Pine Mountain – Two Ways
Pine Mountain sits in the shadows of the Belknap Range. It's Alton's “Other Mountain.” You have to drive off Rte. 11 and climb Mountain Road to find it. It's a little bumpty-bump at 1400-feet high, but the views rival those from Mt. Major – full access to Lake Winnipesaukee and numerous mountain ranges. Every once in a while, I say skip Major (and the overflowing parking lot) – and just go climb Pine.
There are two ways to get up Pine Mountain. One is an old jeep trail off Mountain Road. The other is around the bend on Avery Hill Road through the Morse Preserve. There's a big brown sign and a gated trailhead just up the road. Not far up the trail there's a kiosk and a map.
Evelyn H. & Albert D. Morse, Sr. Preserve
The trails all around Pine are named after a few people who have the same name or some variation thereof. That's fine, but they're all mouthfuls. I found it easier to think of the trails by the roads they began from. Wilder and I got into the woods from the Avery Hill Road trailhead. That trail has two loops built into it, a little loop about halfway up and a big loop that touches the summit.
I let the happy trail dog lead the way through open fields and birch trees and rock walls. This whole area used to be the Avery Farm. There was lots of woody stem shrapnel and overgrown meadow from last season and I was already on high tick patrol. I've been hearing stories of people finding ticks on the warmer days this February, which is alarming. But it is what it is. Embrace the little bastards. They're here to stay. Fortunately, we never found any.
We came to the first loop and Wilder decided we'd go left, into a grove of birches. The trail was either mud and rocks or a thick crust of crunchy ice pocked with rocks and fallen branches. We had to watch our step while maintaining a pace fit for a perked up pup.
Soon we reached the second loop, the actual climb up standard Belknap terrain, exposed rock and wild blueberry bushes poking out of the snow. It was chilly out and there was a breeze, but the sun beat down and I had a sweat going under my jacket. Our feet were wet and muddy. But it was a fun kind of muddy. There were views to the left through the trees, but once we got to the top, there was nothing between us and the lake but the wind.
The view of Lake Winnie from Pine Mountain is from below the bay, so we could see a lot more of it than one can from Major. On our left, we could see almost every Belknap mountain, from Major and Straightback, out to Piper, Belknap, and even Gunstock, its summit ski lift shining in the sun. Across the lake we could see the entire Ossipee Range.
And northbound, beyond the lake, like an epic painting, centered in the canvas, the southern White Mountains – Passaconaway, Whiteface, even Tripyramid prominent and golden in the noontime sunlight. And.... not a soul around. Wilder and I dawdled on the summit for a good ten minutes before the wind told us to get going.
We continued down the second half of the summit loop through more young growth and blueberry ledges. The path cut back and forth down the mountain. It was a peaceful, sunny hike. Soon we were following our own pawprints again. We raced through the field that the little loop covered and we were back at the trailhead in no time.
Bonus Hike: Mike Burke Trail
Just across the street from the Morse Preserve trailhead, there's a parking lot and a loop trail through the Alton Town Forest. We walked straight into the woods, which took us into the loop counter-clockwise. We followed blue signs that read PUBLIC TRAIL and occasionally saw white diamonds. The place was abandoned, so I let the wild one run around off-leash. Off into the trees he went, nosediving off rocks into piles of leaves and snow and swelling brooks.
About halfway around, we climbed a hill to a giant boulder, then veered left and began the return, following a rock wall. The trail got messy around the end. A little too rocky and muddy – and the blue signs were hard to find. Fortunately, the white diamonds were prominent. Both Wilder and I had slip-ups and mis-steps, so I leashed him to keep him from landing in some swampy trap.
We got back to the parking lot and there was a car there. Bootprints led across the street to the Morse Preserve trailhead. Maybe we'd see them at the top, I thought, because we were gonna climb Pine Mountain again!
Mary Jane Morse Greenwood Trail
We hiked up the old jeep trail off Mountain Road, through tall bushes and small trees. The tire tracks were still matted into the overgrowth. The summit of Pine Mountain was always just out of view.
This trail is a short, fun climb. I turned around often to look out to Lake Winnie, a sheet of solid white all the way to the Whites, banked with forest green and bright sky. The road followed the ridge, then turned and climbed. It levelled out again for a while, then cranked it in for a final climb. We got under treeline and Wilder sniffed out some mooseprints crossing the trail.
We had to inch up the final stretch, which was steeper and icy. But then the tire tracks were a red carpet to the superb summit area. We caught a brief glance of our hiker friends moseying down the backside of the summit loop trail, so we had the place to ourselves yet again. We didn't linger long, though, as the promise of snacks and water and car heat awaited us below. Wilder was so hungry he stopped on the way down to eat some snow, too busy to pose for a picture.
Next time we'll bring the snacks up to the top of Pine Mountain. I like the sound of that.