Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Belknap Range Traverse - Did I Ask For This?

Starting last summer we began hiking a bit more in the Belknap Range.  When our hiking season began this year we recognized that we could easily earn a patch for hiking 12 of the peaks as chosen by the Belknap County Sportsman's Association.  We've made substantive progress and in debating options for today's hike, my wife and I discussed the fact that only Mt. Rowe remained to reach our Belknap patch goal.

Doing Mt. Rowe alone though would only involve a 1.8 mile round trip with about 900' of elevation gain.  That hardly seemed like a lofty goal for an Independence Day hike.  So, foolish me, I suggested instead that we do a Belknap Range Traverse which would take us from the parking lot at Gunstock Mountain over Rowe, Gunstock, Belknap, Klem, Mack, Anna, So. Straightback and Major.  That is a trip of 12.6 miles with 3,850' of elevation gain. 


Darn it all; she said yes.  Oops!  What have I done? 

Why did I raise the option of the Belknap Range Traverse?  Though I've thought about the traverse before, last week when hiking in this area we picked up a gentleman who was hitch hiking from Mt. Major to Gunstock in order to do the traverse.  We chatted with him as we drove and that conversation got my juices going about doing the traverse myself.  Voila, done!

Hike Stats & Info

Distance:  12.6 miles (we added an additional .2-.3 miles to this for side jaunts)
Elevation Gain:  3,850
Total Duration:  9 hrs. 40 mins.
Trails Used:  Too many to list.  For a complete route description click here.
Difficulty:  Difficult (due to distance & elevation gain; most trails are moderate)
Water Availability:  Round Pond (roughly mid-way point of trip) and there are 3-4 sources on the Brook Trail later in the trip, at least one of which has good flow and from which we stopped to gather some water (always filter or chemically treat your water).

Directions to Trailhead:  Find your way to the main parking lot of the Gunstock Ski area.  After parking follow the road (walking only - no public vehicles allowed) between the back of the ski lodge and the pond.  Bear right at the end of the pond and watch for a trailhead marker on your left.  From here to the summit of Mt. Rowe the trail is a steep dirt road.

About this hike:  After making a somewhat last minute decision to take this long hike, I invited some hiking friends and their dog to join us.  They agreed!  What were they thinking?


It was a perfect day from a weather perspective; low humidity, temps hovering around 80 degrees and a nice breeze.  We spotted a car at the Mt. Major trailhead and continued on to Gunstock Mountain's main parking lot to begin our adventure.  We decided to start at Gunstock and finish at Major as opposed to the reverse only because it seemed that we would accomplish some of the more difficult climbs earlier in the day.  That proved to be accurate according to the actual elevation plot of our hike (image below).  Our GPS track is after the elevation plot.






There are intermittent views at or near the summits in many places on this hike.  We saw very few people all day, at least until we reached Mt. Major which is an extremely popular summit.  Even at 4:00 PM there were 15-20 people at the summit of Major.  I'll bet that there were periods today where 50 or more were there.

There are more trail junctions along this route than most hikes.  Many of the junctions are marked with this special Belknap Range Trail (BRT) symbol:




Don't depend solely on the markers above because they don't exist at all junctions.  Instead, have with you the AMC Southern NH Trail Guide descriptions and map as well as this publicly available map which denotes the blaze colors for each trail.  We found the latter colored map to be particularly helpful but it must be printed on 11x17" paper to be readable; at least for my old eyes.  We referred to our maps and descriptions more often during this hike than most so unless you are intimately familiar with the Belknap Range you'll need these resources.  

Here are just some of the rainbow of trail blazes you will encounter:



I guess I would describe this hike mostly as a goal to attain as opposed to a hike you are accomplishing to reach a new view or summit.  One could argue that every hike is a goal hike but this one is different.  In our case we had already hiked all of the summits crossed today except for Mt. Rowe but for me there was a draw to doing the traverse.  I suppose for those younger or more fit it is much like wanting to do a Presidential traverse or the Pemi Loop.  Those two are beyond my reach today so the Belknap traverse is my mini version of those extended hikes.

Though I rated this hike as difficult in the stats above, many would likely disagree with that assessment instead opting for a moderate rating.  My rating is mostly because of the distance covered and the PUDS (pointless ups and downs) that begin to wear on you after hiking seven or eight miles.  In any case, if you are looking for a nice challenge without having to drive all the way to the White Mountains, this might be the hike for you.


Here are a few other photos:


Is this it?  We did not find a cairn at the summit of Mt. Rowe and as best we could tell, this piece of rock was the highest point.

 Our group photo at the top of the ski area at Gunstock Mountain.

Here we are at the Belknap Mountain Fire tower and this shot is looking down from the tower to the concrete pads below. 


 A pretty shot of Round Pond with Belknap Mountain in the background.

 One of the many views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the mountains to the West and North.

Here we are descending the Boulder Trail.  Wonder how it got its name?  Just a week or so ago someone got hurt on this trail (broken leg I think) and they needed to be rescued.  After hiking this it is clear how easily one could get injured here.  Pick your way through carefully.  It is not outrageously difficult but you will need to pay attention.


My wife celebrates the fact that we are nearing Mt. Major after a very long day. 


We finally descend our last summit using the blue trail descending from Mt. Major.  We would have preferred taking one of the lesser traveled descents but 'some' in our group insisted on sticking with the official BRT route. 


Yep, we could have been boating on the lake on this Independence Day, as you can see many were, but instead we beat our bodies with this long hike.

THE END!

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