We had another warmish, sunny weekend day last week so I decided to see how climbing Pitcher Mountain in winter was.
Pitcher Mountain is in Stoddard New Hampshire, a small town north east of Keene. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787 but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.
Even though Pitcher Mountain is, at 2,152 feet (656 m), the second highest mountain in this area after Mount Monadnock, most of the elevation can be gained by driving so you only have to hike the last 300 feet. In fact, if the gate that the fire warden passes through was open you could drive almost to the top with a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
According to the good folks at the Cheshire County Historical Society Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled in this area in the late 1700s. Their house was located just a stone’s throw from this sign, right where the parking lot is today. They must have been hardy souls. This is rugged country for farming.
The elevation gain may be only 300 feet but the trail is steep enough for me to have to stop occasionally to huff and puff and look at interesting things. Several web sites say that if you don’t stop you can reach the summit in about 15 minutes, but what is the hurry?
The trail skirts a large pasture in places. The owners raise Scottish Highland Cattle here but I didn’t see any of them this day.
Scottish highland cattle look well equipped for our winter weather. This photo is from Wikipedia.
It isn’t long before you get a glimpse of the fire tower through the apple trees and blueberry bushes. The spacing of the apple trees tells me that there used to be an orchard here. Now people come from miles around to pick the blueberries, and with 50 acres of bushes there must be plenty to go around.
The old fire warden’s cabin still stands but doesn’t look like it sees much use even though the tower is staffed from April through October. There is a privy out in back of the cabin so there probably isn’t any running water here.
The 5 acres at the very top of Pitcher Mountain are owned by the New Hampshire Forestry Commission. They first built a wooden fire tower here in 1915 but in April of 1940 a fire destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history. The present steel tower is a replacement and, because of the lack of trees, offers a full 360 degree view of the surrounding hills.
Lovewell mountain lies somewhere to the north, just north of Washington, New Hampshire but I couldn’t see it on this day because of the haze. These hills make up the Monadnock highlands which separate the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers.
This hill off to the west looked almost close enough to touch but it would have been quite a hike to the top of it from here.
This is the view of the pasture we passed in photo number 4 from above. The cattle have quite a view.
I wondered if these steel rods hammered into the rock were once used for tying down the fire tower. It was pretty cool with a gusty wind on the summit, so I didn’t stand around wondering for too long. I was also interested in the lichens. The steel rod was about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter, so that should give you an idea of how small the lichens were.
Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen that seems very granular when you get a close look at it, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten in a photo. You can just make out a couple of its round, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (apothecia) in the center of the photo. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.
An areolate lichen is one in which the body is made up of many little lumps or islands. The tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) in the above photo fits that description well. Its black fruiting bodies (apothecia) are even with, or slightly sunken into the surrounding body (thallus). There are 136 species of tile lichens and identification is difficult without a microscope. I’ve made a guess at the identity of this one hoping that someone will correct me if I’m wrong. Tile lichens grow on rock in full sun and can grow through winter in temperatures that are just above freezing.
As you head back down the trail you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock to the south, the only mountain in this region taller than the one you’re standing on.
I’ve learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it. ~Author unknown
Thanks for coming by.