May 21, 2016: Whiteface-Piper

First outing today with my new hiking buddy, Lucy, and her friend Hunter. Lucy and I are both working on redlining the Belknap range, and since some of my redlining requires longer hikes on some less traveled trails, I thought it would be best not to go solo. Especially today, when we tackled the possibly-soon-to-be-closed Valley View trail on Piper Mountain.

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

Lucy, Hunter and I met up at the lower gate of the Belknap Mt. carriage road, left one car there, then drove over to the Whiteface trailhead a mile and a half away from there. Our original plan was to hike up Whiteface (blue blazes), then return back the same way to its junction with the Piper-Whiteface Link trail (green blazes), take the Vista trail (yellow blazes) a very short distance to the Valley View trail (red blazes and a bit tricky to spot), follow that to its other end just below the south peak of Piper Mt., then make our way over to Swett Mountain (green blazes), return via the same green trail, taking the Vista trail (yellow blazes) to the south peak of Piper, getting back on the Piper-Whiteface Link trail (green) and summitting the north peak of Piper, then finishing up with the Piper Mt. trail (red blazes) back down to the carriage road.

Well, plans change, and I think we were wise to go with the flow (or lack thereof)! We knew the Valley View trail would be challenging; there is a steep descent into the valley through the first third or so of the trail, then a narrow section along the side of the mountain for a good bit, a very difficult rockfall of large granite boulders to climb up at the southeast corner, then back up a steep slope to rejoin the Vista trail. After hiking up to the summit of Whiteface and retracing our steps to a junction a bit more than halfway back down, then hiking over to between the north and south peaks of Piper, we headed for the Valley View trail. (It was a bit tricky to find; when hiking up from the Whiteface end of the Piper-Whiteface Link trail, the Vista trail heads off to the right. Instead of heading over to Vista, look straight ahead and you will see a small cairn with a barely visible faded red blaze on it. If you go a short bit past this cairn, look down the hill and you will see a sign on tan-colored paper warning of the difficulty of the Valley View trail.) Even the beginning of the Valley View trail was difficult, with a steep descent and rock ledges. Climbing up the rockfall at the southeast corner tired us out (at least Lucy and I) much more than we expected, and though we started on the way to Swett Mt. after finishing it, once we saw we would have to make a steep descent into the valley again before summitting Swett, we decided we didn’t have the energy to do that. So we turned back and headed up to the south and north peaks of Piper. We were exhausted, but so glad to be done with the Valley View trail. The brief bits of shady pine forest between the south and north peaks of Piper were a welcome relief from the sun on a high-70s day with not much of a breeze.

We took some brief breaks to admire the views from south Piper, the Vista trail, and north Piper, then headed down (finally!) the red-blazed Piper Mt. trail to the carriage road. The very top of this trail is on exposed rock, but after just a bit you’ll head into the woods for the remainder of the trail. When you hear the creek and reach the state forest boundary markers (blue blazes and a metal sign on a tree), you’re nearing the end. After crossing a bridge over the creek, it’s a very short hike on an easy trail to the carriage road.

Our total distance was about 8 miles, in a little over 5 hours (started around 8:20 and finished up shortly after 1:30).

To get to the Whiteface trailhead, take Belknap Mt. Road, passing by the carriage road and continuing until you reach a “T”. Take a left at the T and follow the road to the end; there is a small parking area off to the right, and the trailhead is directly across from the parking area on the other side of the street. A trail map of the entire Belknap Range can be found here; Whiteface is in the lower-left corner.

Valuable lessons learned on this hike:

  • Be prepared to know your limits and turn around if you need to. The mountains will still be there another day. Remember that you still have to get back DOWN, and sometimes that can be just as tiring as climbing UP.
  • Water, water, water. After hiking all winter, I had gotten used to hiking in colder weather. This was my first hike of the year on a truly hot day for New Hampshire – it was high 70’s at least, and very sunny, over several exposed, rock-topped mountains. I hadn’t consumed my entire bottle of water on any of my previous hikes, and though I had considered bringing along a second bottle of water today, I forgot. Thankfully, Lucy and Hunter both had extra water to share with me. (THANK YOU BOTH!) I think it’s time to invest in a backpack with a built-in water bladder.
  • Ticks. Be careful peeing in the woods. Though I checked several times during and after the hike, and had Lucy check my back, I discovered four dog ticks INSIDE my clothes when I got home and was getting in the shower. They were all still flat and only on my clothes, and I didn’t notice any bites, so I think I’m OK. One of them was even inside the front pocket of my hiking pants.

All in all, a great but tiring hike today with new friends, and one that I most certainly could not (and should not) have done solo. The bugs sucked (some literally) and it was hot as hell for New Hampshire, but so worth it to get that damn Valley View trail redlined. (Note: Rumor has it, that trail, which is on privately owned land, may be closed very soon. We saw quite a few people hiking it today, but the trail wasn’t crowded by any means.)

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