How do you pronounce Chocorua? Possessing a distinct Mainer’s accent, I say “sha-core-ah.” I’ve heard other variations. Anyway you say it Mount Chocorua in New Hampshire is an outstanding hike.
My friend Suzanne and I had arrived at Chocorua’s alpine-like summit and were basking in remarkably hospitable conditions. Sitting atop a cliff, a clear sunny day with light winds provided an exceptional opportunity to savor some of the most spectacular views in the White Mountains. Frequently hiked, two large groups had been passed on our ascent of the Champney Falls Trail but that was just a sampling of what was to follow. Several trails converge near the imposing pinnacle and a cluster of trekkers had astonishingly materialized.
The summit cone of Chocorua is consequential. The final rugged boulder-strewn route culminates with a formidable clamber up precipitous ledges on the east side. Other approaches arguably require advanced climbing skills. Named for Chief Chocorua, a Native American who lived in nearby Tamworth in the eighteenth century, legend relates that he jumped to his death from the summit after a dispute with European settlers.
Our journey began when I posted a leader’s choice Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society trip proposing a mountain hike in New Hampshire. First to respond, Suzanne suggested Chocorua. My preference, it was an easy decision.
Both retired, Suzanne and her husband Gary have been my habitual outdoor companions for over 30 years. Our shared adventures hiking, paddling and skiing could easily fill a book. Unfortunately, Gary was sidelined with a health issue and other interested Chowderheads didn’t have sufficient time to complete the lengthy trip to and from the trailhead on Kancamagus Highway. One of the most popular outings in the White Mountains, we were never lonely.
A storm had passed through the Whites the previous night. Approaching the area, snow-capped peaks could be observed in the distance and a layer of ice and snow covered the road. The ground was unexpectedly clear at the trailhead. Assuming some form of accumulated frozen precipitation would be confronted at higher elevations, we packed micro spikes for our climb of the 3,478 foot peak.
Champney Falls and Bowles Trails begin together but Champney quickly separates left and crosses substantial Twin Brook. I remembered a bridge over the stream. Suzanne quickly observed that high water had washed it away a few years ago. Another example of my faltering memory, I didn’t bother to relate that I’d probably had the same conversation with others on previous trips. Fortuitously, a series of flat rocks facilitated a dry traverse.
Estimates of the distance vary, but according to my timeworn White Mountains Trail Map, the Champney Falls Trail is 3.2 miles to Piper Trail which continues another .6 to the top. The first 1.4 miles travels up a moderate gradient on an ancient logging road until connecting with a loop trail that visits scenic Champney and Pitcher Falls. At that point, the path steepened and a blanket of snow with sporadic ice was encountered.
At about 2.5 miles, several long switchbacks are carved into the side of a more abrupt slope. Moisture from the recent storm had pooled in the path leaving protracted sections of treacherous ice. Cautiously negotiating upwards, we passed the Middle Sister Cutoff Trail, angled up a final pitch, and joined Piper Trail.
Sunshine warmed us on expansive snow-covered boulders as we maneuvered through a patchy conifer forest fully expecting a hazardous icy surface for our anticipated summit attempt. Emerging above tree-line, we were gratified to find predominantly dry ledges facilitating a reasonably safe final scramble. As noted, the cone was cluttered with enthusiastic climbers.
After our prolonged respite on the alpine crest, dozens of hikers were met on return many inquiring about summit conditions. Micro spikes were donned for a measured descent on the icy switchbacks.
Reaching Champney Falls Loop Trail, an exploratory seemed a prerequisite. An ice climbing mecca in winter, the tumbling water had yet to freeze. Mystifyingly, the cameraman, that would be me, bungled his photo attempts. Readers will have to take my word that the falls are very impressive. For those in search of a shorter hike, a trek to the falls and back offers an easier three mile excursion. Taking a competent photographer is highly recommended.
“Don’t forget, the bridge over Twin Brook is washed out,” I repeatedly reminded myself on the drive home.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org