Mt. Chocorua – 5/17/2008

The summit of Mt. Chocorua from the ledges on Piper Trail
The summit of Mt. Chocorua from the ledges on Piper Trail -photo Rich Scioli

This was the mountain that started it all for me.  My friend Rich and I had been talking about mountains – I don’t even remember why.  I knew of Chocorua, I had even climbed it once before, so we went.

We decided to take the Piper Trail out and back, an 8.4 mile round trip to the bald summit of 3,500′ Mt. Chocorua.  This trail starts behind Davies General Store – which is now closed, but was open at the time.  Too bad, it was a convenient place to grab snacks before the hike.

We started around 8:00 that morning, not sure what we were getting into or how our bodies would hold up.  Anyone who has hiked this trail will understand when I say we were both discouraged after the set of terrace-style stairs  encountered just as the trail begins to climb had our legs burning.  Those stairs turned out to be the most strenuous part of the hike.

To this day, nothing gets my quads burning like a set of stairs built into a trail, although I do appreciate the effort, and the purpose – these are often to keep people safe, keep them on the trail, and to prevent erosion.

Once back on the natural slope of the land, the legs cooled down and the beauty started to set in.  I had been in the woods so many times, but the air and the feel of it all was different here.  Leaves and needles seemed more green, the dirt seemed like a cushion over the mountain’s rock, and the stream that runs alongside the lower section of trail seemed cold (it is), fast (it was) and pure (it almost certainly was not).

We were heading into what was for us, the unknown, and it was exciting.

After an easy section of almost level trail, which runs through a truly beautiful stand of young beech trees, there is a steep section which includes more stairs, these ones built from rock, and then a couple of steep, open ledges.  These ledges are easy to walk up, unless they’re wet or icy.  But when you’re new to the mountains, they’re exciting.

What will the summit area be like if these ledges are way down here?  Of course, at reaching the top of them, you’ll look back down to see what you just came up.  It’s a rewarding feeling, seeing how steep they are, and on Chocorua the chances are good that you’ll get to watch other hikers on their way up, too.  But it’s not as rewarding as your first great view, easy to miss at the bottom of the ledges when you’re planning your path up them.

The Ossipee range to the south and the lakes that lie before them are an impressive sight from here.  So is Carter Ledge, which often convinces people to make that their next route up this mountain.

Carter Ledge from the Piper Trail, Mt. Chocorua, New Hampshire
Carter Ledge from Piper Trail

I often feel like a good view is almost the equivalent of taking a few minutes rest. It isn’t, but the mental boost is notable.

Invigorated, we moved on up the mountain.  We were both amazed to see patches of snow here and there.  It had long melted away at home.  Before you leave the trees near the summit, several trails converge in a flat area – another nice break in the ascent, especially before the steep and sometimes scrambling push to the summit.

Keep an eye on the yellow blazes painted on the rock here.  It may look like you can get to the summit however you like, but you probably can’t, and you shouldn’t for 2 reasons:

  1. You’ll likely run up to a cliff or into a vertical wall of rock.  There are big cliffs here, and walls too tall and steep to climb without rock climbing equipment.
  2. More importantly, you’ll damage the mountain if you leave the trail.  It’s not easy for things to live and grow up here, don’t make it harder for them.  This is especially true on a mountain like Chocorua, which is climbed by many people.

Under sunny skies and still maybe the best temperature/humidity I’ve ever hiked in, from the summit of Chocorua, we took in the views in all directions, especially to the north and west, where a sea of peaks showed us what else was there to be explored if we kept on doing this – learned more, got stronger, got better at it.

Hiker on the summit of Mt. Chocorua, New Hampshire
The author (in jeans!) near the summit -photo Rich Scioli

This entry is special to me in a couple of ways.  It was the hike and the mountain that started it all for me – still the mountain I’ve climbed more times than any other and will continue to climb.  In 2008, I didn’t own a camera – Rich took most of the photos on this trip, all were taken on his point and shoot.  We took 24 photos the entire day.  Now I usually take about 100.  It’s been interesting trying to remember the details with 8 years between then and now and not many photos to jog my memory.

I remember many more of those details than I wrote here – most of them don’t make for good reading nor would they help on the trail – and I realize I don’t have that type of memory for most other things before that.

This trip was a life event, and I hope that comes through here, as opposed to a strict “here’s whats on this hike” guidebook-style entry.

Why didn’t I fall in love with it the first time?  Maybe it was the thunderstorm brewing at the top when we arrived, ominous and hiding the views.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind that day, or that year of my life.  Whatever the reason, it was a fun day, but not something I had any interest in doing for years after.

Knowing what I know now, this mountain or this trail may not have been my first one.  I’m sure whatever it might have been would have been a great trip, a beautiful hike on a beautiful mountain.  But I’m glad we did what we did that day – I wouldn’t change it for anything.  Would the trail have been just the right combination of beauty, challenge and enjoyment?  Possibly.  Would I still have reached a summit that showed off the other mountains in a way I couldn’t resist wanting to see them all?  Probably, but not definitely.  I’m glad I don’t know.

View from summit of Mt. Chocorua, mountains waiting to be explored
Waiting to be explored

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