee shorts) – I was wearing my hiking clothes! That is, a long-sleeved running shirt, lightweight fleece jacket, hiking pants, and wool hiking socks – but I wore my water shoes, just so they would easily dry if they got wet (they didn’t, except for the soles). And of course I was wearing my PFD. One neat thing, though, all the water that dribbled off the paddle onto my lap didn’t even get my pants wet. Since I was wearing my hiking pants, which are some sort of ripstop nylon fabric, the water just beaded up. Nice.

So after this morning’s short ‘yak, I made myself some breakfast, ate, sat for a little bit and then got ready for my next outing. After reviewing several Belknap Range trail options last night, I selected a loop hike at Gunstock Mountain, ascending via the Overlook, Saddle and Brook trails, then following the Ridge trail over to Mt. Rowe and back down to the Gunstock parking lot. I was curious to see the snow situation, since Gunstock’s last ski day was three weeks ago.

(Click on any of the photos to enter the gallery and read captions.)

The Round Pond/Overlook trail begins near the entrance to the Gunstock main parking lot, by the maintenance buildings. It’s a very wide trail at the start, and I believe Gunstock also uses it as a Segway trail in the summer. (Yes, for some odd reason people ride Segways on the trails – why they do that when they could be hiking, I have no clue. I suppose it’s good for people with bad knees who can stand okay but maybe not hike so easily?) This trail is blazed in both red (for the Round Pond trail) and orange (for the Overlook trail), and it’s a beautiful walk through the woods. The Overlook trail (orange) branches off to the right, and this trail is more of a typical hiking trail with rocks, tree roots, and some steep sections, as you climb toward the Gunstock/Belknap col (the saddle between the two peaks). Along the way, there are a number of stream crossings – I counted six total. The third stream crossing, though, was breathtaking. The water was flowing over a large, flat-topped rock, and cascading down the front vertical face to the streambed several feet below. It’s always hard to beat summit views, but I think this may have been my favorite part of the hike. At the end of the Overlook trail, you’ll meet up with the Belknap Mt. blue trail (straight ahead and to the left) and take the very short Saddle trail to the right. After that, you’ll soon reach the Brook trail, which leads to the Gunstock summit in one direction, and back down to the parking lot in the other. You can tell when you’re near the top, because the Upper Gunsmoke ski run is visible off to the right (and there are some snow gun mounts and water pipes). There is also a memorial picnic spot just below the Gunstock summit (more info on that in my Gunstock-Belknap-Piper post).

Gunstock is in between seasons right now – skiing ended three weeks ago, but they haven’t yet started running the ziplines and other summer attractions. Right now, they’re in the process of building a mountain roller coaster through the forest near the base of the mountain (looks interesting).

(Click any of the photos to enter the gallery and read captions.)

Leaving the Gunstock summit, I headed onto the Ridge trail (blazed white), which at this point on the trail is merged with the Gunstock Mt. trail (orange). The two trails eventually split, with the Gunstock Mt. trail heading left and the Ridge trail heading right. I followed the Ridge trail over to Mt. Rowe, which offers a spectacular view of the Gunstock summit, ski runs, and the resort below. I could even spot my Jeep in the parking lot. I’ve blogged about this part of the Ridge trail before, so for more information see that earlier post. There is an EarthScope station (very cool and not scary) on top of Mt. Rowe, as well as a cellular tower (which creeps me the hell out, as do all towers – and wind turbines – when I’m that close to one). Continuing past the cellular tower (which I didn’t do last time), the Ridge trail becomes a gravel access road and heads back down the mountain to the Gunstock parking lot, on the opposite side of the pond from where I started.

I didn’t see any other hikers until I reached the Saddle trail, where I passed a couple trail-running in the opposite direction. Apparently, today was the day for trail running. Later on either the Brook trail or the Ridge trail (I forget which), a woman with ninja-level stealthy trail-running skills actually scared me a little bit (I did not hear her coming!). And shortly after that, I met up with an older man who was trail running. Then, while I was sitting atop Mt. Rowe eating my oatmeal square, another couple went running by. Everyone else I came across was heading in the opposite direction; I never caught up with anyone ahead of me (if there even was anyone), and nobody passed me from behind.

GunstockMap

That little pigtail at the top of the map is where I followed an X-C ski trail partway just below the cellular tower on Mt. Rowe – because I initially didn’t believe that the access road was actually the lower part of the Ridge trail. The trail description didn’t seem to match up with that, but it is indeed the access road.

The hike was a little over 6.5 miles and took me about 3 hours and 45 minutes, including two snack/water breaks (one on top of Gunstock, and the other on top of Rowe). I started just after 8:00 AM and finished up just before noon.

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