Friday, April 4, 2014


I was fortunate enough to have another sunny spring beauty for a day off - the fourth such gem in the last two weeks. The plan was to head up the Champney Falls Trail on the north side of Mt. Chocorua. While the temperatures were still fairly cold in the morning, keeping the deep snowpack firm, I'd bushwhack through birch glades to a favorite view ledge on the NW shoulder of the mountain. In the afternoon, when the snow off-trail would become soft and unsupportive, I'd head up the well-packed trail to more views on Middle and First Sisters, which have views as good as Chocoura itself and are often snowshoeable while the main summit will often feature ice and bare rock. It turned out to be a great day, and despite the glorious weather I didn't see another hiker on the entire trek.

The snow on the trail was rock-solid in the morning, so I started out in Microspikes.

The snow bridge over Twin Brook was solid at both the beginning and end of the day.

View of Champney Brook partway up the trail.

Still a good deep snowpack, even at lower elevations.

Above about 2400 ft. there were many little ice chunks in the trail, fallen from trees after an icing event a few days earlier.

Donning my snowshoes, I was delighted to find that the snowpack was still firm on the NW shoulder at 11:00 am.

Great birch glade wandering in the bright spring sun.

Been waiting all winter for this!

A good deep snowpack at 2700 ft.

My snowshoes were making only light impressions; on the way back in early afternoon I started punching through occasionally.

A Kilkenny or "Engine Hill bushwhack" type experience.

Arriving at the back of the outlook ledge with the snow sparkling under beautiful skies.

The ledge has a great 180-degree view to the west.

An intimate view of Mt. Paugus rising from the Paugus Brook valley.

Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway.

Snow-sculptured granite.

The Tripyramids. The little white patch under the Middle-North col is the only open spot left from a century-old slide.

Mt. Passaconaway, showing the white slash of a 1938 slide.

A jumble of peaks to the north.

An hour passed very quickly here.

The Sisters glimpsed through the trees on the way back to the trail.

Couldn't get enough of these birch glades!

Back on the Champney Falls Trail, along one of the upper switchbacks.

Remnants of the ice storm clinging to the trees.

I followed a partly broken, postholed track along the Champney Falls Cutoff, soon reaching that trail's great open outlook ledge.

Westerly vista from the big sloping slab.

The Cutoff slices across a steep sidehill, and in these shady woods the snow was rock-solid. If you slipped off the trail it would be a long, quick ride down through the woods.

Trail signs at the junction in the col between the Sisters.

Climbing in the open through soft spring snow on the south face of Middle Sister.

View north down the Champney Brook valley.

Mt. Chocorua peers over nearby First Sister.

The foundation of the old fire lookout atop Middle Sister, which operated from 1927 to 1948. A Forest Service radio repeater is inside.

View towards the Moat Range.

Peaks and ledges, with Mt. Moosilauke on the horizon.

After enjoying the views on Middle Sister, I headed across to First Sister. When I paused to take a photo while climbing up through the spruce forest on the north side of the peak, a male Spruce Grouse emerged from the trees and approached me boldly, making guttural calls that indicated his displeasure at my presence.

I took them to mean something like, "You'd best be moving on before I kick your butt!"

Although the mating season doesn't normally begin until late April, this handsome fellow apparently had his turf picked out and was prepared to defend it! This is about as far south as this rare and protected bird is found in New Hampshire.

When I began to move away, he attacked my legs, flapping his wings and pecking with his beak, and continued to do so for about 200 feet until I got out of his territory. It might be best to avoid this trail section for a while, especially if hiking with a dog.

After surviving the grouse assault, I continued up towards First Sister, with a view back to Middle Sister.

Approaching the wide open summit of First Sister, fully deserving of its former name, Bald Mountain.

A window to the west between two rock knobs on the summit.

Looking towards Mt. Chocorua and a big ledgy patch on an intermediate knob.

The great horn of Chocorua.

The spread of the Presidentials. The excellent views from the Sisters include 32 of the White Mountain 4000-footers.

Late afternoon on First Sister.

Descending the south side of First Sister in slushy spring snow, I lost a ski pole basket in a seemingly bottomless drift.

Looking back at First Sister from a viewpoint off the Champney Falls Trail.

So many great view spots on this mountain!

End of the day on the lower Champney Falls Trail.


  1. Excellent trip report! I did the Second Sister on March 25. The Champney Falls Cutoff was almost unbroken at the time and I kept sinking in the deep snow. It's interesting trail conditions change so quickly. The spruce grouse attacked my Dad and I. As soon as we turned the corner at the intersection, the grouse came running towards us. It did the same things to us. I was really amused that grouse did the same thing to you. It must be territorial.

    1. Hi Josh,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with the "attack grouse"! I wonder how long he'll be defending his turf.

      The Cutoff is an interesting trail and doesn't get too much traffic. It must have been tiring breaking trail through there on that sidehill slope.

      Good hiking,


  2. Excellent report Steve. You weren't kidding about those glades you mentioned in conversation at your store. Engine Hill is the first area that comes to my mind as well seeing glades like that. Something I'd not have expected to see in that area. I just hope those condition last long enough for me to get one good bushwhack in.

    That grouse is a riot. I did not see him the day I was up there. Too bad, I'd have loved to have seen him. There was however, one doing the same thing on the Rocky Branch Tr. several years ago. Apparently they're extremely territorial, and not afraid of anything.

    Great photos, thanks for sharing,

  3. Something I forgot in my first post. Where you expressed the possible thoughts of the Spruce Grouse, "You'd best be moving on before I kick your butt!" You could have replied, "You'd best get off my foot before you're lunch!" ;-)

  4. Thanks, Joe - I've been through those birch glades a number of times, always in winter. Gives you the Kilkenny/Engine Hill experience with a much shorter drive. Unfortunately it looks like it's going to be too warm for the snow to set up anytime during the next week.

    I remember reading about the one on Rocky Branch Trail. They are fearless!


  5. What I fear is that a dog may take on the grouse. They're a pretty rare and protected species.


  6. Wow, Steve, these photos are stunning even by your high standards! And the spruce grouse attack was hilarious! I'll put it in a file next to the rabbit attack on Jimmy Carter.

    1. Thank you, Steve - it was a gorgeous day. That grouse really meant business. I'm glad I had heavy-duty gaiters on my legs!