Watching the weather forecasts this week, I had just about given up on going for a hike this weekend. But when I checked again Saturday afternoon, the Sunday morning forecast was looking pretty good. So I made my plans for a short-ish hike to finish up my redlining on Piper Mountain (well, sort of on Piper Mountain – more like northeast of Piper; the mountains I was actually closest to were Mt. Suncook and Belknap Mountain).
I didn’t summit anything today, but I did get a lovely view from the ledges on the upper part of the Boulder trail and East Gilford trail, both on the southeastern slope of Belknap Mountain.
Today’s hike mostly traversed trails that I’ve hiked before; the only section that was new to me was the stretch of the Piper-Round Pond Link between the Round Pond trail and the Boulder trail. This was the last part remaining to redline on the Piper-Whiteface-Swett tab of the Belknap Range redlining workbook (click, then scroll down to “Resources” – it’s a downloadable excel file).
I started off at the East Gilford trailhead off Wood Road in Gilford, NH. This is where I started my hike to Round Pond two weeks ago. In fact, my hike was on exactly the same trails I took that day, until I reached the Piper-Round Pond Link trail (blazed green). I didn’t take any pictures up to that point today. I made good time, not stopping to take photos for that first mile and a half! It also helped that the trail was very easy. East Gilford, the red/yellow merge section where the Round Pond trail joins, and the Round Pond trail after East Gilford branches off to the right are relatively flat or a low incline, and light on rocks and roots. When you reach the spot where the upper end of the Gilford Fire Road meets the Round Pond trail, however, it becomes steeper, and it’s a steady climb mostly on an old logging road until the trail becomes a typical, rocky hiking trail and reaches the Piper-Round Pond Link at 1.5 miles.
Hiking along the eastern half of the Piper-Round Pond Link (blazed green), I discovered one of the great benefits of hiking on a wet morning the day after thunderstorms – newts! I hadn’t seen a single one on any of my hikes this year, and today I saw eight of them in this stretch of trail between the Round Pond and Boulder trails. All but one sat still for me to take a picture. Even the one that was on the move still got his picture taken, when I caught him in an open spot between some plants. The habitat they seemed to really like was where the trail was very narrow and lined with ferns and other short-growing plants, where the trailbed was covered with pine needles and dead leaves, and always in shady areas.
When I reached the Boulder trail, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even though I had hiked it before, that was on a dry day. Fortunately, the largest, steepest section of boulder scrambling was in a clearing with full sun, so the rocks were dry there. The lower and upper scrambles had some wet spots, as did the ledges on the upper half of the trail. Here’s where I went much slower and my pace dropped to about a 60-minute/mile. I also took quite a few breaks hiking over the ledges at the top of the Boulder trail and East Gilford trail. The sunny spots were fine, but there were a lot of shady spots, and some spots where rainwater was still running down off the mountain, and it was slippery. I am not too proud to admit that I came down the ledges at the top of the East Gilford trail by sitting down and crab-walking with butt scoots in between. I’d rather be safe than crack my skull open on a slab of granite!
After the Boulder trail and the ledges at the top of the East Gilford trail, the rest of the hike consisted of hiking very carefully (standing up) until I reached the Round Pond/East Gilford merge. From there back to the trailhead, it was an easy walk in the woods.
I only saw three people on the trail today: a man hiking up the East Gilford trail a short distance below the ledges as I was on my way down, and a couple hiking up the East Gilford/Round Pond merge also when I was on my way back down. The parking area off of Wood Road, which was empty when I arrived, had three cars parked in it besides my own when I returned at the end of my hike.