Sunday, November 24, 2013


The Benton Range, the chain of interesting small rocky peaks on the western edge of the White Mountains, is one of my favorite destinations in late fall. On this partly sunny, chilly day, I returned to 2830-ft. Black Mountain, perhaps the best viewpoint on the range, and paid my first visit to its wooded northern neighbor, 2681-ft. Howe Hill.

I usually ascend Black via the Chippewa Trail from the SW, but today I opted for the easier northern route via the Black Mountain Trail. I chose to park at the end of the maintained section of Howe Hill Road and not drive the final rough 0.2 mi. to "designated" parking. You can park in front of the fence at the left, taking care not to block the homeowner's driveway. 

This is the small parking area you can drive to with a high-clearance vehicle.

Trail sign at the parking area. The 2.4 mi. distance is actually from where I parked at the end of the good road.

The trail bears L at 0.5 mi. on FR 76 and enters the WMNF at 0.7 mi.

After the easy initial mile, the trail climbs steadily for a half-mile on the old tractor road that served the former fire tower on Black. The trail is well-maintained by my friends Joanne and Kevin Jones and offers unusually good footing for the Whites.

I encountered these two local residents - a cow and a young bull - half way up, and a third (another cow) just around the corner. I don't recall ever seeing three well-grown moose together before.

There is some wild spruce forest on the upper slopes of Black.

Ice flows - a familiar sight on November trails. Luckily they were not extensive on the Black Mountain Trail.

From the western ledges of Black you overlook a vast spread of the Connecticut River valley and the entire chain of the Green Mountains, from Stratton Mtn. in the south to the Jay Peaks near the Canadian border. The Mt. Washington Observatory reported 130-mi. visibility today. The farthest point I could identify was Mt. Snow in southern Vermont, more than 90 mi. away. Black is just not quite high enough to provide any glimpses of the Adirondacks.

The Killington Range on the horizon.

The fields of North Haverhill with the Signal Mountain range on the R and the long Abraham-Ellen ridge on the L.

Looking south to nearby Sugarloaf Mtn. with Smarts, Cube and Piermont to its R.

A closer look at Smarts-Cube-Piermont.

November light looking SW.

The summit ledge, made of heavily folded and contorted quartzite. Site of an active fire tower from 1911-1964. The tower was torn down in 1978.

Holes and spikes from the old tower.

Looking down the Benton Range to Jeffers Mtn. and Sugarloaf. Mt. Cardigan is in the distance between them.

Tipping Rock on the E end of the summit, with Moosilauke beyond. Black has one of the best views of the Moose.

Another angle on Tipping Rock.

The Kinsmans with the Franconia Range behind, Howe Hill in foreground.

Looking NE to the distant Nash Stream mountains and the Pilot Range.

A sprawling upland rises to Mts. Clough and Moosilauke.

Benton or Tunnel Ravine, where I visited two slides in October, both of which provided a peek at Black Mountain. The 1973 slide can be seen on the middle of the L wall, and the bottom of the 2011 Irene slide can just be glimpsed as the R part of the "V" low down under the summit.

From the east ledges I made a rough and prickly bushwhack along the NE ridge of Black. By chance I stumbled upon what appeared to be the old fire warden's spring. In the 1940s the Howe Hill Trail ran along this ridge, and the guidebook description mentioned a spring 35 ft. from the trail.

I was delighted to break out into these woods in the Black-Howe Hill col - beautiful open hardwoods like those found on many ridges in the Catskills. Similar woods can be found on the ridgecrest south of Jeffers Mtn. and on the south side of Chokecherry Hill on the south ridge of Moosilauke.

Some prickers, but only a minor hindrance.

A peek back at Black.

Near the little 2681-ft. summit knob of Howe Hill, a partial view of Moosilauke.

Wandering through hardwood heaven!

Sun's gettin' low, time to head for home.

Click here for a detailed description of Black Mountain's history, trails and views.

Friday, November 22, 2013


On this cold sunny day I headed down to southeastern New Hampshire to check out some recently completed trails in the Society for the Protection of NH Forest's 2300-acre Moose Mountains Reservation in Middleton, NH. Land stewards Jason Morris and Scott Lavoice have done a tremendous amount of work developing a trail system here over the last couple of years. Highlights include two ledge viewpoints, an historic farm site with open fields, and an unusual ridgetop pitch pine forest. You can find information on the SPNHF website here, and there are many photos and trip reports on Jason's Moose Mountains blog.

On the drive down I stopped at Chocorua Lake for the classic watery views of Mt. Chocorua...

... and Mts. Whiteface and Passaconaway,

The trailhead parking area is at the end of New Portsmouth Rd. in Middleton.

I followed old logging roads known as the Burrows Farm Trail and then the North Trail to the start of the new Beauty Ledge Trail.

The trail climbed up past this old stone wall, one of many found around the property.

I passed by Snapping Turtle Rock, though my photo was snapped from the wrong angle.

A fun, winding climb led up to a  pleasant 1230-ft. spur of the Moose Mountains named Beauty Knob.

Beauty Ledge is a scenic spot with a wide view to the south. Nice quiet place to hang out for a while.

Bowser Pond, part of which is within the SPNHF reservation, can be seen below. Teneriffe Mtn. is behind on the R.

Off to the L is little Piper Mountain, located in a town forest and accessible by snowmobile trails and woods roads off the North Trail.

The Blue Job Mountain range can be seen to the SSW.

I made a short loop using the Beauty Knob Trail and North Trail, returned to the Burrows Farm Trail, and followed it to a junction with an old woods road known as the Moose Mountains Trail.

This route - unblazed but easy to follow - made a 700-ft. climb to the crest of the Moose Mountains range, where at about 1600 ft. it led into a ledgy forest of pitch pine. This is a very rare and unusual natural community in New Hampshire. This area is currently located on private land, but SPNHF is hoping to acquire it and add it to the Moose Mountains Reservation.

One of the several summits of the Moose Mountains.

This beautiful area is similar to some of the trails at Acadia National Park. The pitch pines also reminded me of sandy Cape Cod.

I descended off the ridge and continued on the Burrows Farm Trail to the site of the historic Burrows Farm, amidst an extensive area of open fields.

There are several old foundations in the woods.

An historical relic, almost looks like something out of "The Untouchables."

Nice setting for a farmstead.

The 19th century Burrows Cemetery.

Phoebes Nable Mountain (1185 ft.) rises above the farm site.

Looking across to the Moose Mountains ridge.

Classic New England stone wall.

Oak forest approaching the summit of Phoebes Nable Mountain.

Nice cleared south-facing view on Phoebes Nable Mountain.

A big beaver pond to the SE. From here the Phoebes Nable Trail dropped fairly steeply to the parking lot. A hike that visits Beauty Ledge, the Burrows Farm, and Phoebes Nable Mountain is 3.6 mi. with 1100 ft. of elevation gain. Add 1.6 mi. round trip and 700 ft. of elevation to visit the Moose Mountains pitch pine forest.