According to Trails.com the Belknap Range Traverse is described as: A strenuous peak-bagger’s adventure that visits nine peaks in the Belknap Range. The Belknap Range is an L-shaped string of small peaks that rise 1,800 feet to the west from the southwestern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. At the eastern end of the range, Mount Major, with its excellent 360-degree views, is one of the most climbed mountains in southern New Hampshire. At 2,380 feet, Belknap Mountain is the tallest peak in the range, which consists of fifteen named summits above 1,500 feet. This hike is a strenuous traverse from northwest to southeast, climbing over the summits of Mount Rowe, Gunstock Mountain, Belknap Mountain, Mount Klem, Rand Mountain, West and East Quarry Mountains, Straightback Mountain, and Mount Major. The hike involves substantial elevation gain and requires good route-finding skills, because there are many trail intersections on this route, some unmarked. It is also a one-way trip, requiring the spotting of a car at either end of the range.
Don Watson is the gentleman in charge of distributing the patches for individuals who complete hiking THE LIST of peaks on their compiled list. After what we accomplished on Monday, I won’t argue the ranges silent difficulty. But had anyone ever hiked the list in ONE DAY? Dave made contact with JR Stockwell, a lesser known peakbagging “legend” in New Hampshire, who we thought would have been the guy to have done it if he had. But.. he hadn’t and also expressed no interest in doing so. We made a few more e-mails to folks we know had some knowledge of area peak-bagging and turned up no results either. To their knowledge and our knowledge, NO ONE had ever hiked all 12 of these peaks in one day and it was our goal to be the first. IF someone has, it is not documented anywhere online (afterall.. EVERYTHING is on the internet) and those who hold the Belknap Range near and dear to them, offer no evidence as well. We do belive it COULD have been done previously, but it is highly unlikely given the ranges low profile as opposed to the 4K’s to their north.
We spotted Dave’s car somewhere along Belknap Mountain Rd and then carpooled in Al’s car to Gunstock Ski Area. I had just run 50 miles on Saturday and in no way shape or form and I even remotely recovered or rested from the adventure. Yet here I am, sitting in a car with some of New Englands most decorated mountain runners, about to take on a traverse that is by no means “easy.” I was worried and wondered if I should have just stayed home and let these boys do their thing. But hell.. it’s time on my feet. Great mental training and time moving on tired legs. I was up for the challenge.
Kevin and Dave ran most of the way up the access road to the top of Rowe while Albee hung back and teased me along the mountains slopes. I was moving slowly, hemming and hawing, in tons of pain and barely able to climb. I thought about just turning back to the car but I don’t know how to drive a stick (this make me less of a man?). My usual plethora of indiginities spurted from my mouth in comical displeasure as we climbed to and reach the top of Rowe. The views were amazing as Washington stuck out like cotton on the top of a Q-tip. We could see the snow covered twins, moosilauke, Franconia Ridge and all the ones in between. It was an aamzingly gorgeous, CRISP!, morning and we were in for a hell of a day.
We went from Rowe to Gunstock, maneuvering our way through the myriad of trails. Hiking in this range proved to be difficult mostly through the need of decent navigational skills. Trail markers often change color from white to yellow to red to pink to purple to blue to blue and red to… well you get the idea. And at times, ever finding a marker or following what “appears” to be a trail became quite a challenge.
We huffed over Gunstock and carried on to Belknap where Albee and Kevin climbed into the fire tower. They enjoyed views while I tried to move ahead given my slow progress. I could run the downhills great, muster my way through the flats with a walk/run scheme, and slowly and painfully crawled up and over every downhill. We came down upon a gorgeous spot called Round Pond. This is one of the prettiest places I have been in New Hampshire and enjoyed the shores immensly. We threw rocks into the pond, hearing it penetrate the ice and scatter like broken glass. Yeah.. it was COLD for sure!
From here we made our way over Klem at 2001′, then West and East Quarry, two small humps that are a jumble of rocks and home to an old.. well, Quarry. (Go figure). The tops of these humps have been logged viciously by whome-ever, yet they had done well in trying to maintain the character of the trail. We appreciated this as we ran by and enjoyed the views from various tiny outlooks. From here, we ran over to North Straightback, taking the turn and heading for Mount Major. Mount Major was full of activity as its the most popular of the mountains in this range. We played, “Name the Peaks,” with folks on the summit, pointing out various mountains off in the northern horizon. Dave reminised about how it had been 30 years since he was on Mount Major… his first mountain climb ever.
On Sunday, Dave had a huge party at his house where he ran his 100,000th mile of his running career which began in 1978. Thats 10 miles a day for almost 30 years. He holds the second fastest time for any American in the history of the Mount Washington Auto Road Race. He has competed in the Mt Washington Road Race 16 times between 1988 and 2005. He won three times including a one-second victory in 1989 over seven-time champion and teammate Bob Hodge. Dunham represented the U.S. in the World Mountain running championships from 1992 to 2000 and earned a silver medal in 1993. And Mount Major is where it all started. I really felt honored to be mountain running with a man of his caliber.
We left Major after some grub around Noon, and headed back to Straightback where we went over the South peak. From here we enjoyed some of the best running of the day on leave and pine covered single track that wove over and around Mounts Anna and Mack. We came out on a snowmobile trail that led us back past Round Pond where headed headed back towards Belknap, took a left and headed for Piper. The trail from here was horrible at times. The leaves covered the many loose and sharp rocks and roots that lay along the way. The single track was narrow and ice covered the rock slabs from time to time. As we made our way up the slopes of Piper, I was spent. Al asked me what my pain level was earlier on a scale of 1-10.. I told him 7. On Piper, I made it to 8 and even had to sit down. The guys were getting further and further ahead of me and I felt horrible for slowing them down, yet… I hung as tough as I could choosing to sing songs about my frontal lobe.
Piper was by far my favorite peak of the day. The views from and geology of this mountain were exceptional. I loved it and it was a great place for a short rest. We heard voices from the tp of Belknap and we hooted their way listenning for the response. Al and I headed off towards Whiteface while Dave and Kevin argued over the map (leave it to a surveyor and an orienteer to do that). The run down piper was steep and long along various rock slabs. In the col below Whiteface, Al spotted a porcupine and decided to play with him. We took a photo of the bugger and then climbed to the top of Whiteface. I struggled bad climbing this last pitch. My legs felt like lead as I dragged them along the ridge line. I was spent, yet glad this was the last peak of the day.
I quietly came out on the summit, too focused on the concentration required to keep moving forward. Great training indeed and in a sick way I loved it. From here, we took off down into the woods, bushwhacking down the side of Whiteface towards where we parked our car. We came out near a sand pit and logging operation about .3 from where we had parked. Our trip had been perfect on one hell of a perfect day.
HUGE thanks to Dave for his maps and route finding skills. In my opinion it really did take a good plan to accomlish the task at hand. In just under/over 8 hours, we had made history in becoming the first 4 people to ever hike all 12 peaks on this list in one day (unofficially). If anyone else has ever done it, I’d love to hear of their adventure as well. But until then, I can’t wait to get my new patch AND… also get my Fire Tower patch as I also completed the 5 needed on that list as well. But for now, my legs are turning against me and much needed rest is in order.