Thursday, May 2, 2013

Middle Sister and Mt. Chocorua 5/2/13

Working title: I remembered the camera this time!

Peaks: Middle Sister, Mt. Chocorua

Trails: Carter Ledge Trail, bushwhack, Middle Sister Trail, Piper Trail, West Side Trail, Liberty Trail, Camp Penacook Spur, roadwalk

Mileage/time: 11.3 miles, ~3750 feet of gain, book time of 7:30, actual time of 7:00

The alarm went off at 4am. I reset it, closed my eyes, and in what felt like the blink of an eye, the alarm was going off again. In the end, I reset the alarm for 6, and went back to sleep. My body was not ready. By the time I rolled out of bed at 6:20, I figured that I wouldn't be doing all the redlining I planned for the day. No worries. The last time I did these peaks, I neglected to bring my camera, and what a damn dirty shame that was. As you'll soon find out, the MSAP (May Snow Avoidance Program), didn't go exactly as planned.

The drive up was typical, though there was a lot more traffic than usual, and I pulled in to White Ledge Campground, to find the gate still shut. Oh well, not like it's going to add much of a walk. Trail runners on, starting in zip off pants, and a t-shirt. I walked past the gate, and took an immediate left (on a one-way!), and was shortly at the Carter Ledge Trailhead. The first mile went fairly quickly, and it got really warm in the open woods. I zipped off the legs of my pants, it's so nice to hike in shorts again. Signs of spring were everywhere, though there were no wildflowers yet, and the trail was nice and dry... no snow!!!

Leafing out
I considered taking the Middle Sister Trail, but figured I'd save that for another day, especially since it ends up being north facing in its last mile or so to the ridge. The trail steepened for a bit in the next mile, before flattening out near the junction with Nickerson Ledge Trail. Originally, I'd planned on coming down Piper, and coming up Nickerson Ledge to get back to the car... but plans have a habit of changing.

After the junction, the pitch increased again, climbing up to a gravel slide, where the trail switchbacked to the right. This offered me my first view of the day, up to the southeastern cliffs of Chocorua, with the waning half-moon setting above the ridge.

I was now hiking through one of the few Jack Pine stands in New Hampshire, that just so happens to grace the 2400 foot top of Carter Ledge. This would be a great objective for a half-day hike with the family, the views are outstanding.

First and Middle Sister

Jack Pine on Carter Ledge, looking south

Washington between the Sisters/Blue Mountain col
The trail dropped slightly from the highpoint of the ledge, and I had my first impromptu bushwhack of the day, around a 6 inch deep pool of water, directly in the middle of the trail, with no rocks to step on. Sweet. I soon found myself staring upwards at the ledge encrusted slope of Middle Sister. This was also the point that I started to run into patchy snow, and the occasional bits of monorail. Nothing that wasn't easily dealt with, since the steeps were mostly dry, and lacking snow. Shortly, I reached the upper junction with Middle Sister Trail, a sweaty mess, and was greeted by a monorail.

I made two steps on Middle Sister Trail. Seriously, two steps, both steps lead to me post holing up to my knees. I was so warm, that I just stood there for a minute, letting the snow cool off my legs, then started back the way I came. Then I thought to myself, self, you're giving up too easily. There were bare ledges above me, so I started my second impromptu bushwhack, that avoided about 0.1 miles of the Middle Sister Trail. The portion above the junction was in much better shape, with a stable monorail. Soon, I reached the summit of Middle Sister, and the foundation of the fire tower.

I was on familiar trail now, as I'd come up this section my first time on Chocorua. It was mostly bare ledge, with some stable monorail. I also ran into the first people of the day, near the Champney Brook junction, a group of three gentlemen, and their dog. They had come up Champney Brook, and told me it was mostly packed snow, thanks to its north facing aspect.

Champney Brook Trail from near Middle Sister
I then climbed up to the summit of First Sister, a veritable stones throw from Chocorua, and carried onward. It was definitely warm in the sun!

Chocorua from First Sister
Upon reaching the junction with West Side Trail, I made a mistake. I decided to take the trail, in the interest of redlining. Little did I know that the monorail that I saw at the beginning, continued the entire 0.5 miles of the trail, and was unstable as all get out. I spent the next little while postholing, cursing, and postholing some more.

Once I reached the Liberty Trail, I was all out of curses, so they wouldn't make their way into this post. Having bypassed the summit, I was basically backtracking, and boy was it steep!

Rewards such as these are seldom gained easily, and this mountain is no exception. I ran into a guy coming down, who had come up Hammond and Liberty trails, and only ran into a bit of snow/ice. Upon reaching the summit, I had it to myself for a few minutes. Enough time to take a break, and take shots for a summit panorama.

It was breezy on the summit itself, and I ended up not lingering very long. Two of the three guys I ran into earlier came up, their third and the dog were waiting down near where the Piper Trail breaks treeline, and they quickly descended. I passed them as they were taking a break, and soon found myself below treeline, back on the solid monorail. I made it quickly to the junction, and sat down to take a quick break before heading down the rest of the Piper Trail. Three lovely ladies passed by while I was resting, they had also come up Champney, and were having a great time. Salutations to you ladies. Now it was descent time!

The monorail didn't last long, and I was left to descend on a pretty much completely dry trail. To say that this was a joy, would be an understatement, it was a long winter. There are some pretty nice views from the ledges on the upper Piper Trail, up to Chocorua, and out to the south.

I also took a quick jaunt up to Camp Penacook shelter, a mere 0.2 miles, and a stiff 170 feet of elevation gain from the Piper Trail. I could see myself wanting to wake up to this view.

The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful, as the trail was fairly gravely, and easy to hike on. I managed to catch a sharp root with the toe of one of my trail runners, and ripped it right open... damn, time for a patch job! After deciding to save Nickerson Ledge Trail for another day, I redlined the rest of the Piper Trail, and walked the 1.2 miles back to my car.

Figuring I deserved something for my effort, I stopped at a place I've seen many times in the past year or so, the Good Beer Store in Fryeburg. They weren't lying, they have a ton of good beer! I made my selections, made my way home, and am currently enjoying the fruits of my sweaty labor.

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