Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, depending on the time of year you hike the mountain. The hike is about 5 miles total. Expect fairly continuous climbing with steep slopes, uneven forest floor, several brook crossings (without bridges), and a rocky ridge exposed to the wind and sun atop the mountain. There is no hand over foot climbing, ladders or rungs.
How to get there: From the bridge over Swift River spanning from the town of Mexico to the town of Rumford, drive to Rumford (west) on Route 2-Lincoln Avenue 0.2 mile, then turn left onto Route 2-Hancock Street. Drive 0.4 mile, then turn right onto Route 2-Rumford Avenue. Drive 0.5 mile on Rumford Avenue, which becomes Franklin Street along the way, then turn right onto Route 2-Bridge Street. Drive 5.6 mile to Rumford Center, where you turn right onto Andover Road. Drive 4.5 mile, then turn right onto East Andover Road. Drive about 0.2 mile and the gravel parking lot for the preserve is on the left. The parking lot is plowed year round.
You’ll see on a trail map posted on a kiosk at the parking area that two trails lead up the mountain. Both trails start across East Andover Road from the parking area, on either side of the brook.
Information: With a long, granite ridge that tops off at 2,214 feet above sea level, Rumford Whitecap Mountain offers a moderately challenging day hike to panoramic views of the mountainous wilderness of western Maine and New Hampshire. Starting out in a quiet mixed forest, the hike is a fairly continuous climb, crossing several tumbling brooks on the way to the mountain’s open summit.
Much of the mountain is located on Mahoosuc Land Trust’s 752-acre Rumford White Cap Mountain Preserve, where two blazed hiking trails lead to its top. The Red-Orange Trail, marked with red and orange blazes, starts across from the preserve parking lot by the red gate. And the Starr Trail, marked with yellow, starts across from the parking lot by the grey gate (northwest of the Red-Orange Trail).
Both trails climb the mountain for about 2 miles, and then, about 0.5 mile before the summit, the trails come together, and the Red-Orange Trail continues to the summit. The trail officially ends at the summit, which is marked by a round metal geological survey marked embedded in the bedrock. Past the summit, you’ll notice red marks on the rock and trees that closely resemble the trail markers, however, this red paint is marking the preserve boundary.
Whether you hike up and down the Red-Orange Trail or Starr Trail, or create a loop of the two, the hike is approximately 5 miles total.
Also, the Red-Orange Trail intersects with what’s known as the Black-White Trail 1.63 mile from the trailhead. The Black-White Trail is 4.75 miles and travels east to Black Mountain.
The mixed forest covering the slopes of Rumford Whitecap Mountain includes a wide variety of tree species, including large white and yellow birch trees, stands of striped maple (which is also known as moose maple or moosewood, since it’s a favorite snack for moose), tall hemlocks and red pines.
In fact, Rumford Whitecap Mountain is home to what’s thought to be the largest red pine woodland in the state, covering 210 acres, according to a report about the area’s ecological significance by Beginning with Habitat, a collaborative conservation program of federal, state and local agencies and non-governmental organizations. This red pine woodland is located on the lower portion of the mountain’s exposed ridge, mostly above 1,700 feet above sea level, on the western half of the mountain.
Rumford Whitecap is also home to a rare natural community known as mid-elevation bald, characterized by patchy subalpine to alpine vegetation and dominated by low mats of black crowberry, alpine bilberry, sheep laurel and lowbush blueberry interspersed with patches of lichen-covered bedrock. This rare community is located on the higher, more exposed areas on the east end of the ridge of Rumford Whitecap, and covers about 55 acres.
Also of note, two rare plant species — silverling and smooth sandwort (both of which produce small white flowers) — have been documented along the mountain’s ridge.
Like many mountain trails, the two trails that climb Rumford Whitecap Mountain start out gradual and become steeper as they near the top of the mountain. To lessen the degree of the slope, trail builders constructed the trails so they switchback up the steepest slopes.
Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve was established in 2007, when the Mahoosuc Land Trust acquired the property with the help of more than 500 donors, as well as grants from Land for Maine’s Future and five charitable foundations.
It’s especially important to stay on trail during your hike because large portions of the trails are on private property. Also, staying on trail will help you avoid trampling rare and delicate alpine plants.
Dogs are permitted on these trails if kept under control at all times. Camping and fires are not permitted, and visitors are expected to carry out all track.
For more information, visit mahoosuc.org or call the Mahoosuc Land Trust at 824-3806.
Personal note: After spending all weekend ice fishing, snowmobiling and cooking over open fires at University of Maine 4-H Camp & Learning Center at Bryant Pond (something I’ll write about soon), I was pretty well spend on Sunday, Feb. 26, when I arrived at the icy parking area for the Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve. To be honest, I didn’t really feel like snowshoeing for hours. I smelled like campfire smoke, and I’d stayed up late flytying the night before. And what’s more, because I was starting the snowshoe at 1:30 p.m., I knew I’d have to hike 5 miles, up and down the mountain, before sundown (which I prefer but isn’t necessary, since I carry a headlamp).
But sometimes, you just have to suck it up. So that’s what I did. I threw on an extra wool shirt, clipped snow baskets on my new Leki trekking poles, stuffed an extra hat and jacket into my pack, checked the batteries in my satellite tracker, consulted the trail map at the parking area, crossed the road, climbed over the snowbank, fastened on my snowshoes, and hit the trail.
Luckily for me, the deep snow on the Red-Orange Trail had been packed down by snowmobilers and snowshoers that had come before me, making it easy to snowshoe on. Eventually the trail branched off from the snowmobile trail and became narrower, but still fairly wide and easy to follow. When the mountainside became steeper, I snapped up my snowshoe heel lifts, which are little metal bars that pop up under my heels that give me support as I climb, taking some of the strain of my calves. They helped quite a bit.
Despite it being in the 20s that day, recent warm weather had water pouring down the mountain, often along the trail. But I wore waterproof hike boots, so walking in the flowing water didn’t bother me. In fact, some of the most beautiful sights I enjoyed on the trail were due to the water — icicles formed along the edges of brooks and small waterfalls and in one spot, the water was moving so swiftly it had formed a layer of fluffy foam that formed, then froze, floating atop the water and crumbling to the touch of my mitten.
As I neared the top of the mountain and the red pines started to disappear, I was greeted by a bitter wind that nearly knocked me off balance. The ferocity of the wind concerned me as I struggled forward, my snowshoes clacking and screeching over patches of ice and granite. The wind had swept the ridge clean of snow in many areas, but I didn’t want to struggle with the straps of my snowshoes in such bitter cold, so I just kept them strapped to my feet, zipped up my windproof fleece jacket, swapped my beanie for my warmer fur-lined bomber hat, and carried on toward the summit.
It wasn’t long before I reached a granite hump that appeared to be the summit, where I knelt down to inspect a geological survey marker, something that often marks the top of mountains. I remained there just long enough to take video and photos of the stunning view, my cheeks burning and my eyes watering because of the icy wind. To the east rose the nearby Black Cap Mountain and a line of wind turbines forming a trail to the north, and to the west — where the sun was rapidly sinking — the Appalachian Mountain Range.
Facing the sun, I descended the mountain as quickly as my legs would carry me and made it to the parking area before dark.