Go west, young hiker (of any age). It is a good time of year to travel to the other side of the mountains for refreshing new hiking experiences.
Recently, I went with a couple friends to Mount Cube (2,909 feet) in Orford. It is one of the peaks in the hiking list “52 with a View.”
There is a long list of cool things about Mount Cube. It is not in the White Mountain National Forest, yet it is traversed by the Appalachian Trail corridor, and can be accessed by trails from both the north and the south.
It is the eastern terminus of the 36-mile Cross Rivendell Trail, an educational and recreational trail that crosses four towns in the unique Interstate Rivendell School District. These include Fairlee, Vt., Vershire, Vt., West Fairlee, Vt., and Orford.
The official name of the 2.1-mile Mount Cube section of this trail is, in fact, Mount Cube Section. The trail is attractive and unique. Lower parts through the woods have strikingly less roots and rocks than most White Mountain trails.
Further up, the ledges are composed of quartzite, a milky smooth rock. The views from the first lookout, the main summit and the north peak are great, and refreshingly unfamiliar to those who live in the eastern White Mountains.
I brought along my old copy of “50 More Hikes in New Hampshire,” by Daniel Doan and Ruth Doan McDougall. It has a great chapter on Mount Cube. The writing is poetic and descriptive. We used it to verify the names of the many peaks seen from the three viewpoints.
In 1973, Daniel Doan published “50 Hikes in the White Mountains,” a popular hiking guide. Its format was copied around the country. He also published “50 More Hikes” in 1978. After he passed away in 1993, his daughter, Ruth, updated new editions of both books.
Mount Cube was the first mountain Daniel Doan climbed in his youth when he was a summer resident in Orford.
To get there, we drove over the Kancamagus Highway from Conway, and turned south on Route 93. Just before Plymouth, we turned west on Route 25, and in the town of Wentworth, bore left on Route 25A.
As we traveled along this attractive country road, Mount Cube reared up to our left. In 8.5 miles from Route 25, we turned left on the dirt Baker Road and pulled off at the trailhead in a mile.
The kiosk at the start of the Mount Cube Section had some good info on the geologic and social history of the mountain, and on ticks. We started up. It was easy getting our second wind as we wound up the gentle trail. We didn’t stop until the first lookout at 1.2 miles.
It was a little hazy, but we could see the long ridge of the Green Mountains to the west. Nearby was the low Sunday Mountain, also on the Cross Rivendell Trail. The valley of the Connecticut River spread out beyond it.
At that point we were already familiar with scrambling over the unusual smooth ledges of quartzite. You tend to look twice at it because it seems almost transparent, but isn’t. Above the first lookout, the sun dappled quartzite ledges were striking between dark stunted groves of evergreen. In his guidebook, Daniel Doan calls the summit “quartzite frosted.”
This quartzite is a metamorphic fusing of quartz sandstone. It originated as sand in the shallows off islands in the Ipaetus Ocean, 600 to 400 million years ago. As the ocean bottom built up, it was compressed into sandstone. Later, it metamorphosed into quartzite when the land masses Laurentia and Gondwana collided on the equator, closing the ocean and forming the super continent Pangea.
It is a very hard rock that resists erosion. It is 150 million years older than the mica/schist in the Presidential Range.
Soon after leaving the first lookout, we reached the summit, with its great view south. We sat on frosted ledges and had a snack. Directly across the valley from us was Smarts Mountain (3,238 feet), also on the “52 With a View” list. To the east of it, in the distance, was Mount Kearsarge in Warner, and closer, Mount Cardigan.
From there, we dropped down into a saddle and soon left the Appalachian Trail and took a spur trail to the north summit. This multiple rock outcrop had a spectacular view north and east, and it deserved some extended lingering and contemplation.
An immature eagle flew by, perhaps after fishing in Upper Baker Pond, directly below is. In the distance, rose the long ridges of Mount Moosilaukee and Carr Mountain. Mountains closer to home, such as Trypyramid, Passaconaway and Whiteface, poked up between closer peaks. Nearby to the north was Black Mountain (2,830 feet), another geologically interesting mountain that I wrote about recently.
We headed down. In the woods, we again enjoyed the phenomenon of less roots and rocks on the dirt trail. We agreed, it was our favorite hike on the “52 With a View” list so far.