It is great to go to the other side of the mountains. This week, three of us traveled over to the edge of the Connecticut River Valley and climbed Black Mountain (2,830 feet) in Haverhill and Benton. This peak is part of the modest Benton Range which also includes Blueberry Mountain (2,662 feet), another peak with excellent views.
At 8 a.m., I met Conway artist Bob Gordon with his Tibetan terrier Champney and we drove over the Kancamagus Highway. Soon, after passing the Russell/Colbath House, we saw a pine martin cross the road.
We met friend Buck Hogan who lives in North Woodstock, and from there we drove out Route 112 over Kinsman Notch and bore left on Route 116. Just before Center Haverhill we took a left on the dirt Lime Kiln Road and in 1.8 miles pulled into a small parking lot on the left, for the 1.8-mile Chippewa Trail.
A few feet down the trail, Bob let Champney off his leash, and he tore ahead on the trail lined with deciduous trees and tall pines. We crossed a brook with a fine view of the Benton Range’s Sugarloaf Mountain (2,609 feet), crossed another brook channel on a thick pine log, and reached an old road.
The trail bore the right on the road for 60 yards. Because of our spur-of-the-moment hike that day, we didn’t know that if we had taken a left on the road we would have soon reached a signed side trail to two tall stone lime kilns well known in the area.
Built in 1838 and 1842, mined limestone was heated in the kilns and turned into powdered lime, which was packed in barrels and shipped throughout New England for agriculture, mortar, and other uses. Later in 1941, the Civilian Conservation Corps stationed at the site repaired one of the old kilns.
We will have to visit them next time.
We soon bore left off the road, passed an old stone cellar hole, then the trail began to climb steeply, passing a sign for the Black Mountain State Forest located on the western flank for the mountain.
The trail then climbed up through an unusual nearly pure stand of mature red pine, called by the New Hampshire Heritage Bureau a “red pine rocky ridge.” Occasional ground fires were needed over the years to keep this forest from slowly being replaced by such trees as red spruce (a controlled burn on such a steep slope today would be interesting and I wondered if it had been done).
We reached the first western lookout ledge, overlooking the Connecticut River valley, with Vermont’s Green Mountains on the horizon. On the southern horizon I recognized Stinson Mountain near Plymouth.
The lookouts kept getting better, and the woody shrub rhodora — with its large delicate purple flowers — began to line the ledgey trail. That continued to the summit. I have never seen so many blooming rhodora on a hike.
We reached a partially bare ridgetop with the first eastern view, most of which was the entire length of the west side of Mount Moosilauke, as seen across the pastoral woodland valley of Long Pond.
The N.H. Heritage classification of the summit ridge we were on was: “red spruce — heath — cinqufoil rocky ridge.”
Passing another steep promontory brought us to the summit area. The views were outstanding. Dominant in the view to the north was the Kinsman Ridge, with the summit of Lafayette peeking above it. On our lunch ledge, we could effortlessly turn from that to see the long ridge of Mount Moosilauke to the east, and the peaks to the south.
The rocks themselves on Black Mountain were striking as well. Originally, layers of sandstone or shale, they were heated and pressurized with the collision of tectonic plates, when the continents came together during the creation of a “super continent.” The rocks changed under the heat. White quartz was produced, and today, swirling layers of pure white quartz conform with swirls of light gray metamorphic rock.
This week, these summit ledges were dotted with bright purple shrubs of rhodora, which managed to grow in sheltered niches, and where there was a crack to establish roots.
It was a hot day, and after the steep hike up, the steady breeze from the southeast on the summit was welcome, even if a precursor of wet weather. After a long lunch, we headed down.
Champney, however, was not sufficiently cooled off, and had a different agenda than us. His objective, which he fulfilled, was to immerse in any form of trail side water during the descent, including deep mud puddles.
After an especially deep mud puddle, which he repeatedly attacked with glee, and after which he looked like a drowned rat, Bob was a little nervous since Champney had to sit on his lap on the ride back to North Woodstock.
This proved justified, as the brook near the parking lot only partially cleaned Champney off. So awaiting them at home was a sink bath for Champney (which he naturally loved) and, for his master, a shower and change from dirty clothes, which might never be the same.