Sunday, October 04, 2009

A Rattlesnake, Zealand and Belknap Medley - 10/2 - 10/4/09

If this year of hiking has taught us nothing else it is how to be adaptable. Very few trips have turned out as planned but all have turned out great. This weekend was no exception. Over a month ago we planned an overnight backpack to the Baldies with Tim, Val, Kevin, Judy and Emma for this weekend. As the weekend approached and the weather forecast got worse and worse we knew that this trip was out. Neither an overnight in cold rain or an "adventure" on the wet ledges seemed like a very good idea. Since we had already arranged a house/dog/daughter sitter for the weekend we weren't giving up though. Let's make some lemonade out of these lemons...

Tim and Val had invited us to come and offered to find alternate hikes to do with us regardless of the weather. Since Friday looked like the best of the days we decided to go early and sneak in an extra hike. We left RI mid-morning to avoid the weekday Boston traffic and had smooth sailing all the way up. 

West Rattlesnake and Five Finger Point

At 1:00 we were at the West Rattlesnake trailhead and ready to go. We picked this one since it was a) close to Tim&Val, b) one we hadn't done and c) hopefully nice lake views on a clear day. We weren't disappointed. We headed up the Bridle Path to West Rattlesnake and were greeted by beautiful views and a small weekday summit crowd. Didn't hang out too long before heading down the Pasture Trail which drops down very steeply toward the lake. We took the Five Finger Point trail out to and around the point and this was our favorite part of the walk. The trail runs right next to the water all the way around and there are several small beaches and swimming areas that would be great on a hot summer day. On the way back up we decided to take the Col Trail and skip East Rattlesnake due to time. The Col Trail was surprisingly steep as was the Ridge Trail back up to the west peak and we worked up a good sweat on the way up. One more stop to soak in the view and then back out to the car. The whole hike turned out to be really great and much more of a workout than expected. Will definitely do this one again and be sure to visit East Rattlesnake next time as well.

West Rattlesnake summit and Squam Lake

The views from Five Finger Point

Old soldier on West Rattlesnake

Friday night we had a great time hanging out with Tim&Val, enjoying the wonderful dinner they prepared along with an apple pie that Nat had baked for dessert (oh yeah, the start of a food weekend) and trying to come up with a plan for Saturday with a forecast that was calling for 2-3 inches of rain with thunderstorms. Turns out that we both had been thinking about Zealand Valley as one of the top "in the rain" options and decided to go with that as long as things didn't get even worse...

Zealand Valley, Thoreau Falls

On Saturday morning the forecast had improved and it looked like the really bad stuff wouldn't come till later in the afternoon. We headed out after stuffing ourselves with the great breakfast that Tim prepared (I would definitely need to hike more if he was providing breakfast all the time or I'd gain 20 pounds) and were at the Zealand trailhead at 9:00. The walk out to Thoreau Falls was beautiful. The colors were really nice and the clouds, mist and occasional drizzle provided a nice touch going through the ponds and bogs. The rain held off and didn't really bother us at all. After a nice break at the falls we headed back and up to the hut with another break for lunch and a hot cocoa to warm up. The only really hard rain happened while we were hanging out at the hut (more good timing) and had let up by the time we headed back out. The walk back to the car was nice and I couldn't believe that we'd actually done 10 miles when we were done. Day 2 was now more than successfully salvaged!

Zealand beaver pond

The view from Thoreau Falls

Zealand Valley from the hut

Marching in the mist

Saturday night we went to the Common Man and enjoyed our own little Ashland Booze and Vittles night. The heavy rain arrived and stayed for the night and we started to wonder if our luck was running our for Sunday. By the time we got back to the house and checked the forecast things were looking up. Cloudy with clearing by mid-morning and rain starting later in the day. Could we really luck out again? Val got in touch with Kevin and Judy and they said they'd join us on Sunday and suggested a hike over Gunstock, Belknap and Piper - one that the rest of us hadn't done before. We all agreed that this sounded great.

Gunstock, Belknap, Piper

By the time we got up Sunday morning there were already signs of clearing and things were looking good. After a somewhat smaller breakfast (which included leftover apple pie) we headed out to meet Kevin, Judy and Emma at the Belknap Carriage Road trailhead at 8:30. By the time we got there everything was totally socked in with fog. Bummer. We started up Gunstock and reached the top quickly managing to avoid any big slips on the many greasy ledge sections. The summit of Gunstock was totally socked in and we could barely see the ski lift when we arrived. While we were having a snack the sun started to show through and before we left the summit fog had burned off and we were under blue skies! The view to the lakes was still non-existent but things were definitely looking up on top. 

We dropped back into the trees and through some beautiful sections with the sun streaming through the mist on our way to Belknap. The greasy ledges took their toll several times between Gunstock and Piper and just about everyone managed at least a minor slide down one of them - but happily there was nothing worse to show for it than moss stained rear ends. Climbing the tower at Belknap we were greeted by a spectacular undercast that covered the lakes with both the surrounding peaks and the summits beyond the lakes sticking through. We hung out for quite a while watching various peaks drifting in and out of the clouds below and marveling at our good fortune for another spectacular day. After another snack break (gotta eat on every peak, right?) we dropped back down into the trees for the mile or so ridge walk to Piper. 

We arrived on the Piper summit to find clear skies with the surrounding peaks drifting in and out of the clouds that were starting to gather again. The summit of Piper is really unique with it's large area of open ledge, scrub, grass, etc and the collection of "rock sculpture" including various "chairs" and a "throne". Another long break for lunch and to enjoy the wonderful spot which we had all to ourselves. The hike back down to the car was quick with only a few more slippery ledges that we managed to negotiate without incident. We all went our separate ways at the parking lot after vowing to get back together soon to do one of many of the possible trips we'd discussed on the way as well as scheming a way to get in that Baldies backpack that had eluded us this time. 

Foggy views from Gunstock

Preparing to feed the wildlife

The sun breaks through on the way to Belknap

Belknap Range breaking through the undercast

On Piper summit

Views from Piper

Piper "alpine garden"

For what seemed to have been a failed plan a few days before I can't think of a better way that we could have spent the weekend! Great hiking, great weather (even the Saturday drizzle), great food and great company!!! Thanks Tim&Val for the wonderful hospitality and giving us the opportunity for another great weekend in the Whites and to Kevin, Judy and Emma for suggesting and leading us all on a great new hike that will definitely be one we repeat!

Complete photo album:

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