Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The Benton Range is a small but very interesting line of rocky peaks on the western fringe of the White Mountains. All six of the peaks along this ridge (only two of which have official trails) offer views from open ledges, though not necessarily at the summits. The vistas westward across the Connecticut River valley towards Vermont are especially appealing.

Blueberry Mountain (2662 ft.) has long been one of my favorite small peaks in the Whites. Its extensive areas of gently sloping ledge, fringed with red pines and spruce, have a mellow, peaceful feel. The views, though not panoramic, are pleasing. I usually go up the shorter eastern end of the Blueberry Mountain Trail. For this trek I opted to use the longer western approach, which I'd only done once before. The rural trailhead is reached by following Lime Kiln Rd., then
Page Rd. There is parking along the side of a gated side road, which is the start of the trail.

The first half-mile of the trail follows a lovely old farm road, on private land.

Shortly after entering the National Forest, you bear right on another road. Starting this December, and continuing for a couple of years, there is going to be extensive logging along sections of this trail up to 2100 ft., as part of the Forest Service's "Oliverian Stewardship Project." Ditto on the eastern part of the trail. So parts of this hike will be less attractive in the near future.

The old road leads through what was once pastureland, with this spreading old maple...

....and numerous stone walls.

Bellworts were in bloom in the open woods.

Above 2000 ft. the trail passes through a dark, mossy spruce forest.

It soon emerges on the first semi-open ledges, with many red pines mixed in with the spruce.

Trailing arbutus was in bloom beside the trail.

Higher up the first views west to Vermont appeared. It was a much nicer day than predicted.

At a large open ledge there was a good view north to Sugarloaf Mountain. This striking peak has an unofficial trail that was removed from the AMC White Mountain Guide a few years ago when a ladder up a dangerous ledge fell apart. I haven't been up there in a few years.

This ledge, right on the trail, is a nice place to relax and peer out towards Vermont.

From here the trail runs across the broad, flat crest of Blueberry to a side trail that climbs left to the actual summit, marked by a cairn. The views here are restricted by scrub.

Three old bent iron pins are seen around the ledge, and a fourth, broken one is hidden under the cairn. There seemed to be a faint trace of a triangle inscribed in the rock - perhaps this was a station for the U.S. Coastal Survey in the 1870s.

Returning to the main trail, I descended a short distance down the east side of the mountain to two favorite viewpoints.

The first has a wonderful closeup of Mt. Moosilauke and the Slide Brook ravine.
Another good snoozing ledge.

The second viewspot, about another 0.1 mile down the trail, offers a peaceful vista to the south. Carr Mountain is seen on the left here.

You also get a good look at Smarts Mountain (L) and Mt. Cube (R) in the distance. Underneath them are Mt. Mist (L) and Webster Slide Mountain (R).

After a while I returned to the summit area. Since the weather was still good and I had most of the afternoon left, I decided to bushwhack north over Jeffers Mountain, retracing a route I'd done five years ago, and which fellow whacking enthusiasts Keith and Julie and two friends had traversed only yesterday. After twenty minutes or so of pushing through dense conifers, I burst out into the marvelous ridgetop hardwood forest that cloaks the south shoulder of Jeffers.

Many trout lily flowers were popping out.

I crossed this neat little col, aglow with the bright spring green of Indian Poke (very poisonous).

More trout lilies. I chose my steps carefully to avoid trampling the trout lilies and spring beauties that were flowering through the forest.

There were several interesting quartzite outcrops in the woods.

A neat gnarled old yellow birch, a survivor of many seasons up on this ridge.

There were a few mini-meadows interspersed amidst the trees. This one had a partial view of Moosilauke.

The hardwoods ended, but the woods remained wonderfully open. In places the route of the old Jeffers Mountain Trail (1930s/1940s) could be discerned.

At 2994 ft., Jeffers is the highest peak in the Benton Range and is on the "New Hampshire 200 Highest" list. Hence there is a register at the flat, wooded summit.

Heading down the north shoulder, I paid a visit to this remarkable A-frame quartzite ledge on the east side of the ridge.

From the top there was a view of the Kinsmans and the Franconia Range... well as the summit of Moosilauke rising above the headwall of Benton Ravine.

The best spot of the day was this great west-facing perch farther north along the shoulder of Jeffers.

The front of this ledge makes an impressive drop into the woods.

The Hogsback (R) and Sugarloaf (L) curve away to the NW.

The great quartzite cliffs of The Hogsback.

A far-reaching vista across the Connecticut River valley into Vermont.

It was late in the afternoon, time to drop off the ridge and bushwhack down. Fine open hardwoods at the top of the slope.

A short way down I passed through the first of several areas marked for logging. The three slashes indicate the boundary of a harvest unit.

Farther down there was an extensive stretch through a messy area that was clearcut perhaps 20 years ago. I prefer not to bushwhack through logging areas, but on the slopes of the Benton Range it's pretty much unavoidable.

An old cellar hole beside the farm road back near the bottom of the Blueberry Mountain Trail.

From a field next to my parking spot I could see the day's ridgecrest route: Blueberry on the R and Jeffers on the L.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


A short, leisurely hike with the possibility of good flower viewing was the objective for Carol and me on this cool, cloudyish spring day. Five years ago, in late May, I had seen some Dutchman's Breeches in bloom in the fine sugar maple stand on the top of Ore Hill (1,870 ft.), along a section of the Appalachian Trail known as the Ore Hill Trail. This flower, uncommon in the White Mountains, is indicative of an enriched hardwood forest, more properly known as a "rich mesic forest." This forest type, which is rich in mineral plant nutrients such as calcium, is well-described on the excellent "Natural Communities of New Hampshire" photo guide put together by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau:

On that site, Ore Hill is mentioned as a good example of a rich mesic forest community. (Mesic = moderately moist.)

Before hitting the trail, we stopped for a look at 315-acre Lake Tarleton, which was added to the White Mountain National Forest in the late 1990s. Mt. Moosilauke was smothered in cloud in the center of this view from the boat launch spot; the flat crest of Webster Slide Mountain can be seen on the left.

The Ore Hill Trail starts off NH 25C a mile and a half SE of Lake Tarleton.

A few minutes of easy climbing lifted us into the extensive hardwood stand that cloaks the slopes of Ore Hill.

Spring Beauties were coming out all over the forest floor.

Spring beauties are among the cheeriest of the spring ephemerals, as the early-blooming flowers are known.

Clusters of yellow violets were sprinkled along the trail. I don't know flowers well enough to pinpoint the species.

A few purple violets were scattered about.

A few of the familiar Red Trillium or Wake Robin were also in bloom.

The trail crosses this neat little gully just south of the Ore Hill summit.

A trailside ledge -- quartzite?

I was afraid we might be too early for Dutchman's Breeches, but everything is well ahead of schedule this spring, and we saw a number of them in bloom.

We were very pleased to find some Blue Cohosh, an unusual plant in the Whites, starting to unfurl. This plant was emerging from a cluster of Dutchman's Breeches.

It was a little early for the blooming of the Blue Cohosh, but one flower did open up this day.

After descending south from Ore Hill, the trail ducks into a darker conifer forest.

Our other objective for the day was a nameless beaver pond beside the trail, 1.2 miles from the trailhead - a quiet, secluded spot in the woods. Here we heard the ringing song of the tiny Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, which typically arrives in the Whites in late April.

The pond can be viewed from an old moss-grown beaver dam beside the trail, where old moss-grown beaver-gnawed trees can also be seen. Not far SE of here is the old Ore Hill Mine site, which dates back to the 1830s. It was closed years ago by the Forest Service due to acidic and hazardous metal drainage into surface water; public access to the site is forbidden. The AT used to run through the mine site but was relocated away from it in the 1980s. In recent years the Forest Service has been attempting to rehabilitate the site.

We returned to the glorious hardwoods for some more flower viewing.

Additional Dutchman's Breeches had emerged during the early afternoon, when we saw a few peeks of sun.

There were numerous Trout Lily leaves, but the few flowers that had emerged were mostly being coy.

On the way down we found one cluster that had opened. That gave us seven spring flower species for the day.

The day's one view, a good look at Mt. Moosilauke, came from the powerline opening the trail parallels near its north end. At the bottom we were greeted by the first White-Throated Sparrow whistle we've heard this season. This surely is a fine and fleeting segment of the natural year.