Trip Report: Mt Chocorua

Mt Chocorua, Albany, NH. 2019-05-09. (Thursday)

Via Champney Falls trail, Piper Trail, Middle Sister Trail. Approx 8 miles. 3,490 feet, approx 2,250 elevation gain.

70 dF +/- at the trailhead, 65 dF at summit. Approx. 5-8 knot wind at the summit. 

Mix of partly sunny, with outright cloudy at Chocorua summit (and accordingly attenuated views.) 

Trailhead: 1330; Summit; 1600; back at car: 1900. (5.5 hours.)

At last, at last!

Why, exactly, did I wait 20 years to climb this one again? Good question. I’ll let you know when I figure that one out…

Anyhoo, at long last, I got back to it, and had a fine day out. Not one of my longest hikes, nor one of the most strenuous. And upsettingly, there weren’t a lot of flowers, nor was there a lot of ferns. But conversely, yes, there was mud, but it wasn’t that bad, especially after what I saw on Smarts Mountain last week. (And let’s face it, spring means the mountains are melting and shedding all that water. It’s a thing.)

I got a horrendously late start, and probably missed the view from the tip-top as a result. People coming down indicated there was a window where the clouds parted, yielding a fine view all around. On the other hand, I’d stopped in at The Mountain Wanderer in Lincoln, and had a wonderful chat with Steve Smith about all things related to tramping around the mountains. And bought a couple of books. Because books are our friends, and you can never have too many friends.

But finally, I found myself at the trailhead, full of anticipation. The trail beckoned. The first mile or so was a pleasant dirt track, nicely tamped down over time, and though it had plenty of yellow blazes, they weren’t particularly necessary. The leaves are back on the trees, and they’re that light green color that speaks to the youth and immaturity of springtime. The forest floor hasn’t grown in just yet, so it had a light, airy feel.

I made my way upward, joined by the babbling of Champney Brook, which was never very far away to my left. And after a bit, the sign indicating the falls, with a bifurcation. I took the left side and entered Wonderland. The babbling soon became a roar, and then the falls. Of course, I clambered down for a close inspection. Who wouldn’t?

The awe at the majesty of Champney Falls was a fait accompli. Even just hearing it, you knew it was huge. Seeing cubic yard after yard of water cascade over the rocks every second was amazing. In all kinds of places, you could see the effects of centuries of scouring, and little eddies and currents all over spoke to the invisible hydraulic forces below the surface. Magic! And then standing by Pitcher Falls, and feeling the wind generated by all that falling water. Wow!

After a lengthy delay while I looked hither and yon, weighing the various camera angles, and deciding on the best shots, I pressed on. The trail steepened, and then the rocks. Gone was the nice, smooth track with a gentle grade. It was time for “serious” hiking. Continuing upward, I could see into the bowl to my left, from time to time, and a glance upward reminded me of my continuing ascent. Breathing heavier, leaning into it, my legs began to burn. At last, switchbacks. The grade was still hard, but at least it wasn’t straight up, as on Owl’s Head.

I passed the Middle Sister Cutoff, shifting over to the Piper Trail on the final ascent to the summit. Excitement became palpable, and before I knew it, I was above treeline. A fire in 1815 is believed to be the reason why the summit is utterly denuded. The way going reminded me in many ways of hiking up Mt Katahdin — mostly, it was the geology for some reason. But all around were interesting grooves in the stone. The stone itself, with its Walt Whitman-esque “rude” texture was a visual feast. Rough, untamed, rounded by the passage of time. It has a savage beauty. I won’t ruin it by trying to explain. (If that aesthetic isn’t your thing, just smile and nod.)

Then, the summit, with a view of almost nothing. I briefly saw Tripyramid and Osceola, and then the clouds came in fast, shutting down the view. To the northwest, I could see Mt Lowell, Vose Spur, Carrigain… and again things began to fall apart fast. It wasn’t going to be useful, sitting up there waiting for things to clear. I pressed on. Steve suggested that I bag Middle Sister while I was up there, and so I did. Steve, thanks for that astute suggestion. It saved the day.

Middle Sister is less than half a mile away, and it’s not hard mileage by any standard. But by the time I got there — which was under 20 minutes — I had a view. Somehow, someone brought in the cosmic broom and swept the skies up in short order, enough to see Lowell, Vose Spur, and a few others. It didn’t ever get terribly clear, in that I could only see “the mass” of Washington, but it was enough. I spied Webster and Eisenhower, and North Kearsarge. Nice.

I looked around a bit at the remains of the firetower. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s not still there, because I think it would have been a heck of a cabin for an overnight. But oh well, it is what it is. There was a small monitoring station of some sort, with strange signs stating the unit was protected against this and that kinds of radiation. Not sure what it’s monitoring, but it looks pretty serious from all outward appearances. Finally, I turned for the car.

Coming down, I shaved a bit of time off by taking the Middle Sister Cutoff. It was quite muddy, but seemed a nicer grade. It’s not all that trail, but somehow, the way down felt less muddy and less rocky than on the way up. I stopped at the falls again, because the sun had moved, and I wanted to capture it. No disappointments. Not long after that, the trailhead came into view.

I’m still scratching my head as to why it was so long for the repeat. It doesn’t really matter, but for curiosity’s sake, right? But either way. I remember last time, we didn’t do Middle Sister. I remember having a good time on a bluebird day. I didn’t have the same experience today, of course, but one thing was in common: it was a good outing on a fine mountain. I’ll be back. Hopefully sooner than 20 years.

Painted Trillium.
Falls, Summit, Kanc.
Pitcher Falls.
A helicopter in the valley below.
Summit selfie.
Black-eyed Junco at the summit.
That helicopter on his way back through the fog.
Looking toward Middle Sister.
Southern Presidential Range in the background.
Chocorua Summit!
Champney Falls.
A lot of water, a long drop.

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