Since I did a review of Ken MacGray’s newly published guidebook “New Hampshire’s 52 with a View: A Hiker’s Guide” last week, I thought I’d mention on of my favorites hikes on that list — Mount Cube (2,090 feet) in Orford.
Usually, I cringe when someone asks me what my favorite hike is. “The one I’m on,” is my usual answer. But it is refreshing to travel over to the west side of the state and climb a unique mountain.
There is a long list of cool things about Mount Cube. It is not in the 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. Supervised school kids from all these districts work on the trail.
Most of the exposed rock on the mountain is luminous quartzite, a milky smooth rock and not something you find over here on the east side of the range in the land of granite and schist.
The official name of the 2.1-mile Mount Cube section of the Cross Rivendell Trail is, in fact, the 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. 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.
Sometimes names come from unlikely sources. According to MacGray’s new book, one version of the origin of the mountain’s name was a hunting dog named Cuba that was attacked by a bear on the mountain in the 19th century. Go figure.
Anyway, I went there once with hiking buddy Bob Gordon, his friend Buck, and Gordon’s Tibetan terrier named Champney. One morning, we left Gordon’s art studio on the Kancamagus Highway in Conway, headed west and picked up Buck in Lincoln. We headed south on Route 93.
In 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. Daniel Doan, in one of his early guidebooks called “50 More Hikes in the White Mountains,” describes the summit as “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 landmasses 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 the mica/schist in the Presidential Range.
Soon after leaving the first lookout, we reached the south 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 the north summit, 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, and one of our earlier accomplishments on the list.
Champney the Tibetan terrier bounded about while we enjoyed the bright sun on white ledges in a green and blue universe. I absently threw an apple core 20 feet into the stunted spruce, where it would soon disintegrate.
Chanpney immediately dove into the ultra-thick scrub, made his way somehow quickly through it, grabbed the core and soon reappeared chewing it. We were all impressed. But I was careful after that on hikes with Champney not to throw an apple core, especially off a cliff.
We headed down. In the woods, we again enjoyed the phenomenon of less roots and rocks on the dirt trail. Later, we agreed it was our favorite hikes on the “52 With a View” list so far.