September 3, 2016: Mt. Major & Lockes Hill

After last weekend’s epic (for me) hike up Jefferson, all I could think about all week was hiking another 4000-footer. However, I knew with our plans for this weekend I wouldn’t be able to do that. But I would still able to get in a hike – just needed to keep it local and short enough to be home by 11 AM.

I chose Mt. Major – even though it’s a holiday weekend and expected to be even more crowded than usual – because I only had one trail left to redline in order to finish that tab on the spreadsheet. So I decided to arrive early ahead of the crowds and knock it out. I knew I’d have less company on the way down since the trail I had to redline is the longest and least-used of the three trails to and from the summit.

When I arrived at 6:30 AM, there were just a half-dozen or so cars in the parking lot, which is pretty much what I expected at that time.

In all the times I’ve hiked Mt. Major, I’ve only ever used the Boulder Loop (orange) trail as a descent. I used to think that I’d never want to ascend by that route, but after recently learning that I actually love climbing over big boulders, I decided it would be fun. And it was! Yes, it was steep in some spots, and in a strange way a little more tiring than Caps Ridge last week, since I was moving more quickly and upright. The bouldery sections start just above the halfway point of the trail, and continue to about 3/4 of the way to the summit. Once you’ve passed those, the rest of the trail is an easy walk over ledge, becoming more open the closer you get to the bald summit.

There’s no doubt when you reach the summit of Mt. Major, as the main feature is the ruins of a small stone cabin. And the 360-degree view is quite awesome. I spotted Mt. Washington in the distance beyond the Ossipee Range, and the unmistakable summit of Belknap Mountain in the opposite direction.

I had the summit to myself for about 45 seconds when another hiker arrived via the blue trail. Shortly after, a few more arrived, I think from the yellow trail, while I was sitting and eating my breakfast and knitting a few rows on a sock. Shortly after, another group of three arrived, led by their dog, from the orange trail. I overheard the first hiker explaining to one of the other groups that he’s hiked this mountain six times in the past seven days, and between himself and a friend they’ve picked up 26 gallons of trash in their travels. That’s the bad part about Mt. Major – it’s the most hiked in the Belknaps, and unfortunately by quite a few people who aren’t good stewards of nature. Lucky for everyone, there are people like this man who care enough to clean up irresponsible people’s crap.

Eventually, another man with three dogs and another group with a golden doodle arrived at the summit, and I decided I’d had enough. Time to head down and escape the crowd.

Starting on my way down the summit, I was hiking down just in front of the second group of three that arrived at the summit via the orange trail. We were separated pretty quickly, though, since they were descending via the yellow trail and I was headed down the Jesus Valley/Beaver Pond (red) trail. I knew I wouldn’t have much company, since this is the longest route back to the parking lot (there’s even a sign at the top end stating this). In fact, while on the red trail, I only ran into one group of three heading up that way (though they could have been using this trail to head over to Straightback instead of Mt. Major).

Much of the red trail is shared with snowmobile trails which branch off in various directions. About halfway down, the trail makes a bend to the left and runs along a good length of marshland. It can be muddy at times, but pretty cool. I imagine the sounds of frogs must fill the air in springtime. Before arriving at the marsh, I spotted two newts on the trail. I was pretty surprised to see them, since it was extremely dry in this area. I shared a dribble of water from my pack with them – they looked like they needed it!

Once I reached the junction with the Boulder Loop trail, I saw lots more people. One man and a dog on their way down, and several groups on their way up – including one very frisky schnauzer whose human apologized for him being “such a hot mess”. (Nah, he’s just a happy, excited puppy.) Back in the parking lot, it was now packed. There were a few empty parking spaces in the middle, most likely from hikers who recently left, and a huge group was gathered near the kiosk. As I exited, I noticed the usual build-up of cars beginning in both directions on both sides of the road – which on peak days extends up to a half-mile each way.

Since it was still early, I decided to stop at Lockes Hill on the way home for a quick second hike, if it wasn’t too full. When I arrived, there were still about 3-4 spaces left in the small parking lot. I quickly made my way up the Lakeview trail to the Glade, took a couple of pictures there, then continued on to the summit and down the Quarry trail on the other side. On the way down, I passed several people on their way up, including a couple who were cleaning up others’ trash along the way. Commenting about a couple of to-go coffee cups they picked up, the woman said, “They weighed even less when they were empty. Why couldn’t they just carry them along and throw them away properly?” Exactly.

I left the app running the whole time, including the half-hour I spent at the summit. So my pace at 2 miles looks ridiculously slow.
Mt. Major completed! All I have left to finish are the central and southern Belknaps.
And an extremely quick (for me) loop around Lockes Hill. I ran into quite a few people on the trail due to the later than usual start time.

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