Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Mount Cube via Kodak Trail: 4/29/24

Continuing a series of wanderings along the mostly snow-free Appalachian Trail south of Mount Moosilauke, I hiked the Kodak Trail, the scenic route to 2909-ft. Mount Cube from the south. Few mountains under 3000 ft. offer the rewards of Cube, whose quartzite-capped summit rises east of the Connecticut River and SW of Mt. Moosilauke. It is part of the loosely affiliated range known as the Middle Connecticut River Mountains, and the Appalachian Trail traverses its crest. Both its south and north peaks sport spacious open ledges, providing completely different panoramas. In addition to enjoying these fine views, I made a bushwhack detour to a couple of interesting features along the way.

Parking is on gravel Quinttown Road just before a gate - the last short stretch of the road is rough.

 The Kodak Trail (a segment of the Appalachian Trail) is reached by a 0.5 mile walk up the gravel road, part of the Thomson Tree Farm operation. As you approach a second gate, there is a peek at the Eastman Ledges, the first viewpoint encountered along the trail.

This sign has been in place for many years. The handwritten mileage to Mt. Cube Summit is the correct one. This name was applied by the Dartmouth Outing Club when it opened the trail in the late 1980s because a) the trail goes over the Eastman Ledges (get it?) and b) there are several "Kodak moments" from open ledges along the route.

Ascending to Eastman Ledges through fine hardwood forest.

Thousands of trout lily leaves were emerging. In another week or so the woods would be carpeted with their delicate yellow blooms.

It had been sunny and warm in Lincoln and Plymouth, but here the morning was gray and chilly, and the view of Smarts Mountain from the Eastman Ledges was obscured by clouds.

Curiously, the Killington Range was visible in the distance between Mousley and Stonehouse Mountains.

Beyond the viewpoint, the trail climbs past an impressive cliff hidden in the woods.

It then descends to cross the North Branch of Jacobs Brook. A nice cascade can be seen by descending 100 feet to the left down an old woods road.

To the right a beaten path leads 0.1 mile to an attractive beaver pond.

One of the residents was on patrol.

Farther along the trail I launched a bushwhack into wonderfully open hardwoods, traversing across Appalachian Trail corridor lands.

I passed through this interesting area where quartzite boulders were strewn amidst the forest.

Spring bushwhacking doesn't get any better.

A rock with character.


Approaching my first objective - a random ledge spotted on a satellite image.

At the top of this massive outcrop was a framed view of Smarts Mountain, which had emerged from the clouds.

A stiff climb led to the second off-trail objective, which appeared as an opening in the satellite image. It turned out to be a spectacular open fern glade.

The centerpiece of the glade is this picturesque birch. I took a long lunch break here on a log seat.

Looking back at the glade as I climbed the slope above.

Some incredibly rugged terrain rose above. I would not be going up that way to regain the trail.

I rejoined the trail in a very rugged and rocky section where it climbs to the next view ledges.

A rough quartzite highway.

A nice view of Smarts from the ledges above.

The woods are varied as the trail ascends the SW ridge of Cube.

The trail ascends this massive quartzite slab at 2550 ft. The ridgecrest quartzite of Cube is a hard metamorphic rock that is very resistant to erosion. These smooth ledges are slippery when wet, and even to some extent when dry.

Wide-open views here.

Snow lingered in only a few spots along the ridge.

The South Peak rising ahead, looking deceptively close. Still a half-mile to go.


Boreal forest on the upper part of the mountain.

The trail is badly eroded along the final push to the summit. In general, the footing on the trail was rougher than what I remembered from my last hike here in 2010. Part of that may be due to being 14 years older.

The view of Smarts Mountain, with its long, sweeping ridges, from the South Peak is one of my favorite vistas in the mountains.


A massive mountain is Smarts.

After taking a few photos I headed across to the North Peak, which is reached by a 0.3 mile side path off the Mount Cube Trail, the northward continuation of the AT.

The view from these ledges is completely different, gazing north to Mount Moosilauke beyond Upper Baker Pond.

Eastward is the sprawling mass of Carr Mountain, with Mount Osceola and the Sandwich Range in the distance to the left.

I returned to the South Peak for a sojourn in the recently revealed sun.

On the highest ledge a triangle inscribed in the 1870s by the U.S. Coastal Survey is still clearly outlined - a testament to the erosion resistance of the quartzite.

On the west side of the summit there are vast views across the Connecticut River valley into Vermont with the Green Mountains lining the horizon.

Springtime perfection.

Late afternoon sun in a glade of old yellow birches.

Junction with the side trail to Hexacuba Shelter. No time to visit today.

Climbing back to the Eastman Ledges.


Evening view of Smarts Mountain from the Eastman Ledges. The J Trail follows the long ridge in front.


Sunset glow beyond the foothills of Smarts.

Sundown in the hardwoods. The round trip to the South and North Peaks of Cube is 7.8 miles with about 2200 ft. of elevation gain.


Sunday, April 28, 2024

Smarts Mountain Bushwhack: 4/26/24

Smarts Mountain (3238 ft.) is the highest and most massive peak in the loosely affiliated chain of summits sometimes called the Middle Connecticut River Mountains. Rising in a remote corner of the towns of Lyme and Dorchester, Smarts's huge wooded bulk dominates the landscape for miles around. With a vertical rise of more than 2000 ft., Smarts has a big mountain feel, and its boreal forest is similar to that found on the higher peaks of the White Mountains to the north. The views from its refurbished fire tower are among the most expansive in New Hampshire.
I hadn't climbed Smarts since 2011, and for this approach from the south I wanted to combine portions of two bushwhack routes I had explored in the past, both involving a ledgy slide on the mountain's steep southern brow. I started out with a mile-long walk up the Ranger Trail, the old route used by fire wardens staffing the summit tower. 

Parts of this trail are very wet and/or eroded, but the lower section is mainly in decent shape with a few mucky stretches.

Where the Ranger Trail comes beside Grant Brook, I crossed the stream and headed east to ascend off-trail via the broad, gentle south ridge of Smarts.

The lower part of the south ridge is cloaked in a wide-open forest of birch and other hardwoods.

Random piles of rocks suggest that this may once have been pastureland.

On a previous exploration I had made a detour to visit several beaver ponds in the valley to the east, but in the interest of having time to enjoy views from the slide and summit, I kept my course directly northward along the ridge. As luck would have it, I came upon this pretty little pool hidden in the forest.

I also passed by a partly wooded ridgetop bog.

Farther along the ridge are several beautiful little meadows fringed with white pines.

We are not alone...

The hardwoods here are primarily beech with an occasional black cherry mixed in.

Clam rock and a tenacious tree.

At 2150 ft. conifers mix into the forest, but still open.

Then a stretch weaving through a spruce forest with an abundance of blowdown.

The woods open up again, nicely.

After about two miles of bushwhacking I reached the lower runout of the slide.

The yellow-blazed boundary of the Appalachian Trail corridor crosses the slide swath.

Approaching the lower open ledgy part of the slide. Too wet to climb!

Looking down the lower ledgy swath, views starting to pop out.

After following a revegetated stretch of the slide track, I emerged at the base of the main ledge swath.

I worked my way up through the steep woods along the edge, catching this side view of the water-streaked slabs. The bedrock here is granodiorite, a coarse-grained igneous rock.

I ventured out to a dry spot for a look up the slide.

The upper part of the slide is steep.


What a view! Reservoir Pond is on the left, Croydon Peak is left of center behind Winslow Ledge, and farther right Vermont's Mount Ascutney is seen behind Moose Mountain and Holts Ledge. Directly above the slide is the broad ridge I ascended.

Looking across the Grant Brook valley to Lambert Ridge, the SW spur of Smarts followed by the Lambert Ridge Trail/Appalachian Trail. On this day of 100-mile visibility, distant peaks such as Stratton Mountain could be seen in southern Vermont.

Near the top of the slabs I maneuvered out onto a dry ledge that I had been to before. To my surprise there was a white pine youngster growing out of a crack. It was not there on my last visit in 2010, so I was pleased to add this to the list of slides on which I have recorded this pioneering tree far from its nearest brethren.

A sweet spot to hang out in the strong spring sun for a while.

Top of the big slabs. Above here the slide is almost fully revegetated, though a vintage (late 1930s?) Dartmouth Outing Club photo of Smarts Mountain, taken from the shore of Reservoir Pond, shows two narrower strips of open ledge extending above this wide swath, like the ears of Bugs Bunny. My best guess is that this slide came down during the epic rainstorm of early November, 1927, which caused massive flooding throughout the region.

After a sojourn on my open perch, I headed into the woods for the steep 450-ft. climb to the summit of Smarts.

Up higher I encountered ledge slabs that were probably one of the upper "ears" of the slide.

This steep ledge was part of the other "ear" and is the only spot that remains open on the upper part of the slide.

A nice view to the SE here, with Mount Cardigan beyond Cummins Pond on the left, Ragged Mountain and Mount Kearsarge farther right, and Sunapee Mountain above Reservoir Pond on the far right.

Some maneuvering was required to negotiate this terrain.

Going up.

That was a steep pitch down there. Phew.

Another view from a random rock.

I worked my way more to the west and came to the edge of a large brushy scar on the SW face of the mountain, prominently seen from the viewpoints on Lambert Ridge.

After a strenuous tussle with the deciduous brush, I popped out at an open spot with a commanding view.

I don't know what created this scar. A long-ago forest fire? An old slide? For some reason trees have not gained a foothold here.

Much of the Green Mountain chain was visible here.

Still some bushwhacking work to be done before reaching the summit crest. There was virtually no snow on this south-facing slope until it flattened out at ~3200 ft.

Late in the afternoon I finally reached the Smarts Mountain tenstite and the Appalachian Trail just beyond.

I made my way across the crest to the summit firetower and its fabulous views. The original Smarts firetower was built about 1915. The present steel structure was erected in 1939. It was last actively used for fire detection in 1973. The firetower was refurbished by the DOC and USFS in 1994, and again in 2016. It is still maintained as a viewing perch for hikers. The trapdoor that provides access to the cab is very heavy - hikers should use caution when closing it as it could cause a serious headache. The cab has windows on all sides,so in some ways the views are better enjoyed from the landing just below the cab.

Looking over the north ridge of Smarts (the route of the J Trail) to Mount Cube and distant Mount Moosilauke.

A closer look at Cube. The Eastman Ledges, over which the Kodak Trail passes, are prominent below.

View towards the main group of the White Mountains, with the white speckle of Mount Washington in the center. More than two dozen 4000-footers can be seen.

Zoom on Mount Osceola, Carr Mountain and the Sandwich Range. The views up here really are remarkable on a clear day.

The old fire warden's cabin is maintained as a hiker shelter by the Dartmouth Outing Club.

Spartan but tidy inside.

Well-frozen snow on the gentle summit crest.

Heading down the combined Lambert Ridge Trail/Ranger Trail. Now THAT'S a waterbar! Nice work by DOC.

There was some nasty ice in the steep upper section. Spikes on and off a few times.

It was interesting to descend these iron rungs with spikes on. Below here they came off for good.

From this junction, the Ranger Trail is shorter with no climbing, but has poor footing much of the way. Lambert Ridge Trail is a half-mile longer, presents 300 ft. of climbing on the way out, and has some rough sections, but is far more scenic.

After a fairly rough descent and a long section through conifers, Lambert Ridge Trail runs along a wonderful hardwood crest before making the climb to the main spine of Lambert Ridge.

The rampart of Lambert Ridge is composed of  hard, erosion-resistant quartzite, similar to that found on Mount Cube.

These ledges provide some rough footing.

The classic view of Smarts Mountain from an open ledge on Lambert Ridge.

Nice spruce woods along the ridge.

Peering south to Holts Ledge and Moose Mountain.

A picturesque ledge-meadow.

An open clifftop just 0.8 mile from the trailhead offers a wide eastern view.

Winslow Ledge to the south.

Sunset in the hardwoods, capping a memorable day on the south side of Smarts.