Thursday, April 18, 2013


The expansive granite slabs of Carter Ledge, a prominent eastern spur of Mt. Chocorua, are an inviting place to linger on a sunny spring day. They looked mostly snow-free when viewed from Bald Mountain the week before, so I headed back over that way to the trailhead for the Piper Trail. The access road into this large parking lot is not plowed in winter, but it was free of snow.  This may be the most heavily used trail on Chocorua, but it is nevertheless a very attractive route with varied forests, a sense of remoteness as it heads up the Chocorua River valley, and great views in its upper section. Today's trek would involve only the lower half of the Piper Trail. There were no other cars in the parking lot, and I encountered no other hikers during the day.

After some snow and ice on the flat lower section, the trail was wonderfully dry as it climbed up on the side of the valley. As I was ascending this pleasant stretch, a Pileated Woodpecker flashed by, its wild call resounding through the forest.

At 1.2 mi., I turned right onto the Nickerson Ledge Trail.

A fairly steep climb with a few icy spots led to sun-warmed Nickerson Ledge, with a view of Bald Mountain and the distant Ossipee Range.

The next half-mile of Nickerson Ledge Trail traverses a broad, gentle spruce-wooded ridge. I had brought snowshoes for this stretch, but even with temperatures in the upper 40s the old choppy track was solid enough for bare-booting.

After turning onto the Carter Ledge Trail, I climbed past a ledge slab with a first glimpse of Mt. Chocorua.

The Carter Ledge Trail, ascends the end of the ridge in a burst of steep climbing, including this very slippery pitch of loose gravel.

The trail leads up through an interesting ledgy slot.

Just above here the trail comes to the edge of a gravelly slide and makes a sharp right turn that is easily missed.

Looking down the slide above the turn, which is marked by the blaze seen on the rock to the right.

After some more steep climbing, the trail emerges on the open granite slabs of Carter Ledge, home to one of only a handful of Jack Pine colonies in the White Mountains. (There are others on Welch Mountain, the Webster Cliffs, and a few other scattered locations.) This fire-dependent tree, with short needles in pairs, is at the southern limit of its range here.

Heading up the trail on a section similar to the popular Welch-Dickey Loop.

A favorite aspect of the view from Carter Ledge is the vista across the Chocorua River valley to the great SE ridge of Chocorua, with Bald Mountain at its lower end. This ridge is traversed by the Hammond Trail.

The rocky cone of Chocorua dominates the view, with its little rounded south peak on the left. The Piper Trail goes up the ridge in the foreground.

This is why I come to Carter Ledge in April.

Later I went partway down the sloping, grippy slabs for a look at the steep bowl under the First Sister.

The slabs drop away to the valley in broad sheets of granite.

A particularly picturesque Jack Pine, twisted but thriving in its rocky, windswept home.

A close-up of Bald Mountain, whose ledges I'd visited the week before.

After a long sojourn in the sun, I continued a few minutes up the open ledges of the trail to the 2420-ft. summit of Carter Ledge.

The open summit has a fine distant view to the north and east. Here the Presys and the Moats are seen beyond Blue Mountain and other northern spurs of Chocorua.

The Green Hills and Maine's Pleasant Mountain above the wooded backside of White Ledge.

The Presys had a nice coating of snow, seen beyond the ledgy face of Table Mountain.

A zoom on Mt. Washington, with Oakes Gulf on the left and Huntington Ravine on the right.

The Moats and their many ledgy lower spurs. After an hour soaking in these views, I embarked on the second phase of the day's trek - a bushwhack down into the northern branch of the Chocorua River valley from the col between Carter Ledge and Third Sister.

Shortly after leaving the summit, I encountered deep, soft spring snow on this north-facing slope, and it was time to put the snowshoes on.

After bushwhacking partway down into the valley, the snow became intermittent, and I took the 'shoes off. Typical April. Along the way I crossed a ledge with a partial view. The lower part of the descent had more snow again and was steep and slippery, pretty slow going.

At the bottom of the descent, I found what I had come here to see: a cascade called Chocorua Falls on Arthur C. Comey's 1940s map of Mt. Chocorua published by the Chocorua Mountain Club. I've never seen this cascade referenced anywhere else. I had first visited this spot in Novemeber 2006 and wanted to see it with a bit more water flow. It was looking pretty good today.

After admiring it from below, I put my snowshoes on and went partway up the left slope for a side view. There are more interesting spots up above, but the spring snow was too sidehilly and slick to safely go up there today.

The brook - which is the north branch of the Chocorua River - slides over ledge slabs below the falls.

I was planning to traverse across the slope to the Piper Trail and look for more cascades on the next branch of the river to the south, when I spotted a dropoff on the brook below. After some tricky maneuvering down the steep spring snow slopes, I came to the base of another fine waterfall that I hadn't seen on my previous visit.

There was some more nice brook scenery just below.

I continued down the brook a ways, then bushwhacked up the slope to the Piper Trail.

I hiked up the Piper Trail for a few minutes, then made a short but steep bushwhack to a ledge that commands wide views over the Chocorua River valley, including this vista of Carter Ledge to the left.

Bald Mountain and the SE ridge close the valley in on the right.

Looking out towards the mouth of the valley.

Descending through hemlocks along the Piper Trail, just above its crossing of the north branch of the Chocorua River.

Evening sun on a fine dry, gravelly section of the Piper Trail. Only when I got home did I learn of the tragedy in Boston that afternoon, a heartbreaking end to what had been a beautiful day. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected, and our thanks go to my nephew David and his wife Nadia, who treated several of the injured in the Faulkner Hospital ER.


  1. What a fine day for that hike Steve. Beautiful photos. Fantastic find, or discovery on the old map mentioned, of those cascades. So many hidden treasures off trail in the WMNF. And now I've yet another to add to my list.

    Thanks for sharing,

    We are all saddened by the unspeakable acts that took place on 4/15/13.

    1. Thanks, Joe - Chocorua has more than its share of hidden treasures.


  2. My first trip up Chocorua was on April 17, 1976, it was the day I got my very own AMC White Mountain Guide, I was 14 yrs old. I love going back again and again. We didn't get a chance to go this month, thank you for taking me along via your report. Thank you for introducing me to the falls too, I had no idea! See you soon, Amy P.

    1. Thanks, Amy - that was around the time I got my first AMC guidebook, too. Chocorua is worth many repeat visits.