Mount Major (1,786 feet) in Alton, rises on the eastern end of the Belknap Range, which includes Gunstock Ski Area at its western end.
Mount Major is a very popular hike with fine views of Lake Winnipesaukee from its bare summit, and, on a fine summer day, cars are inevitably lined along Route 11 both ways from the full trail parking lot.
Looking for a moderate stroll, we decided to climb it on a beautiful Thursday this week. We figured it was still preseason and midweek, so the crowds would not be overwhelming.
It turned out that a few school groups on spring outings picked Thursday rather than a wet Friday to climb the mountain. Many others picked that day as well. We took one of the longer routes to the summit and found some solitude, yet encountered many hikers and dogs. Yet, we enjoyed passing a variety of both people and dogs on the trail.
To get there from Route 16 in Ossipee, we took Route 28 west to Wolfeboro, and continued on Route 28 south. In about 10 miles from Wolfeboro, we bore right on Bay Hill Road, which dropped us right down to the village at Alton Bay, where we crossed the bridge on Route 11 and drove 4.2 miles to the Mount Major parking on the left.
It was about 10 a.m. and the parking lot was almost full. So much for preseason. We started up the 1.5-mile Mount Major Trail on the right end of the parking lot. It starts on an old logging road. At one point we took an alternate road that diverged to the right and rejoined the main trail, and avoided some severe erosion.
Soon, it leveled off and we enjoyed the springtime woods. The pastel green leaves were out more than they were further north.
In 0.7 miles, the Mount Major Trail turned left uphill, but we decided to continue on the old road, now called the Brook Trail, which would wind around the back side of the mountain, eventually climbing it in 2.4 miles.
As we crossed a brook, a small group of young people with a teacher passed us on their way to the top. The rest of their school group was already on top but this group decided to climb the mountain twice, had descended to the old road and were on their second ascent.
The trail climbed to a saddle between Mount Major and Straightback Mountain, where we bore left at a junction towards the top. We passed descending hikers that had climbed to the summit on the Mount Major Trail and were descending on the longer but more gentle and quiet Brook Trail.
We reached a ridge, and the trail became almost level as it passed pleasant open ledges, reminding me of other similar trails in the high country that traverse past smooth ledge and groves of pitch pine.
We saw a couple human profiles on the summit rocks ahead, and soon climbed out to the open top, where a dozen or so hikers leisurely enjoyed the north facing view, which spread from west to east.
The place is known for the wind, and we encountered the first breeze of the day. We walked over to the drop off on the north side. A glassy Lake Winnipesaukee spread out below us. Beyond were the White Mountains, from Mount Moosilaukee and beyond to the west, past Mount Washington and into Maine.
We sat and shared a sandwich. We didn’t bother to walk the few feet over to the stone foundation of “Phippen’s Hut” at the highest point, where some school kids scrambled about.
Phippen owned the summit of Mount Major, now a state park, and built a stone shelter there in 1925 to protect visitors from the wind. He built a sturdy wooden roof, but that winter a fierce wind blew it away. He then built another roof, securing it with bolts and making sure it didn’t overhang from the walls to give the wind a purchase. That lasted two winters, but was again ripped off by the wind in 1928. It flew a few hundred yards and can still be found today on the rocky slope to the east.
We headed down the steep Mount Major Trail, passing many on their way up, frequently with a dog or two. Ledges were still slightly wet, and most folks stuck to the easier variations of the trail for both their ascent and descent.
We reached the flats and walked out on the old road to our car. We both agreed it had been a fine moderate spring hike with a fabulous view.