I had never hiked Chocorua, and still haven’t. Tyson has. He thought Isaac would enjoy climbing the iconic pyramid. We decided this at 8AM Saturday morning after I finished making pancakes for breakfast. We left the house at 9:30AM, which is record time for us to eat breakfast and pack for a hike, but still so late that we didn’t get to the trailhead until 11AM. We found a parking spot because it is November and past peak foliage season.
According to the AMC guidebook. The Piper Trail is the most popular route to the summit. The trail had been tromped out three people wide. To reduce erosion, wood timbers crossed the trail every 100 feet. Each timber stopped erosion above it, but below the timber, the dirt washed out resulting in a one foot high step. Isaac had a hard time with these steps.
The guidebook suggested Carter Ledge Trail was a more interesting ascent. It had rock scrambles and open ledges with views in almost every direction. By the time we reached the views, the low fall sun was to the southwest, directly behind Chocorua. If you want good photos of the peak, climb Carter Ledge Trail in the morning. We turned our cameras north to the rest of the Whites and Mount Washington. No snow yet on Mt Washington.
We had parked at the Piper trailhead rather than the Carter Ledge trailhead at White Ledge Campground, because the Piper Trailhead had more options for loops. Our most likely loop was up the Carter Ledge Trail and then back down the Piper Trail. I preferred a longer loop, described by the AMC guide, up the Carter Ledge Trail and then back down the gradual Hammond and Weetamoo trails. They would be better for Tyson’s knees, but at 9.6 miles total, might be more than we could achieve on a late start.
There is a definite last open knoll on the Carter Ledge Trail. From there, the trail disappears up the steep evergreen covered sides of the Three Sisters ridge. If we continued up to the summit, we might get slightly better views, but then we would have to descend the steep and overused Piper Trail. The descent didn’t seem worth the view, so we decided to instead climb to the Three Sisters ridge, see one view towards the Kancamagus Pass, and the descend the Middle Sister Trail to the White Ledge Campground. We would have to hike a final mile on the road, presumably in the dark. This seemed like a good compromise between my desire to go just a little bit further and Tyson’s knees need for a gradual descent.
We found ice on the slopes climbing up to the Middle Sister and more descending the northern crest of the ridge. We had to amend the rules to the blaze tag game so that every time you fall, you loose a point. Isaac still won since he was first. The Middle Sister Trail wasn’t as easy as I hoped. For large stretches it was either a dry stream bed filled with rounded rocks, or an active stream. Six inches of loose wet beech leaves covered the rocks and the water. We learned flat leaves meant they were floating on water whereas randomly ruffled leaves meant firm ground. Isaac discovered he could ski down the mountain, sliding the damp layers of leaves against each other. At least, that is, until his foot hit a hidden rock and he toppled onto more rocks. Several points got deducted in the blaze tag game.
As predicted, we came out after dark. 9.5 miles total. Despite our best efforts to pick a fun trail, Isaac was displeased with the descent. I liked the hike. We do need to return another day to summit Chocorua.