I arose at 5:15, after 3 to 4 hours of fitful sleep. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I can never get a decent nights sleep if I know I'm hiking the next day. It must be all the excitement. Breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheddar, bacon, and toast. Stopped to get coffee and gas, and was motoring up 302 just before 6. The drive to the trailhead was uneventful, roads I have trod many times before, no surprises. Arrived at 7:40, and quickly got myself ready, there was only one other car in the lot. Payed my $3 (really need to get a year pass), and snapped a shot of the trail sign at 7:55.
Getting used to hiking without poles is weird. I bent the hell out of the lower portion of one of them (just above the basket) on my hike to Mt. Abraham (ME) in June, and haven't bothered taking them out since. After using them for so long, on pretty much every hike I've been on in the past two years (which is a lot), it's been an adjustment to say the least. My balance has definitely improved without using them, though I'll admit, I flail around a bit. I have yet to encounter a major stream crossing without them, and I think I've subconsciously planned recent hikes to avoid them. Thankfully, the poles were bought at L.L. Bean, so receipt in hand, I returned my cork-handled Hikelite poles. I walked out with a pair of cork-handled Black Diamond poles, and payed $32 out of pocket. That's a win. At this point, I think the hike will determine whether or not I use or even bother to carry poles. Holy digression Batman!
The woods on the lower Champney Falls Trail (it's marked as Champney Brook Trail at the trailhead) were pretty special on this morning. Nice and quiet, rays of morning light getting caught by the still, humid, air. Crazy tiered fungus on a tree. I stopped to admire it all for a moment, everything was very serene. Working my way up to the loop, the trail was very rootbound and slick after recent rains. I made it up to the loop in one piece and made the turn. The falls were beautiful, and running well, but I have no pictures that do them justice. The camera was with me, the memory card, not so much. Continued on to the upper falls, and some fantastic rock work, and rejoined Champney Falls Trail.
After a couple big switchbacks, I came to Middle Sister Cutoff, and took a left. Views started to open up to the west and north, ranging from Whiteface to Washington, sweeping on a sunny day. The trail was very short, and put me on the Middle Sister Trail and a brief walk up some ledgy areas to the summit. 360 degree views from Middle Sister, I'll have to return when it's less hazy and see how many peaks I can pick out. Back the way I came, continuing on the Middle Sister Trail over First Sister, and then dropping down, to pick up the Piper Trail to the summit. Here's where I started to run into people, as I'd only seen one other guy far down on Champney Falls Trail.
Chocorua from First Sister
Piper Trail was pretty fun, right up to the top, with some nice ledge scrambling. Passed a group of 8 coming off the summit, and could see at least two groups behind me. I ended up having the summit to myself for about 10 minutes. Took off my shoes and socks, and stretched out in the sun. It was humid, but the temperature was comfortable, and the wind was just right. There were 5 groups that arrived shortly after I did, two solo, two groups of two, and a group of three. Even still, I hung around for 45 minutes enjoying the views.
Bear in mind, that I reached the summit at 10:30, and left at roughly 11:15. Now, I used to be a runner in my younger days, and knee issues made it impractical to continue it. What follows, is a miracle in my book. This was the second hike in my new La Sportiva Wildcat shoes, and they again proved themselves worth every penny. I was fast through the top part of Champney Falls Trail, even across slippery ledges, then it was like my feet wanted to move faster. Once below Middle Sister Cutoff, I gave in to the urge to jog. It wasn't effortless (or I can imagine, graceful), but it felt good, and I jogged most of the last 2 miles of trail.
I stared in shock at the time when I got to the trailhead. I had mapped this hike out the night before, and it came in at 9.11 miles, and 2885 ft. of gain, with a book time of 6 hours. The time upon my return was 12:30, beating book time by 1 1/2 hours! Maybe that will be the new game to play.
Great hike though, and I appear to have caught a good weather window. Back in Portland last night, there were thunderstorms that rolled through, one after the other, for at least 3 hours.
Vacation week, so lots of hiking on the agenda!