It looked like a pristine day was on tap. I thought about hitting some place new, or at least an area I hadn't ridden in a long time. My area and south was quite questionable, with moderate to extensive hurricane Sandy damage. Heading north proved successful on Saturday. Hit Franklin Falls Dam? Hmmm, too small, unless linking in brutal Page Hill material. Over the last few years, I've heard riding opportunities have expanded in the greater Laconia area. I rode up Gunstock Mountain once, maybe 12-13 years ago. I alpine skied at Gunstock once too, at least 10 years ago. I don't think I've been there since.
I pulled a couple interesting looking tracks off Strava that were going to show me the enlightened way to MTB nirvana. One went up the west side of Gunstock Mtn, followed the Belknap Mtns ridgeline, then came back down to Gilford. Another track linked a few small trail systems around Gilford. Not a lot of miles, maybe one tough climb, so overall not too hard of a day. Or so I thought.
I parked at the elementary school in Gilford. The trail up Gunstock starts right from the parking lot. I should have studied the profile more carefully. A hundred meters in, the trail went past 20% grade and stayed there a good while. Zero warm up, lead legs from the day before, good times. Don't know the name of this trail. It starts out as a wide, well established path, then splits. Strava riders took a more serpentine route. It seems not to lessen the severity of the grade, but to hit more interesting terrain. The higher the trail meandered, the steeper and rougher the terrain became. With deep leaf drop, it was almost impossible to hold traction on the non-benched trail. 2.5mph was heart pounding out your throat pace. One section required a brief hike-a-bike.
I was relieved upon reaching the ridge line. I no doubt put myself in a training hole on that climb that will take me better part of next week to recover from. A brief drop dumped me out at an open saddle and ski runs. The GPS track I was following went up a ski run with a faint ATV track on it. It was decent to ride on, but heinously steep. As I neared the Gunstock summit, I had an oh-oh experience. The 20% grade doubled. The grade was so steep my calves immediately rebelled while pushing my bike. This was the Cannon Mountain Sufferfest all over again. This couldn't go too far, could it?
Ridgeline, much better than 20% grade on oak leaves
Grassy ski slope climb, Lake Winnipesaukee in background.
Somewhere in those mountains beyond the lake is where I
rode the day before.
As I reached the summit, I heard music and people. Odd, I thought, as I hadn't seen anybody in a long time. There were a couple ski area employees up there sitting in a lift chair. They were running the lift periodically when hikers or zip-liners paid for a ride up. The zip-line from the summit runs nearly 4000ft, and they said you can hit 60mph on it. Crazy. It was wicked windy and cold up top. I got chilled quickly, even though I was way overdressed for the climb.
Continuing south on the ridgeline, I dropped on a ski slope then cut into the woods. I quickly learned that this was a hiking trail, in that a Fred like me was not going to be riding much of it. Rather than go for a new mother of all boondoggles record, I nipped this boondoggle in the bud. I knew the trail would soon climb hundreds of feet on an even steeper grade to Belknap summit. Bummer, as this meant I was either descending the way I came, or take another route down the east side, away from my car and the rest of the ride I had planned.
Initial descent from summit heading unplanned way.
This was treacherous, so loose, at times both tires were skidding.
I turned around, found the ridgeline heading north to be quite rideable. The views did not disappoint either. I hopped on a snowmobile route for the descent, which had a faint singletrack beaten into the center of it. I was completely off any planned GPS track now and winging it. This dumped me out on Rt 11A several miles and a big climb east of my car.
More ridgeline slickrock approaching cell tower.
Next up was a trail system north of Gilford center. The track looked nice. The problem was, there was no discernible trail to follow! Several people have ridden the track I downloaded this summer, but I could have just as well plotted a random path through the woods and followed it. It wasn't just leaf drop. Logs and tree debris made it look like nobody has ridden there in years. Maybe had I come in from the other side, where the highest density of trails were, things would have been different. Abort number two.
That left only one more riding area to check out, the trails by Saltmarsh Pond. This was just a bit further down Rt 11A. These trails were discernible under the leaf cover and showed signs of active maintenance. I started climbing and climbed some more. I hadn't eaten much and went into a sudden bonk. One thing is common to all riding around here: you are either climbing or descending on crazy steep grades. I followed the perimeter as best I could, leaving the GPS track loop on the Garmin. In addition to being climby, they are quite tight and twisty. After getting a good sampling of the area, I looked for a route back down and out. With over 3000ft of off-road climbing in just 15mi, I had enough punishment for the day.
Glad I didn't take anybody with me on this one. There would have been a lot of Jansen trashin'. The 80 minute drive up was still worth it. There are many more trails I saw on Gunstock that warrant further exploration. Maybe next summer I'll head up there again. Riding with locals would be the best bet.