Monday, September 2, 2013

Mt. Major is a Major Treat!

Brothers summit Mt. Major on their first mountain hike.

What better way to wrap up the summer than with a hike?  On this occasion, my friend Ingrid and I decided to hike Mt. Major - a tiny mountain (1750 ft) on the shores of the mighty Lake Winnipesaukee.  It was exciting having her nephews along.  The 5th grader and 8th grader had never hiked before and afterwards said that this adventure was the highlight of their summer!  The short mountain hike offered breathtaking views, varied terrain, and amphibious critters in the leaves.
Orange Trail begins as a gradual walk in the woods.

This is an perfect hike for first time hikers, families, and those looking for a short hike on a beautiful day.

Here is how you can recreate this adventure... 

Adventure:  Mt. Major hike in Alton, NH

Getting there:  I took Rt 16 North to the Alton exit.  Follow Rt. 11 West towards Alton.  The trailhead is a few miles past the village of Alton Bay.  The trailhead is a clearly marked parking lot on the left.  There is no parking fee and there are no bathrooms at the trailhead.
Climbing over and through
glacial erratics on Boulder Trail.

Trail:  There are two main trails to the summit from this trailhead.  We took the Boulder Loop Trail up and the Mt. Major Trail trail down.  This made a pleasant loop.  The Boulder Loop Trail (Orange Blaze) is slightly less traveled and the large boulders make it a better choice to navigate on the uphill.  This is accessed on the left side at the end of the parking lot.  
From the summit, we took the Mt. Major Trail (Blue Blaze) down.  At first there are some steep/slabby portions that would be very challenging if wet, but it gradually became easier as we descended.  Both trails travel through hardwood forest.  The boys enjoyed finding Eastern Newts and native frogs in the leaves and under rocks.  Evidence of large glacial erratic boulders dot the landscape and at some points provide a challenge on the trails.  Another point of interest was the rock shelter at the summit.  This was fun for kids to climb, and I imagine provides a relief to wind on blustery days.  
Both young and old enjoyed the trek up Mt. Major.  I'd love to do it again in the fall when the leaves are all changed!



Approaching the summit on the
Boulder Trail.
Difficulty:  This was an easy to moderate mountain hike.  Boulders and slab near the summit provided some challenges.  Those with poor knees should consider using trekking poles on the downhill.  It is a great hike for children because it provides unique and varied terrain with an awesome view.  Our 14 month old, 5th grader, and 8th grader all enjoyed it.  (The 14 month old was carried up.  :-) )  For more family friend hikes click "Family" on the Labels on the right.  

Distance:  The loop is about 3.9 miles round trip.  We did the hike in 2.5 hours which included a long lunch break at the summit.  

Recommendations:  
-  We (perhaps stupidly) visited this hike on Labor Day weekend.  When I arrived at the 50 spot (or more) parking lot at 10 am, all spots were already full.  By the time we left at 1:30 pm, parked cars lined the side of Rt 11 for a quarter mile.  This is a POPULAR hiking spot in summer and especially on holidays.  I recommend getting to the parking lot early and taking the less traveled Boulder Trail up to avoid crowds. Still, there was plenty of room for all.  As you can see in my photo below, don't expect a serene and peaceful summit.  Children, adults, and dogs socialized, ate, and played at the top of the mountain.  If you want a more peaceful experience, visit on a weekday and avoid the summer.  
Not-so-peaceful summit on summer holiday weekend.

- Bring at least 1 Liter of water per person, snacks, and appropriate hiking gear.  Even though it's a fairly short hike (3.9 miles), it's 1150 ft in elevation gain is enough to get your heart beating.  Take breaks and bring a windbreaker for the summit.  

The four of us really enjoyed this hike up Mt. Major.  From the summit we could see the tiny boats below zip through Lake Winnipesaukee and the tall White Mountains in the distance.  It was a joy hiking with two middle school boys on their first mountain climb.  They loved the experience.  This is the perfect family hike for first timers.  Enjoy!

The boys found newts and frogs!

Ingrid and I enjoy another hike together.


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