Sunday, September 6, 2009


After hiking Monadnock on Tuesday, I decided to take the afternoon off and hike Mt. Chocorua, another of New Hampshire's iconic mountains, on Thursday. I hadn't been up there in a couple of years, and with continued sunny skies - one of the most amazing stretches of good weather in recent memory - the open rock was calling. I started on the familiar Champney Falls Trail off the Kanc Highway around 1:00 pm. There were only 8 cars in the parking lot. One of the beauties of midweek September hiking is the notable absence of crowds.

The first 1.4 miles up this trail is a peaceful walk up the Champney Brook valley. About a half-mile in the trail scoots up onto a high bank in open hemlock forest.

Back down near the brook, this tall sugar maple is seen next to the trail.

It's always worthwhile to take the side loop to Champney and Pitcher Falls, sort of a natural waterpark area.

Despite the recent dry weather, Champney Falls had a decent flow of water.

A short side trip leads into the flume where Pitcher Falls drops gracefully in.

The falls loop continues steeply up past more cascades, lined with slender birches.

Rock steps make the climb easier, though there are still a couple of wet slabs to negotiate.

Through the trees you get a peek at an upper cascade.

At the top of the waterfalls you can safely hop out to rocks in the stream for a framed view of Owl's Cliff and Mt. Tremont.

Back on the main trail, there's a long stretch that climbs high up on the west side of the valley. This area was hit hard by the 1998 ice storm. Many old fallen branches are seen on the ground, and there is a profusion of sapling growth.

Up on the valley headwall the trail makes four switchbacks. On the second switchback you walk along the base of this slab.

Some impressive rock step work was done in this area.

Just below the junction with the Middle Sister Trail, a side path (with a "View" sign, but easily missed) leads up to a wide granite slab with a fine close-up view of First Sister.

There was also a hazy blue panorama to the north. It was not nearly as clear as it was on Monadnock two days earlier. The Presidentials are in the distance to the right.

After a rest in the warm sun, I continued up to the Piper Trail and followed it briefly through the woods and then out onto the open ledges on the upper mountain. The blazes on this trail are faded and sometimes hard to find, though in clear weather the route is fairly obvious. Soon the trail passes by this dramatic perch on the east side of the ridgecrest, peering 2000 feet down into the Chocorua River valley. These views down into the adjacent valleys are some of the best of the many fine vistas on this mountain.

Carter Ledge rises on the east side of the valley. Coming up from the depths was the sound of falling water. On the interesting 1941 Chocorua Mountain Club trail map, which I obtained through the generosity of a friend, a waterfall is shown in the closer ravine, somewhere down below Camp Penacook. Will have to check that out sometime.

A couple of years ago that same map prompted me to search for and eventually find, I think, "Chocorua Falls" on another branch of the Chocorua River.

Continuing along the Piper Trail, the summit cone was in sight ahead, with a couple of hikers on top.

The view north past the Sisters.

Where the trail comes to the west edge of the ridge, there's a great view down into the remote branch valley of Paugus Brook followed by the Bee Line Trail, with Mt. Paugus sprawling beyond and the high peaks of the Sandwich Range twisting into the distance. This is one of my favorite vistas in all the White Mountains.

The final scramble up to the summit takes you up a rocky gully.

When I reached the summit at about 4:00, there were only six other hikers lounging on the rocks. A low count for such a sunny, warm late summer day. This view is looking south with Cow Rock (where Chief Chocorua supposedly leapt, defiantly, to his doom) in the foreground and the mountain's SE ridge (followed by the Hammond Trail) behind. In the distance are Chocorua, Silver and Ossipee Lakes.

Looking back over the rocky north shoulder to Bear Mountain and beyond.

The Three Sisters.

I made my way down expansive ledges to a private perch on the SW side of the summit. Here I could study the views to south, west and northwest.

The ledges extended farther down the cone, inviting exploration. It was easy to stay on bare rock and avoid any trampling of the sparse subalpine vegetation.

The shadow of the peak was creeping across the Chocorua River valley.

Cow Rock from the other side.

Down at the edge of the big dropoff to the south was this ledge of Conway granite, cracked like an eggshell.

Here I could look right down on the Hammond Trail ridge. With binoculars the roof of Jim Liberty Cabin could be seen barely poking above the scrub. That shoulder has revegetated significantly since the days when the Peak House was located there in the early 1900s.

I outlasted the other hikers and returned to the summit ledge around 5:30 - alone in the evening on Chocorua. This weathered summit benchmark was placed here by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1943. Around it can be seen the triangle chiseled into the rock by the U.S. Coastal Survey in 1876.

Looking south down the ledges to the Ossipee Range.

The summit ledge and Carter Ledge.

The last two hikers to leave, making their way along the northern shoulder.

I left the summit myself around 5:45 pm. I liked this view near the spot where the Piper Trail meets the Brook and Liberty Trails just below the summit.

A Gibraltar-like formation on the northern shoulder.

A last look at the summit before heading down. I made it out to my car just as full darkness was blanketing the woods.

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