WEST RATTLESNAKE LOOP: 1/10/12
Two days before the first snowstorm of 2012, I headed down to Holderness for a walk up West Rattlesnake, which ranks near the top in any "biggest bang for the buck" list of hikes in New Hampshire. An easy mile's climb up the Old Bridle Path rewards with a stunning view over Squam Lake. A new parking area was created at the trailhead a couple of years ago - testimony to the immense popularity of this trek.
This well-constructed trail is maintained by the Squam Lakes Association (SLA), which maintains 50 miles of trails in the Squam area.
The early winter snow drought made this more like a November hike than 1/3 of the way through January. This section of trail has a nice birch corridor.
There was one long ice flow 0.3 mi. up that brought out the Microspikes, but except for a couple other shorter icy sections, it was a bare ground hike.
Farther along, a short side loop passed this neat split boulder.
Near the top, a well-worn, faintly blazed side path led to the right to this cool granite ledge.
Through some snow flurries,the long, flat crest of Mt. Webster in the Squam Range could be seen to the west.
The summit of West Rattlesnake is maintained as a Natural Area by the University of New Hampshire.
A gnarled old red pine at the back of the summit ledges. According to an interesting brochure about West Rattlesnake produced by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau, the summit area is dominated by a red oak-pine rocky ridge plant community.
The open granite outcrops at the summit.
Benchmark placed by the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey.
The classic view over Squam Lake and its many coves and islands, with the Belknap Range on the misty horizon. Strange to see it iced over with no snow on top.
Looking east across the north end of Squam to Red Hill. Five Finger Point (which has its own interesting trail) is in the middle of the photo.
Looking south over the SW section of the lake. In the foreground a hardy juniper clings to the rock.
After a nice break at the summit, sitting on dry rock in relative comfort at a breezy 35 degrees, I decided to make a loop hike back to the trailhead. I descended SE on the Pasture Trail. At the very beginning, this path briefly passes through an unusual red oak-ironwood-Pennsylvania sedge woodland community.
This trail makes a steady descent, and was completely dry with not a spot of ice.
White pines lower down on Pasture Trail.
I turned R on East Rattlesnake Trail to head for Pinehurst Rd., passing this wonderful old sugar maple.
There is very limited parking in front of a stone gate on Pinehurst Rd.
After a short road walk, I headed back into the woods on the lightly-used but well-marked Undercut Trail, which briefly coincides with the Ramsay Trail. (The latter trail is the steepest on the Rattlesnakes, with a bit of ledge scrambling.)
Undercut was a pleasant, piney walk with a bit of climbing, and one brief break of sun.
Halfway along it passes the base of an interesting talus slope.
A major blowdown. After passing through a couple of stone walls, Undercut Trail turns L on a woods road and ends up on NH 113 just a short walk south of the Old Bridle Path trailhead, completing a very enjoyable three-mile loop with about 700 ft. total elevation gain.