August 7, 2016: Piper-Swett Out & Back

No doubt about it, I far prefer loop hikes. But in order to redline the Mt. Swett trail, I had no choice but to do an out-and-back. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but hiking solo without a car spot and without adding a bunch more mileage made it my only choice.

After looking at several options and figuring out the mileage for each, I decided to start my hike on the Belknap Mountain White trail along the upper end of the carriage road (which is where I started my Boulder trail hike two weeks ago). I calculated my round trip to be 4.4 miles:

SwettOptions

I arrived at the lower carriage road gate at 9:00 AM sharp, and it was already open. And there were already several cars parked in the tiny lot and along the road before the gate. I kept on going, up the carriage road to the upper gate, where there were no more than three other cars parked. It appeared most of these hikers were heading up Belknap, since I was the only one walking back down the carriage road to get to the White trailhead.

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

Today’s hike started off the same way as my hike two weeks ago: starting on the White trail, I followed it to its junction with the Old Piper trail (it took me only 7 minutes to get there). I then followed the Old Piper trail (blazed orange) to its junction with the Piper-Round Pond Link trail. Here’s where today’s hike changed course from the previous hike – instead of taking the Piper-Round Pond Link, I continued on the Old Piper trail to the end, where it meets the green-blazed Piper-Whiteface Link trail and the red-blazed Piper Mountain trail. Here I followed the green blazes, traversing the north summit of Piper mountain and eventually reaching the Vista trail. Following the yellow-blazed Vista trail, I reached the south summit of Piper, with its distinctive Flintstones-like rock furniture and fire pit, then continued down the southeastern side to reach the Swett Mountain trail. I had been here before, most recently in late May. When Lucy, Hunter and I hiked here at that time, we had intended to hike to Swett Mountain also; however, hiking the (now closed) Valley View trail on one of the first hot days of spring without bringing enough water for such a strenuous hike had really wiped us (mainly me) out, so we scrapped our plans to hike to Swett. Lucy had redlined that one a short while afterward, and I had planned to wait until fall. But with not much left to redline on this end of the Belknap range, I decided to hike it now.

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

The Swett trail (blazed green) begins with a descent through the woods. Somewhere around a quarter to a third of a mile along the trail, there is a steep rockfall to descend. Nothing too difficult, just a spot to take some care (and it’s probably not a wise idea to hike here in rainy or icy conditions). It’s just a very short section of trail, though. Most of the Swett trail passes through shady forest, in some places mostly deciduous, and in others, evergreen. Approaching the summit, there are lots of boulders throughout the woods. The summit is open ledge with some nice views, although I think the views are probably better when the trees are bare. I couldn’t identify anything specific in the views, but those more familiar with the surrounding mountains and hills might recognize landmarks. There’s no cairn or anything to mark the summit as far as I could tell. In fact, a man and woman also hiking on the trail arrived at the summit just after I did, and we were all looking around for some sort of marking. We found a couple of blazes which seemed to be indicating the path to spots with the best view, but that was about it. Exploring around a little further, I found a narrow path heading off into the woods, but it was not marked with any blazes so I didn’t continue to follow it. They sat down for a snack break, and I headed back, retracing my steps.

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

On my way back, I came across more hikers, many of whom were picking blueberries which were growing in abundance along the Vista trail. Just as I reached the end of the Vista trail near its junction with the Piper-Whiteface Link, I startled a big garter snake that was sunning itself; it was too fast for me, and slithered off under a nearby pine tree before I could even get my phone out of my pocket to take a picture. On the Old Piper trail, I took a little detour onto a ledgy area just off the trail, where there was a great view over to Belknap Mountain. I just happened to spot a couple of hikers on an open ledge over there, most likely along the East Gilford trail. I waved at them with the entire length of my left arm, but didn’t get a wave back. Either they didn’t see me or they thought I was nuts. (Ha!) And even though the last half of the hike took just as much time as the first half, the hike back seemed much faster (except for that stretch between the south and north summits of Piper, which seemed to take for-EV-er, probably because it was uphill over open ledge in late-morning direct sun). By the time I arrived back at the upper carriage road parking lot, it was nearly full; a Jeep that had arrived just before me had just left, and a pickup truck had just arrived. And at the lower gate, it was so full that there was someone parked all the way down where the “no parking” signs start near the last driveway before the gate (and they were parked right next to a “no parking” sign).

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Map of today’s hike. Pretty consistent pace, but my distance ended up at a little over 5 miles instead of 4.4. Maybe all my wandering at the summit and a couple of overlooks, I’m not sure.

 

Redlining 08-07-16
Plugging away at that redlining worksheet…
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