Sunday, May 8, 2011

MOUNT CUBE: 5/6/11

Another gorgeous spring day, another trek along the AT in western NH, this one to a perennial favorite of mine, Mount Cube. Though its 2909-ft. elevation is modest, Cube's two open ledgy summits offer outstanding views, and its three trail approaches are handsome routes.

I hadn't been on the north approach, the Mount Cube Trail, since 2002, so a re-visit was in order. This trek gives you a 7.4 mi. round trip (going to both summits, which is a must on a clear day) with 2200 ft. of elevation gain.

According to Moses Sweetser’s 1876 guidebook, this peak was originally named Mt. Cuba, after a hunting dog that was killed by a bear near the summit. “Mt. Cube” was said to be a local corruption of this name. A different nomenclature tale maintains that “Cuba” was applied to the mountain by a West Indian sailor who settled locally, presumably after the Caribbean island.

There was a new sign where the trail enters the woods from NH 25A (roadside parking).

After a piney area and a small brook crossing, the pleasant trail ascended through hemlocks with a brook running nearby.

There were stone walls, and a cellar hole on the R.

The approach to the base of the mountain was a nice woods walk at easy grades.

At 1.5 mi. the trail dropped to cross Brackett Brook.

The water was running a little high, submerging a couple of the step stones.

The next section climbed through an open hardwood forest - a spectacular stroll under leafless branches and sunny skies.

The warm weather had brought forth carpets of bellwort on the forest floor.

The fleeting, pre-bug beauty of early May in the hardwoods - one of my favorite times and places.

Trout lilies were starting to pop out.

One of the monarchs of this forest.

This old maple has a good grip on the streambank.

At 2000 ft. the trail turns L and starts climbing up the steep flank of Mt. Cube by long switchbacks.

Some good rock work by DOC.

The upper switchbacks had some pretty rough footing in places.

A proud old yellow birch, hanging tough in the high country.

The dense conifers and rough, wet trail made this feel like a 4000-footer climb at the top.

In the last 0.1 mi. there was some monorail. This part of the rail was moose-enhanced.

T-junction on the ridgecrest.

Trademark DOC signs at the summit.

Looking west across the Connecticut River valley, many miles into Vermont. Sunday Mountain, traversed by the Cross-Rivendell Trail, is the low round peak in the center.

The mark of Prof. E.T. Quimby's survey station for the Coastal Survey in the early 1870s, remarkably preserved in the tough quartzite bedrock.

A reference mark, placed sometime later, with an arrow pointing towards the station site.

Wonder who this was?

The classic view towards Smarts Mountain from the South Cube ledges - one of my favorite NH scenes.
Holts Ledge and Moose Mountain, my two most recent hikes.

Looking out towards the Killington range. On this day I could see the full spread of the Green Mountains, from Stratton to Jay Peak.

On to the slightly lower North Cube, reached by a fairly rough 0.3 mi. side trail, which emerges on creamy quartzite ledges.

A completely different view on this side. Mt. Moosilauke's mass rises behind Upper Baker Pond.

The Kinsmans peer over the L flank of the Moose.

The sprawling ridgeline of Carr Mountain.

Looking SE to Black Hill and the lower ranges of the Lakes Region.

After a proper sojourn on each summit, including a snooze on North Cube, I made a leisurely descent, pausing to admire these red trilliums.

I spiced my return trip with a bushwhack up Brackett Brook, at first on AT corridor land, then on unposted private land, in search of forgotten Cuba Falls. The map that accompanies the DOC history, Reaching That Peak, shows that the DOC maintained a Cuba Falls Trail up Brackett Brook from ca. 1917-1940. Moses Sweetser's 1876 guidebook mentioned these falls in passing, calling them "wellnigh inaccessible."

It took a while to find Cuba Falls, but it was worth the trouble.

I admired this impressive formation for a while, then bushwhacked back to the AT and headed for home.


  1. Steve . . . as you know, I'm mostly an "above the notch" hiker. BUT in September 2007 I did travel below the notch and did the exact hike that you described. Through your excellent narrative and photos, I was able to relive this delightful hike. As Yogi Berra would say: "It was like déjà vu all over again!"

    But having said all that, there is one part of your hike that I did not do. I did not visit Cuba Falls. What a remarkable find, Steve! You have a wonderful talent for sniffing out forgotten places and discovering new places that few (if any) folks have visited.


  2. Thanks, John - going to the falls was a last-minute addition to the plan, the evening before the hike I remembered that there was a waterfall up Brackett Brook and I looked it up on the DOC history map. It turned out to be quite a spot!


  3. We are planning on heading up there next weekend and I found your posting while looking for some sort of hiking map. I recall John hiking this last year in the winter. I am assuming it would make a fine winter hike!