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 on our first visit (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 "non-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!