Chocorua: The quiet-crowded-quiet hike October 25, 2008Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
Tags: hiking, White Mountains
Hike distance 11 miles/Elevation gain 3200 feet
Bob and I are getting ingenious, I would even say diabolical, in our ability to cook up new approaches to our familiar old White Mountains. This hike of October 11 took us up to the crowded summit of Mt. Chocorua on a beautiful fall day. But on the approach and the descent we were almost alone.
We left the car at the tiny pine-needle-strewn Hammond Trail parking lot and set off on a jaunty road walk north along Route 16. (If there needs to be a road walk, it’s nice to get it out of the way at the start of the hike.) Here, as cars zoomed past, we saw our only wildlife of the day, a very large and fluffy fox standing in a driveway. To our surprise, the gigantic Piper Trail parking area (the opposite end of the parking lot spectrum) was only half full. It must have been a little on the early side, for we encountered just one other group as we headed up the trail. Soon, however, we heard the voices of people calling out that they were lost—just five minutes away from the trailhead! They had wandered off into the open woods in an area where, with leaves down on the trail, it was good to pay a tiny bit of attention. We were thereby welcomed into the wonderful world of Mt. Chocorua, climbed by many random people, where funny and stupid things happen.
We left the Piper Trail after a mile for the steep Nickerson Ledge Trail, which connected us with the Carter Ledge Trail. Here we found stately oak trees and stands of jack pine, both unusual in the Whites. The trail became open and ledgy, and as we attacked the steep east side of the Third Sister, we came to the place described by Gene Daniell in the White Mountain Guide as a “particularly tricky scramble.” It offered two options: a nice secure-looking crack on the right that was hard to reach, and a steeply sloping smooth ledge on the left with a dropoff. I tried to get up into the crack, but the only way to do that would have been to wedge my knee into it, and that would have been uncomfortable besides being bad form. (I remember these points of style from my brief and unsuccessful time of rock climbing.) So it was over to the smooth ledge, which had just enough loose gravel on it to make it interesting.
After a stop for lunch on Middle Sister, where I ate half of my Irving convenience store sandwich, we plunged into the vortex of the summit. Bob and I became tangled up in a large group of hikers in their 20s, and for no particular reason we all went faster and faster, leaping from boulder to boulder and squinting into the blinding sunlight. On the summit it was cold and windy, and many hikers were peering into the colorful bowls of autumn foliage on all sides, then retreating for cover behind the ledges. Heads popped up and down everywhere from behind rocks like gophers out of their holes. Bob and I found a spot out of the wind and watched as a father and daughter strode purposefully in the wrong direction, toward the cliffy east side of the summit. We explained that all the trails came off the summit on the opposite side. In another direction we could see a pair of hands clinging to the edge of a boulder near a steep dropoff. Eventually a fellow appeared on the other side of the boulder and explained to us that he had wimped out on his crux move: “I used to go that way all the time when I was younger.”
After a pleasant rest we continued along the Brook and Liberty Trails, losing more people at each trail junction, and finally descended in golden afternoon light through the big pines and oaks of the Hammond Trail.