I’ve done this loop twice before (both times, this year), and after hiking it again today (the third time) I can say I’ll never get tired of this one.
The first time I did this hike was back in March, and after reaching the north summit of Piper Mountain, I continued along the ridge to the south summit. In late September, the second time hiking this route, I omitted the extra hike to south Piper (which shaved off about a mile and a quarter). Today’s hike repeated the September route, although I ended up with about one-third mile less distance overall (due to eliminating some wandering at overlooks and turning off the tracking app when I reached the carriage road instead of waiting until I got back to the car).
On today’s trek, I was accompanied by hiking buddy Cat, and I was glad to have company for safety as well as social reasons. There were quite a lot of icy spots along the trail, moreso than Lucy and I encountered yesterday. And there were some very snowy spots as well (in some areas due to Gunstock’s recent snowmaking).
It was a little chillier today than it was yesterday, especially between Belknap and Piper, and on our way down the northwestern slope of Piper to return to our cars. Cold enough that my hydration tube froze (oops – but not surprising) and I experienced some electronics malfunctions (more on that later).
Starting from the Belknap Mt. Carriage Road, we headed up the orange trail on the back side of Gunstock. Mostly crunchy, frozen dirt on the lower section, with some patchy snow and icy spots on the slabs closer to the summit. We ended up taking the Winter Shortcut bypass trail (blazed green) sort of by accident. I didn’t mind, though, since the last time I hiked this route I didn’t take the bypass. (We probably would have encountered more icy slabs had we stayed on the orange trail.)
The summit of Gunstock was snow-covered, as expected due to recent snowmaking for an event last Friday. After briefly enjoying the view from the Panorama Pub deck, we headed back to the Brook trail (blazed yellow) and over to Belknap via the Saddle trail (white) and the upper half of the blue trail. The patchy snow and ice continued the whole way down into the col and up to the summit of Belknap. Still, we were able to avoid the icy bits, even if it meant going slightly off trail in some areas.
Continuing on to Piper Mountain, we left Belknap via the white trail and East Gilford trail, following the white trail at the split. Nearing the end of the white trail, we reached the junction with the Old Piper Trail (orange) and followed that over to the north summit of Piper. After arriving at our last summit of the day, we found a stone bench that was free of snow, and sat down to enjoy a little snack before descending via the red trail back to the carriage road. (It was while taking this snack break that I discovered my water tube had frozen. Fortunately, we didn’t have much farther to go.)
Ah yes, electronics. Upon arriving back at the carriage road and turning off the tracking app on my phone, my phone promptly shut off on its own and wouldn’t turn back on. I’m assuming this was due to the cold and not the iPhone battery issues that have been in the news recently. But who knows?! No biggie, I’ll just plug it in when I get home and it will be fine (and it was).
But on to electronics first-world problem number two: the key fob for my Grand Cherokee. I got back to the car, and it wouldn’t unlock when I grabbed the door handle. So I took my keys out of my backpack and held them right next to the car. Still no luck. Pushed the unlock button on the key fob. No response whatsoever. I released the “emergency key” from the fob and unlocked the door manually…
…which immediately set off the panic alarm. Oops.
The peace and quiet of the state forest became quite disturbed! And Cat was looking over from her Jeep parked next to mine, asking what’s wrong. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably just a minute or so, the honking and flashing headlights ceased and the car miraculously detected the key fob nearby. And the car started. Whew! (A bit of background: though the emergency key opens the door, it does not start the car, since there is no keyed ignition, only a push-button. Which only works if the car detects the key fob within the vehicle.) I’m guessing the cold weather weakened the battery in the key fob enough that it couldn’t transmit its signal until I held it in my hand long enough to warm it up slightly, but it’s possible that the fob’s battery could be starting to die, since we’ve had this Jeep for about two and a half years. To avoid this problem in the future, I’ve decided to only drive my husband’s low-tech, starts-with-a-key Wrangler to go hiking in cold weather.
As I found out several hours after returning from today’s hike, my annoying honking car horn could be heard at or near the summit of Piper Mountain. Apologies to anyone hiking in the area today (and the surrounding homes) for disturbing your peaceful morning!