What do boy scouts, a Chinese church group and a firefighter all have in common? They have all been injured or have needed rescue in the Belknap Mountains recently.
That church group by the way, involved 29 people. Really. They all got out fine, and apparently received a nice hiker safety lesson from rescue personnel for their troubles.
The point, of course, is that this collection of little-hiked under 2,000 footers in Gilford can flummox even the most seasoned hikers. That’s why, armed with a barely legible, print-out of directions and the whole day on our hands, a group of us boldly walked into the Belknap woods on Saturday intent on exploration and adventure.
The Belknaps did not disappoint.
This mountain range, which includes Gunstock resort and Mt. Major, is basically the backyard of our friend, Neil, and he “planned” this trip in the same way one plans to win the lottery or get a flat tire. In other words, if one of those things happen, you just figure you’ll deal with it as it comes.
Actually, a lot has changed in the Belknaps since those 29 clueless folks got lost. For one thing, there’s now signs. A lot of signs. I recall a Belknap Traverse a couple of years ago, attempting to use faded topo maps from the Gilford Library with colored trails and unsigned junctions coinciding with XC ski trails. In fact, that trip was one of the few times in my hiking career where I had to get out my compass after I stumbled down an embankment and discovered a pond where no pond should have been.
Turns out, that was Round Pond, our first vague destination for this hike. So, with the steady foot of Neil in the lead, Karen, Peter, Meena and I headed up some barely marked trail or fire road off what I think was Route 11a. Anyway, signs kind of marked the way with references here and there to Round Pond. It was better than nothing and after a couple twists and turns on what seemed to be snowmobile trails, we found ourselves looking out on the mirror-like waters of Round Pond.
The bugs only attacked those in the party that dared use organic repellant, and I resisted the urge to pull out my compass and instead relaxed in the quiet of a lake so close to main roads, but which seemed so far.
Soon, once the lesser prepared had been duly feasted upon by swarms of mosquitoes, we were off. But where to go? We had all day, plenty of peanut butter and jelly and no plan. Upon reaching a trail cut off that we completely missed the first time through due to the sign being torn off the tree, we decided to point our boots toward Belknap Mountain.
Neil was eager to show us the part of the trail (either called the Blue Trail or Boulder Trail) where there was some nice slides and ledges. After about a half mile, we hit a slide that was every bit the challenge and steepness of the best White Mountain trails.
So, up we went. And up. And over. And around! That little climb knocked us out, and eventually we found a nice warm patch on some ledges to have a snack and get some great views of Manning Lake far in the distance.
Soon after, we came to an intersection that apparently would lead us back down to the road. Instead we opted to tag the Belknap summit and see where things went from there. A brand new antenna has been built up there and the clear-cut to connect the power lines from the fire tower to the antenna was somewhat off-putting. We could still smell the fresh-cut wood. But we tagged the 2,000-footer and hung out for a while trying to figure out what was next.
Finally, somebody said something like “let’s go that way.” We all agreed that “that way” was a fine direction to head, so off we went. After a while of generally northward travel, the trail popped us out on a ski trail just below the Gunstock summit. Having no interest in climbing up a ski trail, and with the full understanding that beer and soda were waiting below, we headed down and watched the Gunstock zip-liners whizzing by above.
Soon, we were in the Gunstock parking lot and heading back to our… wait a minute. Our car was 6 miles away; a casualty to randomly hiking without a plan. Fortunately, Neil was man enough to suck it up and call his next-door neighbor who soon showed up with a rescue wagon to haul our lazy butts back home.
Given its variety of trails, and excellent views of the surrounding lakes, it’s surprising the Belknaps are not more popular. We’ll be heading back for sure, and maybe this time we’ll even have a plan.
Nah, probably not.
For the complete set of photos from the hike, here’s a link: Belknap Wandering