Monday, May 19, 2014

Mt. Chocorua 5/18/14

Mt. Chocorua (3,490') via the Piper Trail, May 18, 2014

Mileage:  8.6 RT

Elevation gain:  2,700'

Trailhead: Piper trailhead is located off Route 16 in Albany, NH.  Heading north it's just past Lake Chocorua on your left - well marked, next to a general store.  Bathrooms, too!

Hiked with Rich today.  This is my 3rd visit to the summit of Mt. Chocorua but my first up the Piper trail.  I'd hiked to the peak using the Champney Falls trail in 2006, and in 2012 went up the Nickerson Ledge trail and down Piper.  I remembered Piper as being a mellow trail with good views (see previous report). 

We almost bagged the idea of hiking Chocorua when the forecast declared the weekend to be a washout.  Luckily the storm system moved quickly. This is not the hike to do in wet conditions (slippery rock) with low visibility (can't miss the views).

The recent rain swelled rivers and streams and water crossings everywhere in the state were difficult. Since the Piper trail's crossings are all bridged, this trip was the perfect choice this weekend.  Besides, Rich's last trip up Chocorua was uncomfortable for him and I wanted to see to it he returned to that rocky top a more confident scrambler!

There were just a few cars in the lot when we arrived at 9:30.  We paid our $3 to park and headed out.  There wasn't a bug in sight (unusual for this time of year).

The trail starts off with a muddy re-route section that spills out onto an old road - wide and forgiving.  The climb is very gradual, with alternating flats and ascents. 

Wide, easy path.
It's obvious this area is groomed for tourists; not too many NH trails have rock steps and are maintained with terraces.  It's this way for about three miles - up to a fine overlook.

A spectacular view.
Above the overlook it's a completely different story, however, with several challenging sections of rock slab.

Sections of the slabs were wet, due to runoff.
These slabs were easily taken, though our legs still weren't fully conditioned for the summer hiking season.  We avoided the wet areas of rock  (it would be a lot trickier hiking these in the rain).  For those of you lacking tread or confidence, all slab sections have tree roots and bushes to hang on to on the sides.

In and out of the woods we trekked, each overlook more spectacular than the last. 

This area has a nice view and a pretty steep pitch.
Chocorua's ridge and peak looming.
We met a few people on the trail, not as many as we thought we'd see on this very popular trail to a favorite NH peak.  At the trail junction we turned left and headed to a second junction that offered a "bad weather" option for those days when the weather turned, making it unsafe to be on the rocks. 

Left takes you out onto the ridge and rocky summit; right avoids the exposed rocks.

This area was quite busy; all trails merge to this spot. We went left toward the rocky peak. 

It's important to note that Chocorua's rocky summit cone requires nothing more than some basic scrambling. Watching people hanging from rock cliffs or appear to be on a treacherous edge can put a lump in the throat of anyone who's uneasy with heights or unsure of their strength and ability to climb rock. It looks more intimidating than it actually is.

Slab walking and scrambling. 

Rich found the one spot that made him uneasy on his last visit years ago.  He easily got past it and climbed the small steep to the nub that is the summit.

In 2006, he couldn't stand on this rock, too exposed. 

The wind picked up and clouds hid the sun so we took some photos and weaved our way through the hoards to find a spot for lunch.

Coming down Piper had its minor challenges; we were fine so long as we avoided the wet on the slabs.  We were down quickly seeing only a few people.  The groups we met on the summit had apparently come up via Champney Falls, Liberty or Middle Sister trails.

Since this is early in the season, we enjoyed no bugs and few people. This peak gets very busy in the summer, best to go on a weekday to enjoy the fun scrambles and wonderful views.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sandwich Mountain and Jennings Peak May 12, 2014

Sandwich Mountain (3980') and Jennings Peak via Drakes Brook and Sandwich Mountain Trails, May 12, 2014.

Mileage: 8.6 miles (lollipop loop)

Elevation Gain:  2,600' ish

Trailhead: Route 49 toward Waterville Valley. Take a right less than a mile before Tripoli Road. The parking lot is straight ahead. The Drakes Brook Trail trailhead is a short walk up a x-c ski run, located to the left of the lot.

This is the third time I've hiked to Sandwich, latest being two years ago (see previous report).  Rich and I were looking for a good first-of-the-season hike, easy going with some elevation gain. 

We decided to hike up Drakes Brook Trail and down Sandwich Mountain trail, our decision based upon recent reports that the Sandwich Mountain trail's water crossing was high and pretty tough to negotiate. (We preferred to deal with a barefoot crossing at the end rather than at the beginning.)

Well, it was a good plan but the Drakes Brook water crossing was also very high (snow melt and recent rain).  We scouted upstream for possible rock hopping but nothing looked promising and neither of us wanted to deal with wet boots so early on. Rich wanted to forget this trail and go back to the Sandwich Mountain trail but I finally convinced him that this was the way to go and off came our boots and socks.

The water was cold and swift and but the rocks are fairly smooth and we got to the other side without problem. 

Drakes Brook trail is devoid of blazes or cairns.  The easy path is obvious in most places; real elevation gain comes just before the trail junction.  Remnants of snow and ice appeared as we ascended. Rich was certain we'd have to cross the river again but only once did we find ourselves at the shore and here the path turns a rocky right, tightly skirting the edge. Then back into the woods. 

At the Sandwich Mountain trail junction we did a fast jaunt up to Jennings Peak for lunch.  It was sunny with calm winds; the view is wonderful. (It's been a really long time since I lingered at a summit!)

View from Jennings Peak
We returned to the junction and turned right, heading up to the summit of Sandwich.  The higher we went, the more the snow and ice challenged us until finally we put on our Microspikes and charged up the monorail.  There are a few blow downs in this area but none are new and all easily climbed over or under.

The snow deepened, to about 10 inches.  (We are SO OVER snow!)

Soft snow; will be gone after the next warm spell.
The summit is obvious. The earth tops out with an outcropping and a cairn (and a metal pipe in the rock).  We stopped just for a minute. 


 As we headed down Sandwich Mountain trail I was thinking how "vanilla" this hike had been.  The path was sweet and sunny and without much deviation, just as I remembered. 
Sweet path.
I was in for a pleasant surprise as we got closer to Noon Peak.  The terrain got rougher and more interesting, with several overlooks and easy slab scrambles. 

Steeper than I remembered.
I forgot how interesting this trail is!  If not for the yellow blazes I would've wondered if we'd taken the wrong turn along the way (which would have been hard to do seeing as how there are no turns off the path).

Up another rocky ledge and suddenly I heard something.  Looking up I saw a large beaver in the middle of the trail, growling and snorting. No amount of "shoo!" or sticks clacking or branches thrown would get him to move. We'd get closer and he'd growl and stand his ground.  We'd retreat.  We blew our whistles. Nothing.  Threw almonds to him - he was no gray jay!  This went on for fifteen minutes! 

What to do what to do....  There was no bushwhacking around him on this particular area (just above Noon Peak) and what was a BEAVER doing this high up anyway?  No ponds were nearby.  Was he sick?

We headed back up the trail, out of sight and waited.  If he didn't leave, doubling back would be the only option. The afternoon was waning and I didn't relish going back up and then down Drakes Brook trail - all because of a beaver no less!

We decided to try again to get by that section of trail.  I made Rich go first this time - we'd already established that our friend did not like me.  

Thankfully, the beaver was nowhere in sight.  Not sure if he'd moved on (he was probably just hiding, waiting for me).  We walked quickly past the area, yelling and clacking our sticks and looking like total fools.

Later we'd find out a beaver killed a man in Belarus -just for taking its picture. Of course he DID try to pick it up!
Over Noon Peak, down more rocky areas and one steep part and we were on our way toward the car.  Phew! That beaver was something.

Just before reaching the trailhead we got to the water crossing in the reports. This was quite a raging river, so much so that we unbuckled our packs before crossing and used our poles to stabilize cold bare feet through the deep rushing water. 

Back at the car it occurred to me that we were totally unprepared for our exchange with a wild animal.  We expect and look out for crashing and snorting - bears, moose and such - but this guy, though big for a beaver (tail must've been 2 feet long) was small in stature and big on intimidation.  Space cured all of our uneasiness and we went our separate ways without incident.