Little Cotton Mountain
Cotton Mountain is the littlest bump in the Squam Range, around 1270 feet. I'm not sure where its name comes from, as it isn't fluffy or white – but Wilder is, so I figured if he climbed it, he could tell people it's named after him. We did see a puff of something white on the ground on the trail. A lost scruff of cattail, perhaps.
From the parking area in Holderness, it's less than a mile to the summit. We started up a dirt path through amazing overgrown farm forest, a jungle of deciduous trees, apple trees gone wild, and the usual mashup of spent goldenrod and vibrant purple aster, vines and weeds and wildflowers. It all felt a bit ethereal, as the sun rose strong behind us, like fairy tale adventures awaited us in the hills. These late summer, early autumn mornings always are a little magical. Bees still buzz, flowers still bloom, but woodstoves crackle smoke out cold chimneys and the wild turkeys tackle the last of the grass seed heads and fat red clovers buds.
Our breath was showing but I broke a sweat as we jogged up the dirt path to a cleared out area. Cotton Mountain was visible on our left, a sharp climb up a quiet knob. To our right, Mt. Livermore leaned into the rest of the Squam Range. The area was kinda barren – all dirt, no soil. It felt like a quarry. Wilder peered at me, giddy, from behind a wooden post advertisting the trailhead for our path, itching to climb. We entered the trees, zagged up the switchbacks on the surprisingly steep mountain. It was classic Squam Range – a little bit Belknap, a whole lotta Whites.
There were rock steps and lots of twists on the trail, a rugged little stretch. Wilder hopped, his Aussie britches flapping in my face with each leap. I power hiked behind him, trying to keep the heart rate up. This was a morning workout, an attempt to get some leg work in for me – and knock the ball of energy out for an hour or two so I could get some chores done later. (It worked, barely.)
We reached Cotton Mountain's cute little wooded summit, marked with a sign pointing to the beginning of the Crawford-Ridgepole Trail, which traverses the rest of the Squam Range to Sandwich Notch. The ground was covered with conifer needles and lichen-covered boulders. For about thirty seconds, I got Wilder to sit on a boulder peeking out at Squam Lake, layered with sun and cloud. It's always so vibrant, keeping up its cheery appearance, yet there’s a darkness around the edges – particularly in the coves, as if it knows too many things it can't tell us.
That's why I'm attracted to Squam Lake and its shores hugged by winding, hilly roads that are impossible to speed down without getting air. Fog rising from the water any morning is a given. You're guaranteed some angle of sun and some slope of green and rock in the distance. It's never a bad view – but from the summit of Cotton Mountain, it felt a little more intimate. Like it let me in on its secret for just a moment.