This weekend, we struck out north to hike Mount Major. It is a new destination for us, and a reasonable compromise since it is south of the Whites but still a real mountain.
The AMC Southern NH hiking guide described several trails up Mt Major including the Belknap Ridge Trail which continues all the way over to Gunstock. Open Street Maps showed a few trails and points of interest, but they did not match well with the guide book. So we brought both a cell phone with the digital maps and the AMC guide.
We arrived to find cars parked up and down the road a quarter mile from a large parking lot. We were a little bit dismayed that the trails were full of people and erroded 10 feet wide from all the traffic. There was a kiosk in the parking lot with a map of the trails up Mt Major. At the first trail junction on our map, we turned right onto the longer trail in the hope it was less popular. I had initially discounted that trail because the description in the guidebook made it sound less interesting. It was, but at least it wasn’t quite as crowded, and the trail was only as wide as an old woods road. Then we found a trail sign for a trail that wasn’t on the maps, either digital or the one in the parking lot. It was small and not exceedingly well built, but we decided to take it to get away from the crowds.
The trail was well blazed, but, typical of the trails that day, it did not have a built up footbed and it went straight up the hill. The indian pipe flowers were just poking out and all the bunchberries had turned red. From there we intersected the quarry trail. The kiosk map showed that if we turned left it was a short distance back to the Belknap Ridge Trail and then Mt Major. It did not show much to the right. The guidebook listed an 8 mile loop to go right and come back the Belknap ridge trail. We chose right.
We ate lunch on ledges next to the trail. A little garder snake hung out on the rocks next to us the whole time. The trail passed by rock slide with giant jumbled rocks and fissures. Later we climbed up to views of Lake Winnipesaukee. We noted a prominent bird song in the woods. Looking it up online at home, we decided it was a hermit thrush.
Right about where we needed to turn around, we found a freshly blazed and cleared trail headed back to the Belknap Ridge Trail. It descended to a new beaver pond and then back up to the ridge. Isaac declared he would hike from the beaver pond all the way back to the car.
Most of the first half of the trip had been in trees with occasional views. Now we climbed up to Straightback Mountain and onto an open rocky ridge covered with blueberries and isolated stands of trees. We snacked on the blueberries as we went.
Isaac was flagging, but still stubbornly hiking when we intersected with the main Mt Major trail a half mile from the summit. It was late enough that all the crowds had disappeared. With some hand holding, Isaac hiked up the rocky slabs to the top. We rested, enjoying the cool breezes and views. Then Isaac was on his feet ready to hike back to the car. He made it a little way farther down the trail, and finally acceded to my suggestion that the car was a long way off and accepted a ride in the backpack.
We arrived back at the car at dusk. There were two cars left in the parking lot. And we discovered the other side of the kiosk had a full map with almost all the trails.