Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Belknap 12 (14) Adventure

So when you hang around crazy people like Sherpa John and Nate Sanel, crazy ideas tend to rub off on you.  Grant was no exception.  After reading up on previous years and then being part of RANH #3  he decided he wanted to set up and adventure of his own.  For some reason he had picked the Belknap range a few years back.  Well lack of planning and training finally came to a head on July 16th.  While many of my friends were burning up in the fields and dirt roads of Vermont at the VT100, Grant and I set out to run all 12 of the peaks and earn our patches in the lakes region.

As we packed up the last of our gear a few folks were near by and overheard us talking about the duration of our adventure.  "Don't worry, there isn't too many bugs up there." and "You can't spend 6 hours out here!"  The puzzled looks they gave us when we both said, yep, all 12 in response.  We trot for the first couple of hundred feet until we catch an older fella walking his dog.  He mentions the quickest way is to go up the chair lift, but there is a trail off to our rights that he used to do before he got his bum knee.  That was all i needed to hear and we were climbing and getting lost in no time.  Every now and again we'd find a fork.  Grant would ask from time to time if I was sure we were going to right way.  I didn't have a clue, but it felt right, so we pressed on until the trail took a left turn toward the summit of Rowe.  We marveled briefly at the spectacular  view of a house we passed near by. Just above on the trail i spotted a hawk feather and stuffed it in my hat like a native.  Before too long we were upon the radio/cell tower atop of Rowe
Peak 1 -8:48am 
(Grant on top of Rowe)
The berries along this stretch of trails was great.  I wolfed down as many as i could snag for a late breakfast snack.  Soon we were finally able to run and started making up time that we felt we had lost hemming and hawing on the climb.  We were happy, it was still early in the day and while the sun was on the rise, in the tree cover it felt cool out.  That was of course until the trail dumped us out on the ski trail up Gunstock.   It was hell in the sun, so we'd take breaks ever chance a tree would cast a shadow over the trail.

 (The Climb up Gunstock)

Peak 2 - Gunstock 9:20am
I was surprised to see activity at the top of Gunstock.  Even more happy to see air conditioned UNLOCKED restroom!!  The things you really come to appreciate when you plan on spending a full day on the trail.   After chatting a bit with the lift operator about the day, the new zip line they are putting in and the trail that is in front of us we are off again.  We make quick work of the awesome single track and then up the narley rock laden trail to Belknap.  Upon arrival we head up the tower, yes, i said UP the tower.  The views were awesome.  The heat had burned off any fog on the lake and we were treated with a full 360 view of the lake region. 

Peak 3 - Belknap 945am
Off towards Piper down the rocky trail.  A few reroutes were noted with signs, but if you hadn't hiked here before you wouldn't have noticed.  The new trail came out onto a few overlooks and the views were phenomenal to the southeast.  We made a mental note of the trail where we were to come and do a switch back to and then we started our climb up Piper.  Still in good spirits we ran a bit even on the inclines in hopes to bag a few mroe peaks before the heat of the day.

Peak 4 - Piper 10:15am
After passing a few groups of familys that must have had Piper being their final/lunchtime desitnation we made our way across the peak.  I overheard a little boy say "What's there rush?"  as we hopped on rocks past them.  Grant and I both knew that we'd need the extra time in the bank early to finish this in the heat of the day.  The long rocky decent from Piper left me with a pit in my stomach as i knew we'd be climbing back up it on our return trip and it would be much warmer.  After briefly getting lost in a clearing we were on our way again.  Until i skirted past a big puddle.   *plop*   I jumped and exclaimed, "what the hell was that!!!"   I look back, and slowly see one of my granny smith apples bob back to the surface.  DAMN!   Grant says, you know the top of your pack is open right?  Nuts.  I was looking forward to that apple too.  I shake my head.  If the puddle hadn't been covered with a thick layer of slime it might have been salvageable, but as far as i could tell not ANY life could have survived in that pool of water.  

Peak 5 - Whiteface 10:45am
 (View from the clearing on the top of Whiteface looking back at Piper and Belknap)

We grab a few gu's and wander around looking for the peak. We come across 3 older hikers picking ticks off of themselves.  After shooting the breeze for a bit they seem to think we are out of our minds to try to hike all 12 peaks in a day. Nevermind not getting lost on the Western side of belknap where apparently the trails go bananas.  We shrug, wish them well, and take off down the mountain back toward Piper.  On our back climb up piper we come across a couple.  The older, larger man says "well, you boys looked more impressive when you were running down."  I just gave him a smirk as we hiked past.  He was wearing and XXL some school track and field shirt.  I can only assume he was an out of shape coach or some father trying to live vicariously through his child as i can't imagine that man had run a mile anytime in the last decade.   Typical New England attitude. 

Peak 6 - Piper pt2 11:27am
(Crazy Piper Flower) 

We were running out of our way along the trails edges to find shade as the heat was now approcahing 90.  Neither of us had run in anything over 80 up to this point in 2011.  Coming down Piper I roll my ankle terribly and hobble for a little bit.  The tenderness was emphasized as we turn and follow a long steep decline down an underused trail.  After slabbing the side of Suncook and come out finally at Round Pond to eat lunch.  I'm  cramping badly every time i sit down so i pace back and forth a bit and hope the salt tabs and advil will kick in.  After checking our water supply, both bladders bone dry (2 liters each) and neither of us have peed in over 3 hours, the situation seemed bleak.  But it was high noon, time to eat some lunch, filter some water and try to recover a bit so i tried not to think about it.

 (Round Pond where we stopped for lunch, Belknap in the background)

After eating Grant got a phone call.  His brother is going out to eat later tonight and i overhear Grant say, "I hope to be off the trail by 430." I look at the time without saying anything and ponder in my head.  "how the hell are we going to do that? We've been out here over 4 hours already and we're not even half way yet!"  As we filter the water at the pond using my Katahdin Grant asks how good it is.  I can only respond,  "well i haven't used it in about a year, so i HOPE it's still good. Either that or we're in for a painful weight loss program"

After wandering a bit on the western side of the lake we come to a boy scout camp.  There are 5 trails leading from the large fire ring. Grant laughs and says, "there are trails going in EVERY direction."  I'm not laughing. Picking the wrong trail here means potentially being lost for many extra hours or not finishing the 12 peaks all together.  I pull out my compass, and try to tap into some of my Barkley skills.  Within 15 minutes we're at the top of Mack.  SUCCESS!

Peak 7 - Mack 1:23pm
After admiring the solar panel on a now worthless turbine we found our way to the trail junction to Klem and Anna.  Down the trail we go.  I was feeling good, my body on a sugar and fluid high from lunch and bounded down the trail with Grant in tow.  He groaned about how hard this stretch would be coming back.  I agreed, on the inside, and tried not to let that part show as I dashed ahead.  On the climb up Anna we found a wonderfully cold stream. Dunking our heads, soaking our bandannas and many "OHHs" and "AHHs" later we made our way up to the top of Anna.  Our last switchback point.  I was thrilled.  Grant however, was still in a haze from the previous night and mentally knowing we still had many many miles to go.

Peak 8 - Anna 1:51pm
From here it was a quick jaunt, ha, ok, maybe not.  It was a death march back up Mack.  Both of us taking many breaks to catch our breath and swig large amounts of water.  For doing an out and back, we'd only slowed down a few minutes coming back vs going out.  I figured that was pretty darn good for being untrained and in the heat of the day.

Peak 9 - Mack pt2 2:21pm
From Mack we headed almost due north to Klem.  Most of the trail very run able so we made good time. It was on top of Klem where we had the most trouble.  You'd think, a mountain well known, and from what we could tell, more traveled, would have better signage.  Up to this point we'd had ZERO navigation issues.  Now on Klem, we couldn't find the trail to Rand.  We stood at one cairn, then another, then another.  Where is this green trail on the map?  The hiking forums show that this is a fairly well traveled loop.  Could we have missed it?  This was bad news and I was feeling terrible for it. Up to this point i'd been leading the way and had been flawless at every turn.  I went north, grant went south, and we hoped for the best. I had my compass out and was following the turns on the trail.  I had to be going the wrong way.  I turned back and before long i heard Grant yell that he finally found a blaze.

Peak 10 - Klem 2:51pm

 (Crazy snowmobile helmet stuck to a pine on Klem?)

From here it was a rollercoaster in.  WE were on the home stretch and there was to be no more switchbacks.  What a relief. Also, what frustration I had when a few minutes down the trail towards Rand was a nice description nailed onto a tree.  Seriously?  They decided to put this map several thousand feet DOWN the trail?  As if the people on the trail wouldn't have been aware that they were already on it?  I muttered several cuss words to myself as we moved forward toward Rand.  The climb up Rand was described as being some cliffs and steep terrain. I was kind of excited, except not really. Grant's mood was improving as mine was now deterioration as the afternoon pressed on.  My blood sugar slumping and my fluid intake minimal.  Grant knew i was apprehensive about climbing exposed rocks and cliff, and while today was no different, it came with a twist.  Every large step i took my calves and thighs would lock into a cramp.  I hadn't peed in over 4 hours, yet i had consumed almost 2 additional liters of water since lunchtime. My mind was in panic mode on what to do.  With several peaks to go and no water stops along the way i was in conservation mode.

Peak 11 - Rand 3:07pm
On the top of Rand i pounded the last of my gatorade, took and advil, and swallowed as many salts as my body could handle without gagging, I knew this last stretch would be a death march.  Grant was now taking the lead pulling me along.  Every now and again i'd have to yell at him for following a deer or Moose trail off the blazed trail and he'd have to backtrack. But for the most part, he was doing fine leading this train late in the afternoon.  I knew we'd finish at this point.  The question would be, when?

Peak 12 - W Quarry 3:32pm
I paused breifly to read the sign saying that there was a bypass from the exposed "ledge" that the trail goes up ahead.  I didnt' tell Grant what the note said, and we stayed on the trail.  As much as i wanted to do the bypass to avoid the trail, it felt like cheating.  Even now, recalling the trip from my home, I still can't really figure out what "ledge" the bypass was trying to go over. I supposed that there was a short smooth stretch of rock, but after doing Pompelli on Monadnock and Cathedral on Katahdin.  This thing might as well have been a treadmill.  We passed over E. Quarry and dropped our packs to check on our water.  Neither of us was peeing now and we both were feeling a big queezy.  We looked at our maps, assessed what little we had left and knew we were in trouble.  I shared the trick that Sherpa had told me years back about swishing the water in your mouth before swallowing and it would actually help/trick your body into thinking it was more than it really was.

Peak 13 - Straightback 4:03pm
What a relief that sign on the tree was.  The few views over towards Major were a tease for what seemed like forever.  But there it was.  With a sigh of relief we were off towards our final peak. Both of us joking about how the sipping method was working, but how much we longed to drink the last of our water and actually be hydrated again.

As we climbed up Major we ran across a couple of ladies looking for the trail.  It still blows my mind how many people wander into the woods without a map.  To their credit they at least had packs and water.  But with the advice from people on the top they were walking AWAY from their vehicles in hopes to find the trail that looped back around the mountain to the parking lot.  It still blows my mind.  I offer them a map as we had 3 between the two of us and they refused it.  Seriously?  I guess this is why New Hampshire has the pay for your own rescue law now.

Peak 14 - Major 4:45pm
Grant and I made our way to the top of Major and stand proudly on the summit while a couple and their friend kindly snapped a picture of us.
We'd done it, all 12 peaks, one day, in the blazing July heat in approximately 8:30.

(Top of Mount Major, eight and a half hours later)

After sending in to the Belknap Country Sportman Association we were sent our patches and given the honor of being #s 258 and 259 to complete the Belknaps.  Obviously not everyone sends in for patches so 'results may vary,' but hey, I'll take an honor any chance i can get. 


leeapeea said...

Great job, guys! Navigation skills save the day!

"Sherpa" John Lacroix said...

No porqupinex out there?! Bummer.. Good work though. 8:30 is a solid time out in that hidden gem.

Sherpa john