Last weekend, Amina, Sam, and I headed north. Our plan was to do a Bonds Traverse, but a spotty weather forecast had us rethinking that. We are pretty #weatherproof, but several hours on an exposed ridge in snow showers and 35 mph gusts didn’t sound like a lot of fun. So, I pulled out a map and looked for another option. Chocorua, with its close proximity to North Conway and many trails, was alluring. We could hike a good loop, and if the weather got bad, it would be easy to bail out.
We’d all taken Friday afternoon off, so we hit the road mid-afternoon and were in the Whites with plenty of daylight. “You guys want to go for a quick jaunt?” I asked. The reply was a unanimous yes, so we headed to Lincoln Woods.
Lincoln Woods is one of the most popular trails in the Whites, but we’d beat the traffic and had the place almost to ourselves. I kicked myself for not planning better and proposing it as a trail run, but Amina and Sam were happy to wander and chat. The trail is easy: flat and open, but also super pretty. The foliage was in it’s prime and the Pemigewasset River sparkled in the afternoon sun.
We kept things at an easy pace, and reached the bridge at Franconia Brook (2.5 miles from the parking lot) just as dusk was settling in. Pretty soon, we were walking in complete darkness, with headlamps to guide the way.
Normally, walking in the woods on pitch blackness would freak me out a bit. But with two friends by my side chatting about podcasts and running, I felt like I was out for a walk around the block. We got back to the car at about 7:30 and were eating pizza in North Conway before we knew it.
The next morning, we were up by seven. The day seemed pristine; a rainbow greeted us as we loaded up the car, and a clear blue sky hung over cloud-filed valleys. I wondered if we’d made a mistake scrapping our traverse plans. After a delicious bagel sandwich, we headed to the Piper Trailhead to begin our day in the woods.
Chocoura is an exceedingly popular hike, so I was surprised that there was plenty of space in the parking lot when we arrived at 9:30. Perhaps everyone had hiked the previous (holiday) weekend? Or maybe they were deterred by the forecast?
We had the whole day, so rather than hike straight to the top, I thought a loop might be more fun. We followed the route laid out here, going up Piper and then veering right to the Carter Ledge Trail. At first, I worried that we’d chosen something too easy. But things picked up once we were on the Ledge Trail and pretty soon we were scrambling over rocks and admiring the views.
After two hours of pretty heavy climbing, we stopped on a rocky ledge to catch our breaths and have a snack. Soon after, we were admiring the abandoned weather station at the top of Middle Sister. The weather had been pretty good until this point, but as we got there the winds picked up, the clouds rolled in, and it began snowing pretty heavily. The summit of Chocorua looked close, but it would take us more than an hour to cover the next steep and rocky 1.3 miles.
The snow tapered off, but the winds stayed steady as we reached the junction with the Piper Trail. Fortunately, the hard hiking was keeping us warm.
The last half mile was almost laughably hard. The yellow trail markers were faded and hard to find, and the winds were persistently strong. At some points we were heaving ourselves up rocks like clumsy billy goats. And after hours of seeing almost no one, all the trails on the mountain seemed to converge, placing us in a swarm of hikers, laden with babies, dogs, beers, and cameras. It was a bit chaotic.
Finally, we were at the top (about 4.5 hours after we started). We took a quick photo and then ducked into the lee-side of the mountain about 20 feet below the summit for a peanut butter sandwich and Ritter sport picnic. Out of the wind, everything was gorgeous.
Leaving the summit proved a bit confusing. My map clearly showed a trail to the Jim Liberty cabin from the summit, but an older gentlemen on top insisted that I had to go back the way I came and then pick up the Liberty Trail. We did, but then came to a junction after about a half mile that clearly went to the summit. I’m still not sure where I went wrong.
The hike down was much easier; steep, but no rock scrambling. My legs felt great, and hiking with poles made the descent much easier on the knees. We picked up the Weetamoo Trail, which brought us back to the Piper Trail and were back at the car in about two hours.
Length: 10.5 miles
Time: 7 hours, 6 hours hiking
Temp: ~30 degres
Gear: heavy base layer, ski shell, hat, buff, gloves, and poles.
Other stuff: space blanket, extra layers (top and bottom), water, snacks, headlamp, first aid kit