It’s not easy to find a hike that’s short (4 miles RT,) a good work-out and interesting, but Black Mountain in New Hampshire delivers it all.
Northwest of Lincoln, NH and about 8 miles as the crow flies from its larger and more famous cousin Mt. Moosilauke, Black Mountain hunkers down at the northern tip of the Benton Range, a semicircular group of six mountains all but one of which rise less than 3000 feet. (Don’t confuse this Black Mountain with others of the same name.)
Shortly after leaving the small parking lot via a quick, surprising descent, the Chippewa Trail begins, rising gently at first through the Kingsbury-Chippewa Forest that is sandwiched between the White Mountain National Forest and the Black Mountain State Forest. This lovely woods offers mainly red and white pines with stands of spruce and fir, as well as some sugar maples and white birches that must provide great fall color. On a very hot, muggy day in mid-July we are grateful for the shade.
Half a mile later, we begin to sweat as we climb at a steeper pitch with the rockier, rootier footing typical of the White Mountain National Forest, which I surmise we have now entered.
The trail continues to be steep, and a couple of side spurs to outlooks show up, my favorite being the one at 1.1 miles from the start with a sweet view of green valley below. Ledges begin to appear and form part of the trail itself. On one outcropping we are lucky enough to see one of my favorite lichens, British Soldiers, so named for their bright red color that calls to mind the red coats worn by the British army.
The saucy pink blooms of sheep sorrel also brighten the trail.
Still climbing and sweating, we clamber over rocks and ledges on our way to the summit.
Just before the trail opens up completely to ledges, a wooden sign post marks the junction with the Black Mountain Trail. Soon we arrive at the site of a former fire tower where holes in the rock still show where the tower used to stand. Here the granite becomes fascinating—streaked with quartz and swirled into patterns that encourage one to remember that granite is an igneous rock, cooled from material that was once molten.
When I finally tear my eyes from the granite formations, wide vistas east and southeast await. Mt. Moosilauke looms through the slight haze.
While one of us takes a quick nap, I wander the ledgy summit. At one point I’m close to the forest and stand stunned as a female ruby-throated hummingbird whizzes up to face me and then thrums away, leaving me with an image of bottle-green. (Yes, green! They are named for the male’s throat color not the female’s beautiful back.) This is a first for me, never having seen a hummingbird in New Hampshire let alone atop a mountain, and I confess I thrum a little myself.
Toward the end of the trail, I’m delighted by another first. I’ve never seen the native plant Shinleaf outside of its picture in a wildflower book, but there she is nestled up against a tree trunk, tiny and charming, a perfect end to a perfect day.