Friday, August 31, 2012


It was one of the most spectacular days of the summer - cool, sunny, great distant visibility - and a big view was in order. Mt. Chocorua and its northern spurs, the Three Sisters, have far-flung and greatly varied views, in the top rank among White Mountain summits. At busier times such as August, when Chocorua is swarming with hikers ascending from all directions, I prefer to go to First Sister for my views. The range of vistas is just as good from First Sister, plus part of the view is looking at the dramatic horn of Chocorua. And it is a much quieter summit: there might be one hiker on the Sisters for every hundred on Chocorua.

The Champney Falls trailhead was a pretty busy place on this Wednesday morning. The sign's statement about meager flow at the falls was in effect with typically low late summer water levels.

I opted to bypass the falls on the way up and see them along the descent. Above the falls loop the Champney Falls Trail climbs moderately for a long ways up the valley, with rocky footing and many stone steps.

At the 2.4 mile mark the trail starts a series of switchbacks up the steep slope, sometimes angling along the base of sloping ledges.

After three miles I turned L onto the Champney Falls Cutoff (aka Middle Sister Cutoff). This is a delightful, lightly used trail that cuts across the face of the First Sister and makes a loop hike possible over that peak. In 0.1 mi. it emerges on an open ledge with great views north and west. Mt. Carrigain is prominent in the center of the photo below. As predicted, visibility was superb! I took a long lunch break here.

My favorite view from Chocorua and the Sisters has always been the look west along the wild, twisting peaks and ridges of the Sandwich Range.

Looking into the heart of the Sandwich Range - Paugus in front, and Sandwich Dome, Whiteface, Passaconaway and the Tripyramids in back.

A close-up of the cliffs on the northern spur of Mt. Paugus. Osceolas in the distance.

The return view from the Paugus cliffs to the Sisters and Chocorua.

Good spot for a boot shot.

Leaving the outlook ledge.

Mossy bank along the cutoff trail.

From the junction of Champney Falls Cutoff with Middle Sister Trail in the col between Middle and First Sisters, I went up to Middle Sister first, getting this peek at Chocorua's cone as I ambled up the ledges.

The foundation of the old fire lookout station atop Middle Sister. Built in 1927, it was originally slated to be located on the summit of Chocorua. But that potential intrusion on the skyline didn't sit too well with hikers, summer folks and others, and opposition led by the Chocorua Mountain Club, AMC, and Society for the Protection of NH Forests led the Forest Service to select this alternate location. The station was designed by Boston architect C. Howard Walker, who had designed several summer homes around nearby Chocorua Lake. The Forest Service now uses the foundation to house a radio repeater.

Great view of the Sandwich Range from Middle Sister. I didn't stay long here, as I prefer the somewhat more open summit of First Sister for an extended viewing session.

On First Sister, there are two rock knobs from which you can enjoy 360-degree views, including the nearby horn of Chocorua. With binoculars, I could see strings of hikers making their way up and down the cone.

The long-range views were phenomenal this day. To the south, over the eastern spur of Red Hill (in the center of the photo below), Mt. Monadnock could be seen, 86 miles away. Squam Lake is seen on the R.

Looking SE to Silver Lake and Ossipee Lake. Green Mountain is seen beyond Silver Lake. To the ESE (not shown in this photo), the buildings of Portland, ME were clearly visible on the coast.

 From First Sister there is a visual feast in every direction. Here the cliffs of Table Mountain are seen under the Wildcats and Iron Mountain.

Looking north out over the Champney Brook valley to many peaks, including Huntington, the Kinsmans and Franconias, the Hancocks, Green's Cliff, Carrigain, the Nancy Range, Owl's Cliff, Tremont, Field & Willey. 

The Presidentials, Wildcats and Carter Dome beyond Bear, Table and Big Attitash. All told, I counted the summits of 33 NH 4000-footers as visible from this perch.

I spent two hours taking it all in on this ledge, the northern of two summit knobs on First Sister. I had the place to myself for all but about five minutes. What a day!

Cool angle on the precipitous rocky slopes of Chocorua, with the mountain's SE ridge trailing away to the L.

Trail signs in the col S of First Sister. Here it is called the Champney Brook Trail.

Just a little way down on Champney Falls Trail, a side path leads to a ledge with a look back up at the steep ledges of First Sister. This ledge also has excellent distant views to the north and west.

Good rock step work along the switchbacks.

On the way down I made the side loop down past Champney Falls. From the ledgy brook above the falls, there's a view to Owl's Cliff and Mt. Tremont.

Cool overhanging ledges above the falls.

The birch-lined upper part of Champney Falls. The loop trail is steep as it descends alongside these cascades.

The lower drop of Champney Falls. Not very impressive today.

Right next door is the flume into which Pitcher Falls drops. Not much water action here, either, but it's a beauty when in good flow. Champney and Pitcher Falls make for a pleasant hike (3.2 mi. round trip, 600-ft. elevation gain) if you're looking for an easier outing. It was a nice way to cap off a grand day up on the Sisters.

Friday, August 24, 2012

 MORIAH BROOK: 8/23/12

On a sunny and warm late summer day, Carol and I took a leisurely ramble up the Moriah Brook valley on the east side of the Carter-Moriah Range - one of our favorite places in the Whites. Stretching for five miles deep into the Wild River Wilderness, surrounded by high, lonesome ridges, this valley has a special magic. The mellow Moriah Brook Trail traverses the length of the valley, leading through lush hardwood and birch forests and passing by many inviting cascades and pools.

We made the long drive over through Gorham and Shelburne and down Rt. 113 to the gravel Wild River Rd. At the start of that road we stopped for a short walk to view the site where the suspension footbridge on the Highwater Trail was swept away during Tropical Storm Irene.

We parked at the trailhead by Wild River Campground, which was fairly busy for this remote location. Here we encountered a Harvard freshman orientation group heading out for a backpack trip. We  leapfrogged with them several times along Moriah Brook Trail. Nice young folks.  For the start of our hike we followed the Wild River Trail to the start of Moriah Brook Trail. At the junction there was more damage from Irene.

It's a long way up to the ridge - typical of the valleys on the east side of the Carter-Moriah Range.

The Moriah Brook Trail suspension bridge over the Wild River survived the storm.

Looking upstream (south) along the Wild River. Looked pretty placid this day.

There are some large old hemlocks along the bank of the Wild River.

We soon entered the 23,700-acre Wild River Wilderness.

Nice ledgy spot along the river.

More destruction from Irene.

After a section on the combined Moriah Brook Trail/Highwater Trail along the river, we followed Moriah Brook Trail into its namesake valley, mostly following the grade of a branch of the old Wild River logging railroad (1890-1903), with a few rough patches where the grade's been washed out. After another mile we came to the first crossing of Moriah Brook at the upper end of rugged Moriah Gorge. There was a railroad trestle at this location. This is the view looking down into the gorge from the trail crossing.

Farther up the valley I made a short bushwhack for a look at a scenic beaver pond on the south side of the trail.

A tall stand of Joe-Pye-Weed at the edge of the pond.

Nearby was this unusual grassy spot on Moriah Brook.

Recent beaver activity along the trail.

The section of trail between the first two crossings offers long stretches of smooth walking on the old railroad grade, through nice hardwood and birch forest.

At the second crossing, we headed downstream to a beautiful spot with ledges, a pool and cascades.

We relaxed on a ledge shaded by an overhanging yellow birch. A wonderful spot on a warm late summer day.

Carol went a-wading in her Crocs.

Banding on a ledge of gneiss, I believe.

After a long lunch break, we headed back to the trail.

Looking back at our hangout ledge.

We continued up the trail, passing more cascades and pools.

Then we set off on a bushwhack to one of the many open ledges on the SE slope of Mt. Moriah, which was burned over in 1895 in the wake of intensive logging. We'd been to this ledge twice before in years past, and looked forward to another visit.

The ledge offers an unusual view up to massive North Carter, with Mt. Lethe on the L and Imp Mountain on the R.

A zoom on the bowl beneath North Carter. The upper part of a new slide unleashed by Tropical Storm Irene can be seen on the L.

 From the ledge, there are also views of higher cliffs and ledges on the SE ridges of Moriah. The white-topped crag on the upper right of this photo is a commanding perch.

A photo taken from that crag during a 1996 bushwhack exploration with Peter Doucette and Creston Ruiter, looking down the Moriah Brook valley.

There's a peek up at the great rocky knob high on the main SE ridge of Moriah.

That knob is an amazing spot, as Creston Ruiter and I discovered on a 1995 bushwhack. Click here for a great photo report on a 2009 bushwhack to this peak by Chris Whiton.

Our ledge also gave us a partial look at the long east ridge of Middle Carter. This was traversed by the late Guy Waterman during his incredible journey climbing the 4000-footers from all four points of the compass in winter. More recently, master bushwhacker J.R. Stockwell also traveled this entire four-mile trailless ridgecrest.

Nice open spruce woods on our bushwhack today.

On our way back, we took a long break at another gorgeous cascade-and-pool combo.

An iron pin left over from the logging days.

Good axe work near the beaver activity area. We made a full day of it along Moriah Brook, and vowed to return again next summer.