The Belknap County Sportsman’s Association awards patches to anyone who hikes the 12 major peaks in the Belknap Range. About 10 years ago, I decided a fun way to earn the patch would be to hike/run all the peaks in a day. I charted out what I thought would be the most efficient route, and I gave it a go. If I remember correctly, I reached that last peak in a bit under 4 hours and made it down to the trailhead in around 4 hours 30 minutes.
Since doing that first traverse, I have re-run the route every few years. On some of these attempts, I made small improvements on my time. In 2015, I set a new PR, with a trailhead-to-trailhead time of 4 hours 9 minutes.
Around this time, I noticed that Sherpa John Lacroix had established an FKT for the range. His trip report is no longer available online, but if I remember correctly, his route was quite a bit longer than mine and included some additional minor peaks. I added a comment to the old FKT site with a link to my route. This hike of mine eventually made it onto the new FKT site and was listed as an FKT.
Since then, a few people have set new FKTs for the route, in a variety of supported styles. The routes vary significantly. All have been significantly longer than my route, and most, if not all, have included East Quarry Mountain and Straightback Mountain North Peak in addition to the 12 major peaks required for the Belknap Range Hiker Patch. These peaks have limited prominence. I suspect that is why they are not required for the hiker patch.
Three weeks ago, on August 10th, I ran the traverse again, this time finishing in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 27 seconds. Again, I did not summit East Quarry Mountain or Straightback Mountain North Peak. Also, when I finished at the trailhead on Durrell Mountain Road, I noticed it was now posted from the road. It wasn’t posted from the direction I came, but it is doubtful that this can still be considered a legal trailhead.
After the traverse, I contemplated what to do. I was concerned about the change in the trailhead at Durrell Mountain Road. I had done my previous FKT traverse from this trailhead, and now that it was posted, it was technically not available to others. As such, I had an unfair advantage on my FKT traverse. In addition, I was concerned that others had summited two more peaks than I had. Given this, it wasn’t fair to compare my traverse to theirs.
An important part of the FKT tradition is respecting those who have gone before you. Sherpa John Lacroix had established the FKT for the Belknap Range, and he had summited 14 peaks, not 12, as I had. One of the “rules” for FKTs that has always made sense to me is the rule that Ted “Cave Dog” Kaiser set for the New Hampshire 4000 Footers route: that a challenger must "do as much or more as the last record holder."
Given all this, it seemed that the best thing to do was to repeat the traverse, this time summiting the same peaks that John Lacroix and the other Belknap Range FKT holders had summited, and starting and finishing at established trailheads. The problem with this was I didn’t think I could add the extra peaks and the new finish trailhead and beat my 2015 FKT time. I had just beat my 2015 FKT time on my original route by 15 minutes, but I believed the additions to the route would add a lot more than 15 minutes.
Over the next couple weeks, I ran some experiments to see how much time the additions to the route might add. To my surprise, my experiments showed that the additions would add only about 15 minutes to my time, the exact amount of improvement I had seen in my recent traverse. If I could improve my time just a bit more, I should be able to make the additions to my route and beat my 2015 FKT time.
August 31, 2019 Attempt
On this attempt, I traveled east to west, starting at the Mt. Major parking lot and finishing at the trailhead at the end of Belknap Mountain Road. In addition to the 12 peaks required for the Belknap Range hiking patch, I also summited Straightback North Peak and East Quarry. To save time, I did not stop to take photos at the peaks, and I carried all the water I needed for the entire traverse, so I wouldn’t have to stop and fill my BeFree.
I began my attempt just after 7:00 am. from the Mt. Major parking lot. I took the main trail to the summit of Mt. Major. I went a bit slower than I had on August 10th, hoping to save a little for later. I arrived at the summit in 23 minutes, 30 seconds, 1 minute slower than on August 10th.
From the summit of Mt. Major, I took the Belknap Range Trail to Straightback South Peak. From there, I took the Dave Roberts Quarry Trail (the trail I maintain) to Straightback North Peak and East Quarry Mountain. Just before East Quarry, I made a very short bushwhack to cut off the section of the trail that heads out to the boulder caves.
From East Quarry, I continued on the Quarry Trail to the summit of West Quarry. Then I took the Marsh Trail back to the Belknap Range Trail. On my first traverse, years ago, the Marsh Trail was marked only with ribbons and was essentially a bushwhack. Now it is a maintained trail.
Once back on the Belknap Range Trail, I headed west to the summit of Anna. I descended Anna on the Belknap Range Trail, and just after the second brook crossing, I left the trail and followed a faint, flagged trail north to an old logging road. Rather than turn right on the logging road and take it to the Quarry Trail at the col between West Quarry and Rand, I crossed the logging road and bushwhacked my way north up Rand. I reconnected with the Quarry Trail on the flattish section that is above the col but below the summit. I turned left on the trail and ran/hiked up to the summit of Rand.
From Rand, I continued on the Quarry Trail to Mt. Klem. My time at Klem was 1:32:30, which was 7 minutes slower than on August 10th. On August 10th, however, I had not summited Straightback North Peak or East Quarry. Adding these peaks had added 10 minutes to my time on a practice run. This meant I was 3 minutes ahead of the pace I needed to maintain to improve on my FKT.
From Klem, I took the Klem-Mack Loop Trail to the summit of Mack and then continued on the trail down to Round Pond. From Round Pond, I made my way down to Gunstock Ski Area via the Round Pond Trail, the East Gilford Trail, the cross-country ski trails, and a variety of connecting trails. Unlike on August 10th, I did not resupply my water in the stream along the way.
From Gunstock Ski Area, I took the service road to the summit of Rowe. I arrived there at 2:35:30, only 4 minutes behind my time on August 10th. Not stopping for water had bought me a couple more minutes, and I was now 6 minutes ahead of the pace I needed to maintain to improve on my FKT.
From the summit of Rowe, I took the Ridge Trail to the Flintlock ski trail, which I took to the summit of Gunstock. From there, I took the Saddle Trail to the col between Gunstock and Belknap, cutting the new trail reroutes. From the col, I took the Blue Trail to the summit of Belknap.
On the way up Belknap, I passed the Belknap Range Trail Tenders (BRATTs) Heavy Crew. They were installing some rock steps on an eroded section of the trail. I felt badly not being there to help, so I joined them and helped for a few hours in the afternoon, after completing my traverse.
From the summit of Belknap, I took the White Trail, the Old Piper Trail, and the Piper Whiteface Link to South Piper. From there, I took the Piper Whiteface Link and the Whiteface Mountain Trail to the summit of Whiteface, the last peak. I arrived at the summit at 3:48. I was only about 2 and a half minutes behind my August 10th time, despite summiting the two additional peaks.
When I arrived at the summit of Whiteface, I had 21 minutes to make it to the trailhead to match my 2015 FKT time. On a practice run the week before, it had taken me 13:30 to make the descent to the trailhead at the end of Belknap Mountain Road. I wasn’t fresh, but I had a few minutes to spare despite the fact that the Belknap Mountain Road trailhead was about 6 minutes further away than the Durrell Mountain Road trailhead that I had used on my previous traverses.
I left the summit of Whiteface and doubled back on the Whiteface Mountain Trail. At the junction with the Piper Whiteface Link, I turned left and continued down the Whiteface Mountain Trail. On the way down, I passed several groups of hikers. I was running all-out. I tried to give warning, but I startled a few. One hiker at the back of big group had to jump out of the way as I bombed past on the berm of the trail. I’m afraid I didn’t do anything to help trail runners’ reputation on that descent. I had some time to spare, so I should have been more conscientious.
The Whiteface Mountain Trail meets Belknap Mountain Road where the road is gravel. The pavement and parking area are a couple hundred meters down the road. I kept my watch running and sprinted to the pavement. After fumbling to unlock the buttons on my watch, I got it stopped at 4 hours, 2 minutes and 24 seconds, a 6 and a half minute improvement on my 2015 FKT time. I would have liked to have finished in under 4 hours, but I’m happy to let someone else do that.