Pine Mountain (2,405 feet) in Gorham is visible off to the left from Route 16 as you drive north from Pinkham Notch. Many people travel by it every day. Far fewer climb it, but its popularity has grown since it was put on the “New Hampshire 52 With a View” list in 2020.
Years ago, I climbed Pine Mountain from the dirt Dolly Copp Road, starting at the junction with the gated Pine Mountain Road. The Pine Mountain Road goes up to the Horton Center, a Christian camp and retreat center near the summit of Pine Mountain. Back then, I walked along the Pine Mountain Road to a right-hand turn on the Ledges Trail, which went directly up to the wide granite viewpoint and summit.
The Pine Link Trail, starting at the same location on the Dolly Copp Road, ascends in the opposite direction part way up Mount Madison (5,366 feet), connecting with the Howker Ridge Trail to get to the summit. Before the Appalachian Trail went south from Mount Madison down to Pinkham Notch, it descended north directly to Gorham, down the Pine Link Trail, which went over Pine Mountain and down to Gorham.
In the early 1990s, the 2.7-mile section of the Pine Link Trail that went from Pine Mountain down to Gorham was restored as a route to ascend Pine Mountain. Today, it is called the Pine Mountain Trail. It is a very pleasant gradual climb.
This Thursday was a beautiful fall day. There were a lot of hikers out before Friday’s rain. I drove north and climbed Pine Mountain via the Pine Mountain Trail.
I had been that way before a couple times, so didn’t need to look up directions to the trailhead. Entering Gorham from the south on Route 16, I passed the first few buildings on the left and then turned left on Promenade Street. In 0.6 miles, it turned to dirt and, at the end, I parked at the beginning of a gravel pit, next to the trail sign. There were already three cars there. My last two times there, there had been no one. Times have changed.
It was good to plant my four feet (two trekking poles) and head up the trail in the woods. I passed a wide natural gas pipeline clearing and had to follow it west a short way and reenter the woods on the trail. It followed old roads a way then reentered the woods.
The Horton Center was founded in 1942 by Douglas Horton, a prominent Protestant minister. He had been to India and seen ashrams in the mountains, and the idea of the Horton Center was born.
Today, the center owns 100 acres, including the summit of Pine Mountain. The campus is set below the summit on the west side, is easily avoided by hikers, and visiting it is not allowed. However, in 2.3 miles up the Pine Mountain Trail, I encountered on my left wooden stairs that was the start of the short trail to Chapel Rock.
Chapel Rock is located on a small northern subsidiary peak of Pine Mountain. There is a cliff on the south side, and the short trail winds up the north side to a southern viewpoint with a large cross. It is frequently visited all summer by the Horton Center. It is their chapel. It is accessible to hikers in the off seasons.
I climbed up to the cross and a prominent rounded ledge to the right of it with a great view south. A couple was already there, and while I ate lunch, a group of five arrived and climbed the ledge for lunch. It was time to go.
I continued on. The trail passed the main summit, which had no view and four foundation blocks from a fire tower that once stood there. I continued down the other side a short way, actually on the old Ledges Trail, to a great southern viewpoint on flat granite ledge. There was no wind and the sun was warm.
Mount Madison rose directly ahead, dusted with snow. The drop on its north side from the summit to Gorham is the longest drop in the east. I met a father with two small kids there, and enjoyed their company.
I turned back and soon took a spur trail to a lookout called Chapel View. Looking north was the impressive cliff of Chapel Rock, and to the right the wide valley of the Androscoggin River to the east. The small mountains of Shelburne were visible, where I had spent time with friends, some still alive, some gone. This view moved me.