March 1, 2013.
Okay, so I've taken pictures of this peak over and over from all different perspectives. It is, after all, one of the most photographed mountains and also one of the most popular to climb. Yet I have not climbed this peak due to feeling a little intimidated by its steep rocky cone. I know I should know better than to let looks of a mountain keep me at a distance but this one has and now it is time to tackle it and get over my fears of Mt Chocorua. Cursed (see story) or not I am going up and stand on top of this infamous mountain today.
The plan is to do a decent loop coming up one side of the mountain and down the other. Passing by Chocorua Lake and I get a good view of today's objective from Route 16 and that damn rocky cone looks so steep.
Reaching the trailhead and of course this being winter plans have to be very flexible. I pulled into the small plowed section in front of the gated entrance to Carter Ledge Campground and got out to look at the tracks in the snow. I was not encouraged as there was only one set heading up the closed road and who knows how far in they go. Coupled with the cold temps, -6° when I went through Moultonboro, and I need to rethink my plans. Heading back down Route 16 and I get to the pull-in for Piper Trail which is a different parking location during winter. The regular lot is not plowed nor maintained during winter so the neighbor who lives next to the road offers parking for $3. When I pull in the sign says private property and not sure what to do I park and get ready thinking about what to do at the same time. As I am getting ready I notice the other side of the sign says to pay at the house. Figuring it is too early and that they are not up yet I leave and park a short ways up on Route 16 in a pullout. On the way out I notice the trail and it looks well packed out so I'll head up Piper Trail and see what happens. Returning to where the trail leaves the road and it is really packed out as I stop to put on my snowshoes.
Heading up the unplowed entrance road to the summer parking and a view of Chocorua.
Starting out on the Piper Trail and it remains well packed. Snowshoes are probably overkill for today with the low temps but the higher temps of last weekend and the barebooters left a lot of postholes in the trail. Rather than risk barebooting myself and twisting an ankle in a hole I'll keep the snowshoes on and clomp my way up. About a half mile up and the first junction with Weetamoo Trail is on the left. It has seen some recent skiing activity and might be an option for coming down but for now I'll stick to the well traveled Piper Trail.
Skirting a small slope and I come across the most oddest thing I have seen to date. Couldn't even guess the story behind this one!
The early morning skies are a fantastic blue and hopes of great views when I reach the top are encouraging. After crossing Chocorua River the trail starts a consistent ascent and slowly the summit comes in and out of view through the trees.
Reaching the junction with Camp Penacook Spur in less than two hours from starting at the trailhead and what a nasty cruel joke this spur is. Steep is the description and even though it is only two tenths of a mile and seemed like a long time to get up it was only ten minutes away. The reward is worth it as there is an opening through the trees right from the face of the three sided shelter.
The shelter itself and a view of Chocorua from the shelter.
And some strange tracks in the snow which I assume are the wing tips of a bird that flew too close to the snow?
Back down the spur trail and the skies have turned gray as I continue up the Piper Trail and reach the first set of ledges. Kearsarge North with South Moat in front and across the way Carter Ledge with White Ledge in the back.
Turning left on the ledges and a short ways up two views of Chocorua from different locations along the ledgey trail.
Still trying to get into hiking shape and this being the first major challenge since starting up again and I start to have doubts of reaching my goal for the day. The wind is getting stronger as I move up in elevation and exposure. Thankfully I am on the southern side and somewhat protected by the winds but the steepness and elevation are also starting to bother me. Turning around and I get a look back of how far I have come so far today.
Fighting back the temptation to quit and putting all the obstacles in front of me behind and I push on. I use this weak moment as a test for when I am on the AT and convince myself that quitting is too easy. I remind myself that part of the reason I do this is to challenge, test and push myself. This is a popular mountain and can't be as bad as I am letting it seem. So how bad can this seemingly steep summit be? I have been in worse weather conditions and more challenging terrain and as I am contemplating all this I look up and see what I have always looked for when photographing this mountain. My first sighting of another hiker on the summit and that helps my very overworked thoughts.
Less than an hour from leaving the shelter and I finally make the ridge line and a few minutes later cross paths with the guy who was just on the summit. Feeling more invigorated and determined now I make my way out of the trees and climbing up the first pitch I turn around and get the reward for persevering, Mt Washington in the clear.
Heading up and over to the right on a view ledge and there is a fantastic open view to the north. I can see all the mountains that I have climbed from Mt Israel all the way to Mt Washington.
Along this section the trail is exposed to the winds that are coming out of the northwest. It doesn't take long to start feeling the chill through my clothing. Moving on and the trail swings to the left over to the south side of the approach to Chocorua's summit where I am protected from the biting breeze. The snow pack is not that deep on this exposed section of trail and what is here has a nice glaze on its surface. Turning right and a glimpse of the summit getting closer.
Passing through a mini notch and the summit is dead ahead.
Clambering up and over a large boulder outcropping and there is no more protection from the wind here on in. I finally make it to the junction where Liberty and Brook Trail come up from the opposite direction. From here it is a 90° left hand turn up a steep incline to the large boulder summit
Climbing up on top and the wind is strong and biting. I do not linger long as I quickly snap some pictures of the surroundings. I am surprised that I have this very popular summit to myself though. Not sure how many people can make that claim but I am pleased to have this quiet time. On a less windy and much clearer day I would probably sit down and take it all in and try to pick out more familiar peaks off in the distance. But for now I'll settle with the southern Presis and Mt Washington.
And the pano of Sandwich Dome all the way to Kearsarge North.
With my camera clicking right exposed hand getting numb it is time to retreat out of the wind and when I arrive at the junction i have a decision to make. I really wanted to make this hike a loop but unfortunately Liberty Trail has not seen much traffic and from this vantage point it looked steep and definitely exposed to the winds. So rather than taking a chance of not being able to follow the trail down and having to possibly break trail I decide to take the safe route of heading back the way I came. The trip down is uneventful and on the way down I remind myself of how I didn't give in and accomplished what I set out to do. I can definitely add this peak to my favorites list and due to all the trails in this area know I will be returning many times in the future.
Final numbers: 9.7 miles, 6 hours and 30 minutes.
Redline Miles: 4.4, Total to Date: 480.6