October 30, 2016: Straightback Redlining

I desperately needed to get out hiking today, after spending a rainy Saturday indoors on the sofa. My original plan was to head to Alton and hike all the trails in the Morse Preserve. But looking over the map and trail descriptions last night, that wasn’t going to be much mileage. I need to do it for redlining, but decided to save it for another day so I could cover more ground instead.

Since I still have some redlining to do on Straightback Mountain, my new plan was to hike up the eastern half of Precipice Path and make a loop over Straightback and Quarry mountains using the Major-Straightback and Marsh Crossing trails.

But after hiking in on Old Stage Road, Anna trail, and Precipice Link trails, I could hear the waterfalls when I reached the bottom of the “U” of the Precipice Path trail. So instead of heading to the right and following the east leg of the trail up, I went left to see the falls. And of course, once I saw the falls from the bottom I couldn’t leave it at that. I had to hike up to see them closer. So my plan changed again. Now, I would hike up the western leg of Precipice Path, follow the Anna-Straightback trail east to the Marsh Crossing trail, take the Marsh Crossing trail to the Dave Roberts Quarry trail, follow the DRQT east over West and East Quarry mountains, hang a left onto the Quarry Spur trail to get me over to the Major-Straightback trail, hike the section of that I needed to redline between the Quarry Spur trail and the southern summit of Straightback Mountain, continue on the Straightback trail a little further to its junction with the eastern leg of the Precipice Path, and finally follow Precipice Path back down to where I started.


So, back to Precipice Path and the bottom of the falls. It sure was great to see them flowing again, although we didn’t get quite enough rain to make them live up to the name “Roaring Falls”. But still beautiful. I posted a video over on Instagram. I had no trouble with the wet rocks, just had to be careful. At the top, you actually cross over the falls. I can imagine in spring with a lot of snow melt it could be tricky.

The rest of Precipice Path up to the Anna-Straightback trail was tricky at spots, especially where the trail became narrow and steep, covered with freshly fallen autumn leaves. Again, careful foot placement. I almost wish I had a rake! Several times, I did clear leaves out of a spot with my foot so I could get better traction on dirt.

Once on the Anna-Straightback trail (blazed blue and part of the Belknap Range Trail), I paid close attention to the left side of the trail so I wouldn’t miss the junction with Marsh Crossing. There is no sign for this junction along the trail, but when you reach a little sag in the trail and see a large, round rock with a tiny cairn on top of it, you’re there. Just look north and you’ll see yellow blazes in the woods.

Marsh Crossing (blazed yellow) was just added to the Belknap Range map this year, but I think people had been using the trail before that. The southern end of this short trail is relatively easy. When you reach the marsh, the trail crosses a narrow spot using a few large rocks. The northern end of the trail becomes steeper as it climbs to the summit of West Quarry Mountain, where it meets the Dave Roberts Quarry Trail.

From here, I headed east on the Quarry Trail (blazed white) to East Quarry Mountain and the north summit of Straightback Mountain. Just past North Straightback, at an open, ledgy area marked with cairns, the Quarry Spur Trail (blazed orange) branches off to the left. You need to really look for it, the sign is about 30 feet or so down the hill toward the bottom of the ledge.

The Quarry Spur trail is pretty short, just a little more than a quarter mile. At its eastern end, it meets up with the Major-Straightback trail. Heading left takes you to Mt. Major, and taking a right leads you to the southern summit of Straightback. Immediately upon reaching the Major-Straightback trail, I had two hikers right behind me, and soon saw two more heading towards me. I said hello to the approaching hikers, and when the two behind me caught up, I let them pass and continued on my way to Straightback. Reaching the summit, which has a nice but not completely open view, I stopped to sit on a rock and eat a little lunch (PB&J made with homemade grape jelly from a co-worker).

After the short break, I continued on the trail, quickly arriving at the eastern end of Precipice Path (blazed purple). The upper half of this trail was relatively easy; it had some rocky spots, and the rainstorms this week knocked quite a lot of the leaves off the trees, hiding rocks like little granite land mines. The bottom half of this trail got a bit treacherous at spots. It was extremely steep, leaf-covered and rocky. I almost slipped and fell a few times, but due to being cautious I was able to catch myself and avoid falling. There was quite a bit of swearing going on, though. Fortunately, it was only about a mile to the bottom of the trail.

From here, I followed the Precipice Link (purple) back to the Anna trail (red), then hiked out Old Stage Road back to my car. Totals for the day: 7.12 miles, a little over 4.5 hours (including snack break).

I really can’t recommend using the Precipice Path for a descent. I think it would be fine ascending either side (but if steep cliffs bother you, stick to the eastern leg) in dry conditions and when the trail isn’t leaf-covered. I wouldn’t ever recommend descending via the western leg of the trail due to the cliffs and rock scramble at the waterfall.


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