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New Hampshire, United States
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mts. Major and Straightback (Belknap Range), July 20, 2014

Mts. Major (1,785') and Straightback (1,890') via Boulder Loop, Belknap Range, Brook and Mt. Major Trails
Total mileage: 5 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 1,400'

Trailhead: Route 16 to Route 11 to Alton, 4.2 miles north of Alton Bay (large parking lot). Boulder Loop trail (orange blazes) begins on the left side of the lot (Mt. Major and Brook trails begin on the right). 
Hiked BMS today (By My Self).  I wanted a five mile loop and this combination of trails worked nicely.  And I was excited to revisit Straightback Mountain (haven't been there in years). 

The Belknap mountain range is a favorite for local hikers, and our "go to" area in the late fall and early spring (lower elevation and latitude than the White Mountains, and a shorter drive).  There is a Belknap Range Hikers patch available for hikers who summit all of the range's twelve peaks. 

The Boulder Loop trail is an easy up over the boulders, with peeks of view through the trees.  The summit was very crowded today, with many in sneakers and jeans (and a few in sandals).  This hike is a must do if you plan to visit the Lakes Region.

Mt. Major's summit's incredible views attract hikers year round.
The view is spectacular: lakes, hills, mountains.  I continued on the Belknap Range trail to Straightback Mountain, easily found by the yellow/blue blazes.  It appears these blazes have been repainted and this area (open and slabby) is very well marked.  In fact, the paint is so bright it's almost a detriment to the beauty of the area. But with so many visitors making the jaunt up to Major without the thought of a map, it's very helpful. 

Bright blue and yellow blazing.


Trail junction Belknap Range and Brook trails.

Plenty of blazes and signs.
At the Brook trail junction the yellow blazes head down to the parking lot, leaving the bright blue to point the way to Straightback Mountain (.7 miles from the junction). 

Blue blazed trail to Straightback Mountain.
As busy as the trails around Major are on a summer weekend, that activity comes to a screeching halt once you head past the junction of Brook trail. The first .1 mile is dark and woodsy.  And muddy.  I heard a noise and glanced back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something bright blue right behind me.  I swung around to find it was one of those big bright blue blazes!
As the trail ascends, clearings appear, well marked with blazes on the rock slabs (may be harder to find in winter).  There are angled slabs in the path, fun to negotiate up and down. 


Alternating woods and open clearing path.
Summit sign on Straightback.
The summit is a clearing with a view.  After a few minutes and a few photos, I headed back to take Brook trail down.



Nice views on Straightback!
Brook trail is well marked with bright yellow blazes in the beginning of my descent. Further down there's evidence of trail rerouting and in places its hard to figure out which way to go.  In fact, it looks like the crew repainting the blazes were also unsure of where to go in these areas as yellow blazes (particularly the newly painted ones) are few and far between.  There's evidence of paths right and left and some serious erosion on this trail.  At one point the river must be crossed but where?  I finally found where a small path went to the water, then back up and onto the wider path.  I figured if I did stray off the path, if I kept heading down I would wind up either at the parking lot or somewhere on Route 11 (so I wasn't too worried).
Families with tired children were trudging up this way.  The trail is not pretty, though it's nice to have the sound of the brook as you go by.    I couldn't understand why anyone would want to bring their kids up this particular path where there are other options up to Mt. Major's summit.  Options with fun boulders, with views!  I assume many opted out of the steep route of the Mt. Major trail at the last minute and by default chose the Brook trail.  (The Brook trail meets the Mt. Major trail, which leads hikers out to the parking lot.)
Lots of newly painted blazes just below the junction.
  

Several shallow water crossings on Brook trail.
There's a washed out area just before the parking lot; I walked in the middle, seemed easier.  Got back to a very full parking lot. 
This is a great hike for beginners,or if you have a few hours to kill and want to be outdoors. The view is the reward for your efforts - year-round!

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