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Try a new loop — you will still get there from here


There are some oldies but goodies out there



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Phil O and Sally check out the snowmobile map on the signboard at the south end of the Mason Brook Trail. Peter Minnich. (click for larger version)
October 01, 2009
There are several ways to loop around and through the Green Hills. The one we rode last Friday — Powerline, Redstone, Mason Brook, Black Cap to Red Tail — offered a challenging five- to six-hour loop that never touched pavement.

Start at the Cranmore parking lot and ride south along the Powerline Trails. Many variations can be made along this south-bound leg: Sticks and Stones, Pillar to Pond, and the Side Hill Trails are all possible single-track routes to Redstone where you pick up the jeep road east to the East Conway gravel pits. The best way to visualize this gravel pit terrain is to view it on Google Maps Satellite Images at the 1000- or 2000-foot scale, a couple of clicks east of Redstone. There are five pits connected by a gravel road. The big black rectangle on the right is a covered landfill. Mason Brook Trail heads north from the gravel pit behind the covered landfill. There's a signboard with a snowmobile map at the start of the trail.

Mason Brook Trail is the remains of an old road, perhaps a carriage road to the top of Black Cap, that has served over the years as a jeep road, a snowmobile and ATV trail, and an access way to hunting grounds. Twenty years ago it was a primo descent route for proto-mountain bikers riding over Black Cap. It was one of the first epic rides I tried, on which I ended up with some broken spokes and a new appreciation for the challenge of the local mountains.

Starting from the south end, Mason Brook Trail climbs gently on a graded gravel road for about a mile, passing through several old clearings, then bears left at a fork and continues to climb more steeply, entering Nature Conservancy land. At this point the trail comes close enough to Mason Brook on the right to hear the sound of falling water. The trail steepens and is seriously eroded. Cross two wooden bridges and continue climbing, hiking most of the section from the first bridge to the junction with the Black Cap Connector Trail, about a mile. We rode bits of this section, but the roughness and steepness of the terrain made hiking more efficient.

According to the trail sign at this high junction, it's 1.6 miles to the summit of Black Cap. Much of this distance is rideable, some on granite slabs. Avoid the marked single-track on the right; continue on the wider, old trail to the left to a gravelly junction below the summit, where there's a new wooden trail sign. Turn left at this junction, onto a trail known locally as "the Carriage Path," that bypasses the summit on the west. If you want go to the summit, leave your bike and hike it. Bikes are prohibited on the summit rocks of Black Cap.

The Carriage Path descends over slabs and loose gravel for about half a mile before joining the Black Cap Trail from Hurricane Mtn. Road. Descend a short distance on the Black Cap Trail, watching for the Cranmore Connector Trail on the left. Turn left and ride a quarter-mile down the hill to the Red Tail Trail junction on the right, marked by a wooden sign. From the signboard at the start of the Mason Brook Trail to the start of the Red Tail Trail is about 4.5 miles, but it's rugged. This is not a route to start late in the day.

The Red Tail is the classic Valley cross-country trail, descending the north side of the Cranmore Mountain massif, through a series of overgrown log clearings. Most of the views have disappeared, but the big whoop is still intact. Rock bridges, tight turns, and stone-work berms make this trail one of the best of local NEMBA biker-built trails.

What makes Mason Brook an interesting trail for me is that it provides a long connector between the trails on the west side of the Green Hills and the Red Tail Trail that descends the north flank of Cranmore Mountain, thus making it possible to ride the entire 360 degree loop off-road, a loop of about 15 miles with over 2,000 feet of climbing.

A somewhat longer loop can be ridden around the Green Hills by using snowmobile corridor #19, following the East Conway power line corridor northeast to the White Lot Brook Trail, which is ridden north to Hurricane Mt. Road. Ride to the top of Hurricane Mt. Road, then up the Black Cap Trail to the Cranmore-Black Cap Connector Trail, which takes you down to the top terminus of The Red Tail Trail.

Keep in mind this time of year: the Green Hills is a popular area for hunting. Beware that the hunting seasons have started in both New Hampshire and Maine. Watch for hunters; they have a right to be in the woods, too. Wear bright colors and make lots of noise. Seriously, they're out there, and you may not know you're in their sights. Try to step into their shoes long enough so you don't end up in their bags.

The following hunting seasons are open or will open soon: deer archery opened Sept. 15 and runs through Dec. 15. Deer muzzleloader runs Oct. 31 through Nov. 10. Deer regular rifle runs Nov. 11 through Dec. 6. Moose by permit runs Oct. 17 through Oct. 25.

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Bike for Books is a tour of the Valley, starting at Whitaker Woods and continuing around the Valley on marked trails.

This event is a tour, not a race. It's a mellow ride to benefit the North Conway Library. There are mapped and signed routes from five to 30 miles, taking in some of the best trails in the Valley. Mid-ride refreshments are provided at the Swift River Covered Bridge in Conway.

Registration fees are $20 for individuals, $30 for couples, and $35 for families. A pizza lunch is provided by Elvio's, with ice cream by Ben and Jerry's. All registered riders receive lunch, a water bottle, and a book. Register at John Fuller from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on the day of the event, or do it online at www.northconway library.com. This is the classic fall ride. Come on out and join your old friends and make some new ones. See you out there!

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