The Belknap Range
In preparation for multiple outings over the Veteran’s Day weekend, Ethan and I settled on doing a single shorter hike on Friday in preparation for a more intensive hike on Saturday.
The weather had other ideas for us this weekend, however. With temps topping out in the low 30s and winds gusting to 40+ mph, staying off of the top of any 4Ks seemed a prudent move for us, especially as I’m just beginning to get my winter gear situation sorted.
We settled upon a day out redlining the bulk of the remaining trails Ethan needs in the Belknaps, which at first blush sounds like a day in the minor leagues after bagging a bunch of 4Ks in the past several weeks. As it turns out, mountains are still mountains, even when they’re smaller, so this turned out to be a great chance to get out into nature, get some exercise, take in some great views, assess my gear choices, and share it all with a friend.
The Belknaps Are No Joke
We started the day off with temperatures around 35° F / 2° C – with the forecast indicating it would only get colder from there. We bundled up, strapped our packs on, and took off. A brief walk up Reed road, which is a gravel class 6 road, got us warmed up for the climb, which started in earnest from the outset of the trail on the edge of the Quarry Mountain Forest. We found ourselves climbing up some switchbacks along the meticulously maintained trail. Checking elevation showed that we had climbed a solid 800 feet in the first mile or so which goes to show that while we weren’t in the whites, the Belknaps have plenty of elevation gain themselves.
The Reed Road Trail is a legitimate climb and at the top we turned to the right onto Dave Roberts Quarry Trail, which would take us to West Quarry Mountain, Mt. Rand, and Mt. Klem before we switched off to the Kelm-Mack Loop to bang south to Mt. Mack and onto Mt. Anna via the Red Trail. Anna stands out in my mind a great example of how rugged these trails largely are. It’s an unassumingly small mountain, coming in at only 1,670′ but the approach to it is a no-nonsense, no switchbacks, straight up the side of the mountain engagement, which means you’re working pretty hard the entire ascent.
Marsh Crossing Trail
From Mt. Anna we descended via the Blue Trail which took us down Anna and immediately began climbing back up toward Straighback Mountain, but we would not be going that way today, instead opting to turn onto Marsh Crossing Trail which would bring us back up West Quarry Mountain.
Ethan and Summerset had previously had a hard time finding Marsh Crossing, as it is a relatively new trail and one that is a bit tricky to find, depending on which side you’re looking for and from which direction you are coming. We were vigilantly looking for it to our left and thankfully someone has marked it with a small cairn, or we may have missed it. So to you, Cairnmaker, we say “Hey, thanks!”.
The Marsh Crossing Trail is… sort of a glorified bushwhack if I’m honest. It does indeed cross a marsh, which despite the frigid temperatures, was not fully frozen, so I had to be careful with my foot placement, as I was wearing my trail runners and couldn’t stomp quite as aggressively as Ethan with his boots. This was a recurring theme throughout the day, where the ground was warmer than the air such that the surface of the copious mud would be frozen, but underneath was hiding a few inches of mud. I let Ethan do the majority of the leading.
Marsh Crossing goes more or less directly up the south face of West Quarry Mt, with some sections rock scrambling, which I’ve been finding I really enjoy. Once at the top of W. Quarry, we simply hung a right to pick up Dave Roberts Quarry Trail once again and began our extrication from the Belknaps for the day.
Cold Weather Lessons
As we descended from West and East Quarry, we noted that the temperatures had dropped significantly in our handful of hours out and that the wind was still whistling by with gusts to 40+mph – I learned a lot about gear gaps today, such as needing better footwear for frigid, yet still muddy days as well as the usefulness of full windbreak mitts.
We ended our day hanging out in Ethan’s livingroom warming up trying out some interesting new brews and concocting our hike for the next day. We settled on Cannon, which would prove to provide more pivotal lessons in winter hiking… but that’s a story for another time.