Outdoor Adventures: Hiking Mount Cube an impressive experience
Mount Cube is a captivating and commanding mountain. The Orford peak’s gray, pink and white quartzite summit stones provide outstanding platforms for some of the finest views to the two states of the Upper Valley.
Thought it stands just 2,909 feet tall, Cube is impressive; a big little mountain. The hike is a popular one with families, while at its summit, thru-hikers going between Maine and Georgia often rest a spell on those inviting ledges before moving on as the Appalachian Trail winds its way over it.
That is a path many hikers take as Cube is readily accessible from the north via the Mount Cube Trail leaving from Route 25A outside Orford. The Kodak Trail – cheekily named by the Dartmouth Outing Club for its photographic moments over Eastman Ledges – is the route from the south (off Quinttown Road), while the shortest way to the top of Cube’s South Peak is from the west using the Mount Cube Section of the engrossing Cross-Rivendell Trail leaving from the gravel and bucolic Baker Road for about a 4-mile up-and-back outing – longer if hikers want to visit North Peak too.
Those outside the area may be unfamiliar with the blue-blazed 36-mile long CRT between 2,250-foot high Flagpole Hill in Vershire, Vt. and Cube, the eastern terminus. According to the nonprofit Rivendell Trails Association website (crossrivendelltrail.org), the pathway was first proposed in 1998 to link the four towns in the Rivendell Interstate School District on both sides of the Connecticut River. The RTA, formed in 2003, align with the school district to manage the pathway that crosses the property of some 60 landowners. The association sells maps and an interesting guidebook to the trail.
A recent journey up Cube on the CRT did not disappoint, the well-maintained moderate footpath serving up a couple of tasty viewpoints before the impressive top. Respect the limited parking along Baker Road (about a mile down from Route 25A) before embarking up the trail by the kiosk, through a stone wall and along many forgiving switchbacks through the hardwoods. The footing gets tougher along the way, but at about halfway or so, the first overlook provides a western vantage point and water-sipping spot. The early morning cloud hadn’t left the valley, making the rounded hump of Sunday Mountain more like a fin cutting through the white sea that cloaked the Green Mountains on the horizon.
The second outlook was a preview of what was to come, with Cube showing off the hard quartzite underfoot and the great big cloudy sea receding as Mason Pond and a bunch of low-lying mountains came into view.
With a slight dip before reaching the top, many log bridges were trod upon through a splendid birch and fern section before that final steep push on the sometimes wet rock to the summit of the mountain originally named Mt. Cuba. One story thread harkens that name to a hunting dog slain by a bear near the top, while another weaves a tale about it being named by an early-settling West Indian sailor.
Many a mountain is designated with a survey marker and keen-eyed hikers will effortlessly find the protruding bolt and engraved triangle from an 1870s U.S. Coastal Survey marker. The Cube summit was part of a triangulation station overseen by a Dartmouth professor.
The smooth metamorphic rock has its curious features but looking up and out produces even more fascination. Broad 3,238-foot Smarts Mountain resides in the south, its top flat, the fire tower not seen while to the east are peaks like Cardigans crown, Kearsarge and curvy Crotched Mountain.
Perhaps the most pleasing look is to the west and the rippling expanse from the valley into the Green Mountains. The Greens are on display, those mountains fostering shouts of joy no matter the season. If it’s unclouded look for Ascutney, Stratton, Okemo, Killington, Pico and Jay Peak, along with Camel’s Hump, Ellen and Abraham. Mount Mansfield is there too, small rocky sections of Cube somewhat reminiscent of Vermont’s highest peak.
Most of the northern views to nearby Mount Moosilauke, Upper Baker Pond and more of the Whites are found about .3 miles away on the slightly lower North Peak. But that was not part of the plan on this day. Those views are to be savored for another time, on another trail, in another season on noble Mount Cube.