Bushwhacking Cape Horn
Cape Horn is an unusual geologic feature in New Hampshire’s north country called a ring dike. Two thousand feet in height, it’s a ring-shaped remnant of volcanic activity, bordered to the east and west by steep (note angry red and purple slope shading above) talus cliffs. I was inspired to climb it after reading a trip report about Cape Horn on John Compton’s 1HappyHiker website. John is a local treasure, an off-trail raconteur of rare and unusual places to visit. Cape Horn proved to be a remarkable destination and we had a fine spring day to check out the wondrous views from its cliffs.
We approached Cape Horn from Lost Tribe Rd, following an old 4WD road mapped on the USGS map. It’s not really a road anymore, but a swath cut through the forest. Our goal was to hike the ridge from south to north and then hop off after the north summit and loop back. We crossed a set of powerlines and could see talus cliffs at the base of the Cape, so we decided to go check them out before vectoring to the south end of the ridge. They proved a nice diversion with nice views all their own.
Note: the area along Lost Nation Rd to the north of the 4WD trail is a rifle range, so well stay clear of it. It’s well posted, but still.
The area below the cliffs was full of boulders so we dropped some elevation and headed south across open forest. The geology of Cape Horn is such that it sweetens and fertilizes the soil around it and we saw an abundance of flowers on the forest floor. There was evidence of bigger mammals including bear scat and deer pellets. I also saw an enormous porcupine as we neared the southern end of the ridge and gave it a big detour.
When we reached the south end, we found a bony spine and climbed up it to the top of the ridge. We also found ourselves in the midst of a red pine forest, a relatively rare tree in the New Hampshire ecosystem.
As we worked our way north, we darted between the east and western ledges for views. The best ones were westward into the Pilot Range and down into the river valley between the two ridgelines. It was such a clear day, we could even see Franconia Notch from our viewpoint, close to 40 miles south.
We summitted the south peak and headed toward the northern peak, the highpoint along the ridge. The bugs were horrendous so I pulled out a headnet and wore that the rest of our hike, despite the fact that it’d periodically catch on overhanging vegetation. It’s that time of year! Most of us were wearing long pants to protect ourselves against ticks, which we also pulled off our pants.
The northern summit is much more distinct than the southern with even better east facing cliffs that drop hundreds of feet. We lingered soaking up the views of the twin Percy Peaks in the Nash Stream Forest to our north. It was one of those days, where we could have sat there for hours, except for the bugs….
After signing the (NH500) canister, we made our way down the western spur and dropped into some logged out areas at the foot of the cliffs that led back to the 4WD road and our cars.
Cape Horn is a unique bushwhack, one well worth the drive up north.