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Bethlehem, New Hampshire, United States

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07 November 2013

Cape Horn (Groveton, NH): An Unusual Place with an Unusual Name

Cape Horn is an unusual mountain with a rather unusual name.  No one apparently knows for certain how this name came to be.  One of the many theories is that the moniker is derived from the mountain's resemblance to Cape Horn in South America.  Regardless, the name has been around for nearly 200 years.  It appeared on Philip Carrigain's famous map generated in the year 1816.

The arcing ridge known as Cape Horn, lies within a public parcel of land known as the Cape Horn State Forest (CHSF).  A large portion of the ridge and its eastern slope lies within the CHSF, as does the southern half of its western slope.  The highest point (2,040 ft) is near the northern end and is located on private property, just outside the CHSF boundary.

Cape Horn is Jurassic in age, dated at 182 million years old. In geologic terms, it is classified as a ring dike which was formed by an upwelling of molten magma in a conical-shaped fracture in the Earth's crust.  There's a very brief online video which explains this process in simple terms (click HERE).

Also, there is an excellent scientific report about Cape Horn that is available online (click HERE).  This report contains many interesting photos and diagrams.

There are two points where the CHSF property meets a public roadway.  One is along Lost Nation Road, and the other is along Page Hill Road.  A few years ago in July 2010, I launched a hike to Cape Horn from Lost Nation Road.  However, on my most recent trek in early November 2013, I began my hike from Page Hill Road at the Corridor 5 Snowmobile Trail.  Both of the aforementioned treks were done entirely on public land within the boundary of the CHSF property.  And, both included a bushwhack component.

For the 2010 trek I began by following what is perhaps an old logging road until it petered out, and then I bushwhacked the remaining distance to the top of the ridgeline.  

For my recent 2013 adventure, I followed the Corridor 5 Snowmobile Trail for about a mile to the point where it crosses Dean Brook on a bridge.  About a tenth of a mile after the trail crossed the bridge, I began an eastward bushwhack through open woods to the southern end of the Cape Horn ridgeline.  Getting up onto the ridgeline involved a moderately steep climb.  But once there, it was pretty laid-back with easily navigable ups and downs through a park-like setting of open woodlands comprised of a mix of hardwoods and conifers.

With such a long introduction, perhaps it's time to present a few pictures!  I'll begin with a map which shows key features such as the boundary of the CHSF, some of the surrounding roadways, etc. (Click on this map to enlarge it.)
Map showing Cape Horn State Forest and nearby surroundings (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
The next photo shows Cape Horn as viewed from the snowmobile trail.
Cape Horn as viewed from the snowmobile trail
Earlier in this report, you might recall that it was speculated that Cape Horn might have gotten its name because of its resemblance to Cape Horn in South America.  Shown below is a photo that I grabbed from the Internet which shows the South American version of Cape Horn.  Perhaps there is a certain similarity between these two places!?
Photo from Internet showing the Cape Horn located in South America
Besides the view of Cape Horn, the snowmobile trail also provides a nice view of mountains in the Pilot and Pliny ranges.
Mountains in Pilot and Pliny ranges, as viewed from snowmobile trail
The next photo shows Dean Brook at the point where the snowmobile trail crosses over it.
Dean Brook at the point where the snowmobile trail crosses over it
From Cape Horn's ridgeline, two vistas were exceptional!  One was the vista of Hutchins Mountain on the horizon, with a portion of the Dean Brook drainage in the foreground.
Hutchins Mountain on horizon with portion of Dean Brook drainage in foreground
The other vista that I particularly enjoyed was looking northward toward the Percy Peaks, which are about 8 miles away from my viewpoint along the ridgeline.
A distant view of Percy Peaks from a ledge along Cape Horn's ridgeline
The next photo is a highly-zoomed image of Percy Peaks as seen from Cape Horn.
Highly-zoomed image of Percy Peaks as seen from Cape Horn
If you refer back to the map presented earlier in this report, you'll see that Cape Horn has a South Peak and a North Peak.  On this trek, I only went as far as the South Peak.  On my trek in July 2010, I visited a ledge near North Peak.   Shown below is a snapshot taken on that trek.  Although I think the views from the south end of Cape Horn are better overall, the view from the north end does provide a better perspective showing the crescent shape of Cape Horn's ridgeline.
Photo taken July 2010 from a ledge near Cape Horn's North Peak
Although the next photo might appear to have no relevance to my trek to Cape Horn, there is a connection!   While traveling to my launch point on Page Hill Road, I noticed this scene of contented cows grazing in a field.  My thought was "be it ever so humble, there's no place like home!" (from John Howard Payne's poem entitled: Home, Sweet Home)
Scene of contented cows grazing, as seen while en route to my Cape Horn hike
To sum it up, this was an unusually pleasant trek to an unusual place with an unusual name!


  1. John - Excellent report with a wealth of information. What a fascinating place! I would never have guessed that Cape Horn had such great views, interesting geology and diverse and rare flora. Especially like the view over the wetlands to the Pilot Range. I've driven by it a number of times and have not paid attention. Will have to go check it out sometime!


    1. Steve, I’m very appreciative of your kind words about my report. Thank you!

      Your assessment about Cape Horn being a “fascinating place” is accurate, as far as I’m concerned! My two forays to the ridgeline have been rewarding experiences, and I feel there is even more to explore along Cape Horn’s ridge. Also, I think there are other very worthwhile adventures to be had by exploring the bottom of the cliffs and talus fields at the base of the eastern slope, as well as the wetlands that lie further east of there.

      Regarding the views from Cape Horn’s ridgeline, they are elusive and don’t really show up clearly on Google Earth. Sort of makes you wonder how many other places there are with views that are undetectable from satellite imagery! Yup! There’s a wealth of opportunity to spend many hours of pleasurable tramping in the woods while searching for ‘hidden treasures’. :-)


  2. Most unusual, John! I suppose your New Hampshire Cape Horn does resemble the South American Cape Horn in that it seems to be a "stand-alone" mountain—and that's also unusual among the NH peaks and ranges typically in your reports.
    I love the long views across open country on the way to this peak.
    And finally, the cows and homestead picture is amazing (wonderful lighting). I think the lyrics of "Home, Sweet Home" could be changed for this scene to: "be it ever so crumbling, there's no place like home"!

    1. Hi Rita,

      You are so right with your assessment that Cape Horn is ‘most unusual’! I’m very eager to go back there and do some exploring along the bottom of its eastern slope. However, I might delay this until Springtime since the route I used will soon be a highway for snowmobiles. During the Wintertime, I respect the fact that this corridor is their domain. It’s disconcerting to both the snowmobiler and to the hiker to share the same passageway!

      Glad you liked the ‘cows and homestead’ photo. The moment I came upon this scene, I simply had to pull over and take a snapshot!