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Belknap Range Trail Traverse.... For the WIN!

As the week moved on, I went from hiking one or two peaks in the Belknaps to a traverse. Thanks to my friend Kim whom I contacted for info on Mt. Major, she suggested picking me up at Gunstock and hiking with me for a bit. I jumped in with both feet! Studied my maps and a few blog posts... Thought briefly that I may do a patch in one day. Set my alarm for 2:30am.... This is serious business today. I got to Gunstock in just under 2 hours. Kim followed shortly and I'll be damned if I can remember the way to Mount Major's trailhead. I was half asleep still and hoping that Connie and Isis would not fight (they didn't). We both got suited up and hit the trail. The trail itself is well maintained but in the early AM, there will be ice for a while... Black ice. A couple of sections of rocks to climb around but still a quick ascent. It seemed to get light quickly and as I noticed my headlamp dimming, I just took it off. I could see well enough any way. But we both missed some sections of black ice going up to the summit which made for some laughs. The sun rose while we were heading up and it was beautiful. Of course it got even better at the summit with views all around. We chatted with another group that was already up there and snapped a few pictures. I loved the feel of this hike already and the day felt like it would be a success. Kim and I along with the dogs, headed over to Straightback next. The trail reminds me of Mount Monadnock and that makes it a little easier. 

At straightback, we are set to part ways. Kim has things to do today and Connie is an older dog. She had a blast out there today though and the big smile I saw was proof. I was glad to share the morning with them and have a great conversation up the trail. Some things, you cannot get when solo hiking. But both have their benefits. One things for sure, it was a great morning. I'm ready to do this traverse now. Next up for me is Mt. Anna... But not before I once again fall on my butt with the black ice. I'm good though and I'm also enjoying my trail runners instead of my winter boots today. The trail over to Mt. Anna like I said, has some black ice and some really obvious ice. You're back in the trees for some of this but the views peak out. Isis and I happen upon a heart shaped red marker and I need to stop for a photo. It was not long from here that we hit the summit. Walked out to the view and then started for Mt Mack. 

There are a few ledges to contend with in this section as well as some down trails to get to the next summit. I had imagined the ups and downs prior to hiking today and I was pretty spot on. I'm also realizing that this is actually a pretty tiring hike for us today. Not even aware of the time, I declare a second breakfast because first was in the car. With treats, we are underway and after a few switchbacks, we arrive at Mt. Mack. A small sign post on the trail. And then we open up to views. 

I believe we passed over Mt. Klem without too much recognition as the next thing I spotted was Round Pond.... Do not let your dogs drink for this as the there are beavers in the area and leaches in the water (Thanks Kim!). This section really reminded me of the LT and we eventually stopped for lunch on a rock... Hickory Smoked Tuna packet (not a favorite at this point). With renewed energy, I declared my intent to hike the BRT to the end. Heading up a pretty steep and slick section of trail, I had a few different thoughts and some were not very positive. We'll see what happens. My key to hiking is to remain flexible. But I had no idea of bail outs since this was new. I needed to go by the map and see. Shortly after this up and a flat section followed by some stairs and a few boulders came.... A boulder field. I'd later find out that it's full of ice flows and a tricky spot. I was glad that I decided to back track and take the long way up to Belknap by the Round Pond Piper Link. It added miles but, I didn't have nearly the trouble I would have. A step section and I'm back on the white trail at the split for Piper. We'll leave Piper and Whiteface hanging for another day. Time to get to Belknap, Gunstock, and Rowe.

The trail up to Belknap has some more serious ice flows but you can get around them. There's a few ledge sections before it finally opens up to the tower site. This section of the trail after taking the longer way to avoid the bolder field seemed to take a lot longer than I thought. We rested briefly after disturbing a couple who didn't seem to want to stick around and then being charged by a dog so we didn't stick around. Time to get over to Gunstock was what I told the owner. It's been a long day but so worth it. My feet are getting fatigued at this point but I push. Again, there is a down trail with ice and followed by the up with ice and small edges. All are avoidable and that makes it go by quickly. We pop out at the rescue shack and are immediately called over by one of the rescue squad. Isis gets all the love! I am always amazed at how many people are drawn to her... But she's only drawn to me. I soak up the sun beating off the snow and we bid the rescue squad farewell. Time to get this thing done. Mt. Rowe is next.

Here is where it gets tricky and if you're not careful, you are heading down the wrong trail... You need to follow the white blazes. I accidentally got on the green blazes and then on the orange ones because it's not clearly marked on the map and the trail signs are tricky... If you find yourself on the orange trail, you are heading to the base of the carriage road and trust me, it's a STEEP climb up that green trail. Isis was not happy and neither was I. But once corrected, it's a flat walk for a while. We begin to head down and I think we are descending and I missed the summit. To my surprise, we are right by the ski trails with skiers coming down... One had to stop for a pee. Thank goodness he saw me. This of course has happened to me too. As we turn, I see signs and they tell me that I have 1.7 to the summit. OK, still more to go... Gotta buck up. We hike and hike and lucky for us the trail is pristine and easy to travel. We begin climbing and leave the ski area. I recalled seeing steep written on the map for the descent back to the parking lot... Wondering about that. We take in a view of the ski resort and I spy my car in the parking area.

Isis and I reach the summit which is nothing more than a transformer station. So, for ending sake, I take a selfie with my favorite trail partner and prepare for our steep descent... Down an access road. Not so steep but still jarring on the feets that are tired. We wind our way down and back to the car around the lodge to the parking lot. Cross the parking lot happy as can be and I raise my hands in victory at the car. The guy in the car parked near by must have thought I was crazy. Loaded Isis in and then got ready to head home. What a fantastic day and the win that I was most definitely looking for over the past few weeks. 

I wish I could tell you the exact miles of my route... I think it was around 15. Eight summits and a full day on the trails makes that a great day for me. One that I sorely needed. My company at the beginning of the day added a long missing element and I'll alway cherish those conversations and realizations that maybe what you are going through, is not so unique. Today was about the hike for me. Just getting out on the trails, being in the woods, and away from the noise and the vibe of civilization. With the exception of Gunstock, I had the trails to myself and only met a few along the way for my solo sections. I was able to focus and hike and when things got a little tough, I was able to talk to myself and keep going. I really felt in the spirit of the LT today and I cannot wait to get out there this summer. That spirit is hard to describe unless you've done any long distance hiking... It's sort of this feeling of family and support that goes beyond your regular family. This is your trail family and they are waiting to spend time with you at the shelter when you come to rest your head for the night. It makes you smile and makes you feel as though you can do the impossible. I love the hiking life! Hope to see you out there some day. Thanks for reading.  

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