Sunday, April 10, 2011


Finally, the warmer, sunny spring weather had arrived. Time to bask in the sun on some snow-free granite. I figured the SW-facing slabs on 2420-ft. Carter Ledge (shown below), a Welch-Dickey like eastern spur of Mt. Chocorua, would be bare and dry. This is one of my favorite lower elevation perches in the Whites, with a striking view of Chocorua's rocky cone rising above the Chocorua River valley. I also knew I would encounter a variety of sometimes-frustrating spring conditions on the Carter Ledge Trail. Such are the joys and travails of hiking in April.

I parked outside the gate to White Ledge Campground along Route 16, five miles south of the Kanc Highway stoplight. There was one other vehicle there, and an old snowshoe track led across tired-looking snow on the south branch of the campground road, providing access to the start of the Carter Ledge Trail. It had been cold overnight, and the snow was still firm at 11:00 am, but the day was warming rapidly.

Spring conditions had started to take hold, as shown by this pool on the trail in a flat hemlock area. I snowhoed around these spots along the edge of the trail.

The trail was mostly bare for a quarter-mile stretch through hardwoods, then the snow cover closed in again. Snowshoes off, snowshoes back on. Farther up, I exchanged greetings with a hiker descending bare-boot. He had turned back shortly beyond the Nickerson Ledge Trail junction due to deep and softening snow.

Farther up the slope there were more nice stands of hemlock.

The snow got deeper, as did the postholes authored by the downbound tramper. No wonder he headed for home.

The trail leveled on a 1700-ft. shoulder clad in a dark spruce forest - a wild-looking area despite its low elevation.

The snowshoeing was becoming somewhat of a mushy slog, and I was glad to reach the two-mile mark at the junction with the Nickerson Ledge Trail.

The Carter Ledge Trail dipped to cross a brook, the point where my fellow traveler turned around. I made first tracks in the wet snow as the trail ascended to this granite slab, with a neat sideways view of Mt. Chocorua's rocky cone.

Above here, the Carter Ledge Trail suddenly shoots up a startlingly steep slope. As I had hoped, the first gravelly pitch was bare and dry. Off with the snowshoes again.

On the steep sidehill above, there were some inconveniently-placed ribbons of hard-frozen snow. Careful foot placement required.

A scramble up through a ledgy slot...

...brings you to the edge of an open gravelly slide. On a Chocorua Mountain Club trail map from the early 1920s, Carter Ledge is named "Sandslides Ledge."

Here the trail makes a sharp R turn with a scramble up a couple of ledge steps. This turn is easy to miss in either direction on the trail.

The view from the top of the turn.

Above the slide the trail continued to climb steeply through spruce forest, with a nasty mix of ice and slippery roots. Time for Microspikes, which proved equal to the task. At the top of the pitch the trail leveled on a shoulder, and abruptly the snow was two feet deep again. I was too lazy to switch back to snowshoes, and kept the 'spikes on, walking gingerly in an attempt to stay on the fairly firm old snowshoe track under the newer wet snow.

As evidenced by the photo below, my effort to avoid postholing was not entirely successful. On the way down, I used snowshoes through here.

Finally I broke free of the snow on the great granite slabs near the crest of Carter Ledge, and there was Chocorua, looming larger than life a mere mile away. In front on the R is the ledgy ridge ascended by the Piper Trail.

The trailless, rocky bump to the L of Chocorua was once called the "South Peak."

Stretching away to the south is the long ridge traversed by the Hammond Trail, ending with the ledgy knob of Bald Mountain.

A closer look at Bald, with the Ossipees beyond.

The view south includes (R to L) Chocorua, Ossipee and Silver Lakes.

Nearby ledges afford an impressive look up at the Three Sisters Ridge and the steep headwall of the Chocorua River valley.

Aside from the fine views, another attraction of Carter Ledge is the stand of Jack Pines scattered across the ledges. This northern, fire-dependent tree is found in only a handful of locations in New Hampshire. Its needles are much shorter than those of other native pines.

After soaking in the sun and the views for a long time on the SW slabs, I wandered up to the bare summit of Carter Ledge.

This spot opens wide views to the east and north. Here White Ledge is seen in the foreground, with Pleasant Mountain in the distance on the R and Black Cap Mountain on the L.

The Moat Range rises to the NE. On the L is the nearby trailless spur of the Three Sisters known as Blue Mountain.

Mt. Washington and its Presidential neighbors can be seen to the north, with Table Mountain in front.

Then it was time to return to the SW ledges for some more loafing. Springtime, and the livin' is easy - at least on the open rock.

Late afternoon, time to pick my way back down the steep trail.

Back down in the woods, the snow had become very mushy in the 50-degree temperature. My snowshoes were sliding around at awkward angles. A mile and a half from the trailhead one 'shoe suddenly started flopping around. I discovered that the fabric of the binding had pulled away from a rivet, rendering the snowshoe useless. I did a quick repair job using bungee cords normally used for strapping the snowshoes to my pack. By lashing the boot and binding to the frame, I was able to use the snowshoe down to the point near the bottom where they were no longer needed.

It was a great day on Carter Ledge, but I've reached that annual time in April when I want to be done with the snow. Time for some south-facing, bare ground hardwood whackin'.

The trek to Carter Ledge is 5.6 mi. round trip with 1700 ft. of elevation gain.


  1. Steve . . . that is a terrific hike! Last summer, I did that hike and loved it! Since it was summer, the conditions were of course far different from the day of your trek. And so, I was able to visit Carter Ledge and do a loop involving the Middle Sister Trail.

    And regarding your snowshoe . . . that was a very clever temporary repair you made! Fortunately, the weather was warm enough so that this repair could be made with fingers that weren't numb!!


  2. Thanks, John - Carter Ledge is a great and relatively unheralded spot. As you note, it's good the snowshoe didn't fail on a zero degree day, and even worse, four miles out on a bushwhack or something.


  3. Great report, Steve - I especially like the statement at the end - "Time for some south-facing, bare ground hardwood whackin'"! This has been an exceptional winter, but I think it has finally worn out it's welcome!

    Via the Carter and Nickerson ledges is my favorite route up Chocorua. That is definitely a mountain that is so much more impressive looking 'at' than it is looking 'from,' and that trail gives many opportunities to gaze away.

  4. Thanks, Chris - I agree, the Nickerson/Carter/Sisters route is the most scenic way up Chocorua.

    The bare ground hunt is on! After today the snow will be mushier than ever.