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.