Friday, May 30, 2014

East Sleeper, Whiteface, and Passaconaway - May 24, 2014

Route: Blueberry Ledge Trail, Blueberry Ledge Cutoff, Kate Sleeper Trail, East Sleeper Spur, Rollins Trail, Dicey's Mill Trail
Peaks: East Sleeper (3840', NEHH), Whiteface (4020', NH4K), Passaconaway (4043', NH4K)
Mileage: 15miles
Elevation Gain: 5000ft
Book Time: 10 hours (actual 7.5)

With afternoon showers in the forecast, I struck out for Ferncroft on this day hoping to beat the rain and still get some views from the awesome Mount Whiteface ledges. I'd done the Blueberry Ledge Trail twice before, once in winter 2013, and once about 8 years before that. Both times the trail kicked my butt, but had some great views, and I was eager to scramble up the ledges again. In my attempt to beat the rain, I got to Ferncroft early enough that I was the first one out, though as I set off a trio of guys and a dog pulled in, and would later catch me near the top of Whiteface.

I started off hiking up the road and onto the Blueberry Ledge Trail, but in the interest of visiting a new trail, I took the Blueberry Ledge Cutoff, which parallels the main trail for 1.4 miles before re-joining before the main climbing begins. This trail was clearly much less traveled, and took some care in one or two spots to follow (the trail shares a treadway with a small brook in a couple spots), but was an interesting alternative. Along the way I checked out the bridge over the main brook that connects to the Dicey's Mill Trail, where the water was flowing well. This bridge offers a way to avoid the one main crossing on the Dicey's Mill Trail in times of high water.

At the Blueberry Ledge/Blueberry Ledge Cutoff junction

Minor peek through the clouds from the ledges near the junction

Time to start climbing

Great trail work here
The trail climbs stiffly from the upper junction with the Blueberry Ledge Cutoff, eventually meeting the Tom Wiggin Trail just below the summit ledges. From here it is a fun series of scrambles up a series of ledges, with normally terrific views in several directions. Today, while the clouds were trying to lift off, the only views I had were across the Bowl to Mount Passaconaway, so I mostly climbed carefully (the ledges were damp), taking occasional breathers, until I reached the Kate Sleeper Trail.

The summit of Passaconaway hiding in the clouds

Below one of the ledges

Atop the same ledge

The Bowl

Passaconaway's summit and a peek of blue skies now
For whatever reason, I had decided before this hike that I would add the nearly 4-mile side trip to this hike to visit East Sleeper, a viewless peak on the New England 100 Highest list, and a peak I have visited twice already. It did however offer me a chance to go through the impressive blowdown fields that resulted from Hurricane Sandy 1.5 years ago, and see if winter had any impact on the trail. The trail was actually in good shape (aside from the sections coming off Whiteface where it has a stream running down it, and the same huge blowdown blocking the trail at the East Sleeper Spur), though there were a few stretches of remaining ice that I was able to avoid. Heading through the blowdowns nearing East Sleeper, there was a nice mix of sun and clouds. A quick u-turn was made after visiting the summit (sign), and I was back ontop of Whiteface in a lot less time than I had allotted!

Blowdowns en-route to East Sleeper - major trailwork done here, all with hand saws!

Also some nice blue skies mixing in

Google Earth recently updated their imagery around East Sleeper. Note the massive areas of blowdowns, and the trail (blue line) doesn't even pass through the worst of them!

Mount Whiteface

Mount Whiteface
The trip along the Rollins Trail was nice and quick, though I certainly had forgotten about the several PUDs (pointless ups and downs) along the way! To the junction with the Dicey's Mill Trail I had seen only 6 people all day on the trails. There were probably three times that I would see for the rest of the day, but that is still pretty quiet for the Whites these days, plus they were all going the opposite way. Mostly I was to myself, which was nice. There was one icy ledge near the junction, but otherwise the final mile climb to Passaconaway was the usual steep climb, but I kept at it, and before long I arrived at the viewpoint just before the summit spur sign.

The views here were the best of the day (oddly I didn't take any pictures, I just relaxed for 5-10 minutes), but I could see that the rain was on its way so I quickly visited the summit (follow the sign, there is a clearing with a small cairn and a stick sign on the back of a tree in the small clearing), and quickly headed down. The rain started less than 10 minutes down, and continued steadily for about an hour, by which time I had made it down to the flat part of the trail. The sun was even back out as I walked along the field through Ferncroft back to my car. All in all, a fun day on the trails!

The Bowl from the Rollins Trail

Icy ledge on the Dicey's Mill Trail

4th time here, finally found the stick sign (I've stood right here several times, not sure how I missed it!)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Attempting to Earn a Patch in One Day

AKA: An Almost-Belknap 12 Traverse.
May 18, 2014

Route: Belknap Range Trail (Mount Major to Mount Anna), Quarry Trail, Mt. Klem-Mt. Mack Loop, Round Pond-Mt. Mack Trail, Round Pond-Piper Link, Old Piper Trail, White Trail, Belknap Range Trail (out over Mount Rowe)
Peaks: Mount Major (1786', BK12), South Straightback Mountain (1890', BK12), Mount Anna (1670', BK12), North Straightback Mountain (1910'), East Quarry Mountain (1880'), West Quarry Mountain (1894', BK12), Mount Rand (1883, BK12), Mount Klem (2001', BK12), Mount Mack (1945', BK12), North Piper Mountain (2044', BK12), Belknap Mountain (2382', BK12), Gunstock Mountain (2245', BK12), Mount Rowe (1680', BK12)
Mileage: 18? (unsure, but several GPS's suggest this distance)
Elevation Gain: 4650' estimated
Book Time: ~11 hours

The astute reader will notice the word "almost" in the secondary title of this trip report and realize that we did not quite complete the range in one hike. But more on that shortly.

First, some background. A few years ago, as I started to really get back into hiking, I heard about a list of 12 peaks in the Belknap Range, a range on the Western side of Lake Winnipesaukee. Completion of this list was eligible for a patch through the Belknap County Sportsmans Club. The selection of the peaks on the list seems somewhat arbitrary aside from being 12 peaks in the Belknap Range, as some of the peaks on the list are sub-peaks of higher ones that are not on the list, and not all of them have good views either. Nevertheless, it is a list, and when there is a list, people will hike them all. Sort of a "build it and they will come" type of arrangement. In reality the bookends of the range get a lot of traffic (Mount Major and Belknap Mountain being the busiest), while the middle of the range seems to be pretty quiet. Still, there is certainly traffic along the range, and many people have now completed this list.

When I first heard of it, I briefly looked at a map of the area, curious as to if it would be possible to hit them all in one long day hike, saw that it looked possible, and stowed the idea away as a possibility for some day. That day came on May 18. Pam and her friend Mike are doing a full one-day Presi Traverse in June, and needed a training hike. They picked a full Belknap 12 Dayhike, which is said to be approximately 18 miles and roughly 6000 feet of elevation gain, all in short 200-500 foot ups and downs.

A route was picked (see the route at the top of this post, and use the excellent map from the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition), and we met in the morning at the Gunstock Ski Area parking lot to spot a car before heading to the Mount Major Trail parking lot where we were to start.We made quick time up to Mount Major, which has tremendous views of the Lakes Region, then we quickly continued over to South Straightback (nice views) and to Anna (mostly wooded, with a small directional view of not much of anything).

Cable-in-a-tree on the Mount Major/Belknap Range Trail

Initial views on the Mount Major Trail

Summit of Mount Major

Pano 1 from Mount Major

Pano 2 from Mount Major

Pano 3 from Mount Major - we head that-a-way!

Belknap Mountain, that's for much later in the day

They trimmed this tree to blaze it...

Near South Straightback

"View" from Mount Anna
From Mount Anna we hung a u-turn and went back to near South Straightback, where we picked up the Quarry Trail. This trail we followed over East and West Quarry (short 'whack off trail to the high point despite a trail-side sign proclaiming the summit - which it clearly wasn't), Rand, and then to its end on Mount Klem. From there we took the Klem-Mack Loop down to Mount Mack, and then continued to Round Pond. The views along here until the pond were limited, but the trail was fun, with some short steep sections and generally nice woods walking.

Descent between the Quarries

Yet to go - Rowe, our final peak, is waaaaaay off to the right (tower)

Quarry site between the Quarries

Quarry artifact

Not quite the summit - it was at a clear depression in the trail in fact

What the????
An old windmill of some sort coming off of Mount Mack - now used to hold a solar panel for a radio tower nearby

Belknap Mountain across Round Pond

Round Pond
From Round Pond we took the Round Pond/Piper Link and the Old Piper Trail to North Piper Peak. This stretch was a bit of a back-breaker for us, particularly the stiff climb up the Round Pond/Piper Link to the ridgeline. After reaching Mount Piper (several bumps on the ridge, the Southmost one appeared to be highest but the views were best at the North one), we made the call to skip Mount Whiteface, 1.5 miles to our South. The day was running late, and we all had to be at work in the morning. So we would end the day 1 peak short of our goal, oh well.

Belknap Mountain from below North Piper

Looking back at some of where we'd been from North Piper

A "summit throne"
Backtracking on the Old Piper Trail, we then took the White Trail to Belknap Mountain and continued along the Belknap Range Trail over Gunstock Mountain and Mount Rowe. We had a little confusion coming off of Gunstock and never did find where the trail re-enters the woods. Instead we followed a ski trail down towards Mount Rowe for a ways before the real trail approached the side of the ski trail, and we jumped back in the woods. We wasted little time on any of these peaks, instead motoring down to the waiting car. A quick drive to pick up the spotted car, dinner in town, and then trying to stay awake on the drive home ended a very long day!

Cell tower from the observation tower on Belknap Mountain

Partial pano from Belknap Mountain - would be better views if the cab at the top wasn't locked.

More pano from Belknap Mountain

A little snow left on Gunstock Mountain

Descending a ski trail towards Mount Rowe

Belknap and Gunstock from Mount Rowe

Pano from Mount Rowe

Nearly-empty parking lot at Gunstock - I see my car!