Winter is beginning to settle in at the higher elevations, but fall is hanging on below 2,000′. Lilo and I snuck out on Sunday in search of a 4-6 mile loop. We had three peaks left to finish off the Belknap Range and my first thought was to tackle two of those, but the weather was so fine that I couldn’t bear the thought of not poking our heads above treeline, however briefly. So we opted for a loop up South Straightback via the mellower side of Precipice Path before backtracking along the Belknap Ridge Trail to a new peak, Anna, before returning to the car via the Anna-Goat trail and Old Stage Road.
As usual, finding the trailhead was the hardest part. First I missed a turn and ended up near Alton Bay — which was so pretty that it was hard to begrudge the wasted time! Then it turned out that there wasn’t so much a “parking area” as a “patch of grass next to a realtor’s sign and already occupied by a Prius that I sure hoped belonged to a hiker and not a disgruntled landowner.” I drove around a bit trying to scope out a trail sign before shrugging, parking, and starting off down what I hoped was Old Stage Road and feared was one of the many snowmobile trails in the area.
Happily, what would have been my turnback point turned out to be marked with the trail signs that we needed! My policy is that I’ll do two turns worth of exploring. If we get to three and I’m still not confident in our position, then we turn back. But this third junction confirmed we had indeed been on Old Stage and put us onto purple-blazed Precipice Path. We opted for the side without the cliffs and waterfall…this time!
We enjoyed the varied but never technical footage and the still-vibrant foliage decorating the Belknaps even as snow fell farther north. I felt my lack of fitness keenly, but Lilo is always willing to wait and judge me from ahead.
We gained the ridge in a cluster of birch and evergreen, and the Christmas-red undergrowth from the Moats hike a few week past was taller and shading to orange here and now. The day was warm in the sun, approaching icy in the gusting wind, and I felt utterly peaceful as we made our way towards Straightback; we were just exactly where we were meant to be.
The wind was blowing hard atop South Straightback, but the views were expansive and fine (and for some reason didn’t want to upload to WordPress!). Lilo humored me by posing near the summit sign with the big sky in the background.
I toyed with the idea of heading over to Major to look out over the lakes and we even ventured a little ways down that trail. But the certainty of crowds on that peak and the lure of a new one drove us back. Lilo briefly sulked by the summit sign — she really doesn’t enjoy out-and-backs and apparently thought I was cheating her out of a loop by not continuing on to Major!
But we discussed it and she agreed to a small overlapping portion of the BRT so that we could go tag Anna!
The narrative now outpaces the pictures; we were in company for part of the descent off Anna and the forest was sun-dappled in that way that does my heart much good but my camera, less so. Lilo earned kudos for her good behavior from all three groups we saw during the remainder of the hike (and one person wanted to explain why my pit bull is an exceptional pit bull — sigh). She’s been much brighter lately and led most of the way back to the car. Not sure how much is the cooler weather and how much her thyroid meds, but I’m happy either way!
We have two Belknap peaks left. Mack is adjacent to Anna; Whiteface is over on the other end of the range near Piper, which we loved. We have plenty of options for nice half-day loops to get each done and explore a bit more of the area. I don’t see too many big-mile days in my near future, what with Titus’s upcoming surgery and rehab, so I’m turning my focus to smaller hikes with plenty of bang for buck. Luckily, there are plenty of those to keep my brain happy and to give Lilo some one-on-one time.
And it’s pretty wonderful to have my best girl back on trail again.