Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snowshoeing Zealand Road

Blog Gods please forgive me; it's been six months since my last post.  I couldn't have made this one any easier for myself, hopefully as a reintroduction to regular reports!

On Sunday we met up with Hannah, Amy, and their furkids to hike up the seasonally closed Zealand Road off of Rt 302.  Parking is about a quarter mile down the road on the opposite side of the highway at the Ammonoosuc Lower Falls Trailhead.  I'm not sure if it is marked as such but, coming from the south, there is a sign warning hiking trails are coming up.  This time of year, there's always a mix of pick up's trailering snomo's, the snow-covered vehicles of the hardy folk who camp at the hut, an us day-adventure types.

Generally speaking, hikers and skiers walk along the edge of the snomo trail to get to Zealand Road.  After the picnic area and bridge, the snomo trail veers to the left and the road goes up a hill.  About a mile up, just before the bridge that precedes the Sugarloaf Trail, the road shares paths with snowmobiles once more.

We've always done our best to stick to the side during these junctions and the snomo drivers have always kindly given us a wide berth.  Truly a mixed-usage trail success!

Of course, with the blizzard that's currently dumping snow on us, trail status is irrelevant so I share mostly to highlight the enjoyability of walking Zealand Road this time of year.  Thanks to the hut and its suitability for crosscountry skiers, we've yet to break trail on the road.  Snowshoes have always been our foot gear of choice here. 

The road is gentle and elevation gain is minimal.  For us, those qualities afforded the perfect opportunity for Ty to explore and feel accomplished while carefully building up Tango's mileage, in hopes he will want to join us for bigger adventures in the future.  I'm thrilled that these 7.5 miles passed well and he was jovial and loose the next morning!


Most of the road had one well-trodden route and a less packed but still broken out path running parallel.  Hiking as a group, this was a nice feature that offered us the ability to break from the usual single file formation and/or pass easily.  The road follows the river for much of the way and there are a couple of scenic breaks in the trees.  Otherwise, the surrounding woods are pretty dense.

Sleds make great tracks to follow!
Snowshoeing Zealand Road checks a lot of boxes: to gain confidence in the winter, to get outside on the days serious exertion isn't of interest, in a secluded area but you're not alone, and not too long nor too short.   This is a pretty, non-dramatic hike where it's easy to become absorbed in good conversation and the airy peacefulness of the area.

Looking for the easy way down?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Chocorua and the Sisters (8/13/17)

Route: Champney Falls Tr - Champney Falls Cutoff - Middle Sister Tr - Piper Tr - Champney Falls Tr
Mileage: appx. 9 mi
Elevation gain: appx. 2500'

Happy September! I doubt we have many readers left after my gratuitous two month hiatus but thanks to those who are still around!  We've been doing small hikes, lots of conditioning, and some training while not being on the computer very much, which I think is generally a good thing!

Out of the large handful of unfinished drafts in my queue, I've chosen Chocorua & the Sisters somewhat randomly as the review to restart the blog and what a great hike it was!  Chocorua was our first White Mountains hike a few years ago and, as I'll probably talk about in my next piece about Caps Ridge, time and experience really can affect perception!

Ty and I started at 8:15AM; I was aiming to not be there so early that we'd be waking up the critters and definitely early enough to beat the masses, as it was a gorgeous day that begged for a crowd.

We walked over the trickling stream, passed two people heading back, and smiled knowing we wouldn't see anyone else for awhile.  The path was somewhere between single file and carriage road in width and generally easy walking.  We gained elevation smoothly and almost unnoticeably.  When we reached the side path for Champney Falls, we opted to take it for the water access.  The price we paid was a rougher trail than before.  While Ty merely looked irritated, I had to stop often to appreciate the step work done by trail builders and maintainers.  However, she did enjoy tiptoeing close to the water as it spilled over the falls as I waited.

Left to the Falls, right up the main path. Decisions, decisions.

Returning to the main trail, we enjoyed the still moderately easy (by ascent standards) and decent footing, albeit a tad rockier than below the falls.  It eventually transitioned to more rocks than not and we encountered the switchbacks that I found so exhausting years ago.  They're interesting switchbacks, being very narrow as shown a few photos below below.

The progression towards rocky

First vista
Aforementioned switchback
When we hit the Champney Falls Cutoff, we veered left towards Middle Sister.  The trail seemed much less traveled than the previous one and a nice change of scenery.

After powering up the mountain to keep to a time goal, we lost serious ground here.  This trail is a gem hiding in plain sight! About halfway through the cutoff, we popped out on a little ledge with beautiful views and more blueberries than we could pick.

Picking blueberries

We finally decided to part with the blueberry bushes and walked the last few minutes up to Middle Sister Trail, another beaut!

At the summit of Middle Sister are some interesting structures that intrigued me and conjured mixed emotions for Ty.

From there we continued to the junction with Carter Ledge Trail.  Along the way we encountered rougher sections, brief scrambles, and more gorgeous views.  And yes, so many blueberries!

Always taking in the views
I constantly feel judged as she sits atop a scramble and waits for me

From the junction, we backtracked to the Champney Falls Cutoff then continued straight on Middle Sister Trail towards Mt Chocorua.  More mountain magic!  I'll let the pictures do the explaining:

(Middle Sister Tr between Champney Falls Cutoff and Piper Tr):

We took Piper up to the summit.  The summit cone is so much bigger and more exposed than I realized and we did quite a bit of walking up open ledges.  Ty was strangely unsure that morning, I think due to the wind, but we powered through.

About to break treeline
In the back of my head, I had known for awhile we did not  reach the official summit (or at least I didn't, who knows what the dogs accomplished). We might've been mere feet away but it was our first bigger hike, it was characteristically busy and, without any inkling we'd be going for any hiking lists, we stopped at the first spot that looked good to have our summit snack.  And so we finally scrambled up to the official summit marker on 8/13/17.

The yellow blazes were very helpful
 We didn't linger, as Ty definitely wasn't thrilled with the wind but we backtracked down Piper to walk a couple of girls back to their group.  From there, we jogged as often as the terrain and flow of other hikers would allow, again opting to descend via the Falls.  Our timing was decent and we managed to sneak between the late starters and first round of descenders.  That being said, I can't wait to be back on a trail where the population comprises almost exclusively of avid hikers, not visitors out for a hike. I mean absolutely no offense meant to those who come out to enjoy the mountains on vacation or seasonally but there's an unspoken language within the hiking community that I miss, having mostly been doing small & unpopulated or "tourist" trails lately.
The very last junction, perhaps 50 feet from the summit
Barely humoring me for a summit photo
View from the top (or a couple feet below it)
After having memories of this hike (sans the Sisters) being challenging, it was a pleasant realization that Champney Falls is a really enjoyable trail, albeit a little steep for those only interested in the falls compared to other easier access ones like Sabbaday and Glen Ellis.  I think at the time, my focus was all different and it was difficult.  Today I consider it on the easier side of moderate for us.  It is still a solid challenge for folks just beginning their hiking "career." And I see why it is a great starter peak with its incredible summit views.  Visiting the Sisters first was the best, getting to enjoy almost 100% solitude before Chocorua and seeing it beyond the col.  Pay close attention at junctions, especially towards the top; the signage is good but the markers are somewhat worn.

I've learned to appreciate terrain so much more than I used to and I think that new perspective and many more hikes under my belt, made this trip so much more fun than the first time.  Up to the falls is pretty easy to navigate with almost unwavering consistency.  The switchbacks and rocky sections from there to the ledges are tricky, especially because they're usually damp.  The ledges vary from waves of smooth rocks to somewhat steep and demanding of caution.  As far as pups are concerned, there aren't many reliable water sources past the falls.  Along the ledges, there are  places keeping an extra eye on a green trail dog is essential for their safety and that of others but below the trees, the terrain is pretty straightforward for four-paw-drive.  My final note is the seasonality of this choice in trails: holy crap busy in the summer, probably too icy in the shoulder seasons and overall way more interesting than I gave it credit for!