Again acting on the recommendations of Roger and Anne – we can’t thank them enough for making our New Hampshire hiking experience so wonderful – we head for Mt. Chocura in the Sandwich Range, an area we haven’t hiked in yet.
It, too is supposed to have great views, although it’s going to be hard to top yesterday’s hike.
The guidebook recommends two routes: the easy route up and back via the Champney Falls for 7.6 miles and 2,250 feet of elevation gain and another, steeper and longer, route. The longer route would be appealing except that it doesn’t pass the falls and we’d hate to be that close and miss a good waterfall.
In consultation with the maps and the AMC book, we’ve crafted our own loop hike, up the falls trail on the Eastern side of the summit, to the peak of Mt. Chocura, then back down the Western side of the mountain on three connecting trails, the last of which has a spur trail connecting to the Champney Falls trail about one-tenth of a mile in from where our car is parked. Without really thinking about it, we have crafted a 10.5-mile hike with 3,500 feet of elevation gain, much longer than any of our previous New Hampshire hikes and longer and steeper than the “more challenging” of Mt. Chocura hikes recommended by the guidebook.
We set out in the cool New Hampshire morning. Our trip to the trailhead includes 11 miles of the famed Kancamagus Highway along the Swift River with falls, gorges and beautiful views. A trip on this road had been recommended to us by several people, so we’re happy to see at least part of it.
The trailhead has a sign with a little bit of information about Benjamin Champney, a 19th century painter for whom the falls are named. It also has lots of little biting bugs, not an auspicious start to a long day. We spray on the Deet and head into the woods.
The trail is significantly less steep than yesterday’s hike but there’s also zero breeze. I’d much rather have steep and a little cooling. But Mother Nature has not given us a choice and, given the bugs, I’m not going to chance another round of Benadryl and Calamine lotion by zipping off the bottom half of my pant legs or rolling up my shirt sleeves.
About a mile and half in, we come to the falls and while the first part is not as spectacular as we’d hoped – it is midsummer after all and streams are at their lowest – we can feel a slight cooling from the water. If we were on the downside of the hike, I’d be immersed in a nearby pool but since we’re not, I content myself with dipping my hands in it.
It’s a nice little break before we’re headed back up the mountain.
Eventually we come out of the woods to a bare rock area and a sign (trail junctions are very well-marked with wood signs nailed to trees) that tells us we are only 0.6 miles from the summit of Mt. Chocura. We turn and head back into the forest for two tenths of a mile and come out to a huge rock mass that must be the peak.
And it is, except that it kind of isn’t. In the picture below you can see Walt in the near ground and a person standing on top of the peak in the background – some four-tenths of a mile away. That’s a lot of bald rock to go up to reach a peak. It’s not that we’re scared; actually we love the bare rock. It’s just that it’s still a long ways away. I’ve rarely seen a mountain that has this much bare rock for a summit.
We can hear voices of fellow hikers already on the summit and they sound very close but really it’s only because they’re above us and the air is so still. Every time we think we’re very close, the trail takes another turn, pitching us toward the western side as opposed to just letting us make an assault on the eastern side. An assault I’m very much tempted to just go ahead and do except, again, it’s bare rock and we have to trust that the people who marked out the trail took this circuitous route for a good (safety) reason.
When we finally reach the top, we are rewarded with views that are stunning. The peak offers a panoramic view lakes, mountains and valleys in every direction. “It doesn’t get old,” I say to Walt. For a little while on my sweaty way up the mountain, I was thinking “we just hiked yesterday; had gorgeous views; why are we doing this again?” Now I know why we’re doing it again. Because it is glorious at the top.
We marvel at a couple of little birds hopping around – I guess they’ve learned that hikers leave crumbs – and sit for own, well-deserved snack.
Heading back down, we’re surprised at how steep this side of the mountain is as well. “I guess there’s no easy way off this mountain,” I remark to Walt.
The trails are all well marked, so although we confront our maps and the pages torn from the book, we’re in no danger of losing our way, which is a comfort. We had noted that we down off the mountain for 2+ miles before we have an ascent of 1,250 feet, which doesn’t sound like a lot but we’ve already hiked 6 miles and 2,250 feet of elevation so when we hit the uphill, it feels much worse. (Anticipating the uphill, we had stopped about three-quarters of a mile back to enjoy a snack and, for me, a tootsie-soak in a cold stream.)
We cross a brook and, according to my directions, we are supposed to soon come to the “highest point of land” and start descending but the up just seems to keep going.
For anyone unfamiliar with hiking, I can tell you that it’s not so much the length of the hike, it’s the elevation gain. Our first New Hampshire hike, Mt. Willard, had only 900 feet of elevation gain and we’ve steadily increased. Mt. Percival was 1,750 feet of up, Mt. Crawford was 2,100 feet. Adding another 1,400 feet to reach 3,500 feet is a lot. Guidebooks vary, but depending on the steepness and your physical ability, every additional 500 feet of elevation gain will add between 15 and 30 minutes to your hike.
Once we finally crest, the descent is a fairly gentle, mostly pine-needle path (with some rocks and roots thrown in, of course). Walt starts walking in what I call “back-to-the-barn mode” meaning that he knows the end is near, he doesn’t have to conserve resources and the quicker he walks, the quicker we’ll get out. Once or twice, I’m tempted to ask him to slow down but I, too, am ready to be done. We’ve enjoyed it, of course, but there’s a certain point in the hike where you’ve reached the summit, enjoyed it, gotten your fill of nature and can only think about the joy that is taking off your boots and pack, sitting down and, for us today, enjoying the wind on our faces as we put the top down and head home.
I can almost hear non-hikers asking: why would you do this to yourself? Why push yourselves so hard when you didn’t have to?
Well, rain is in the forecast for tomorrow and as much as we love hiking and always hike prepared for rain, we prefer not to start a hike in the rain, so we’re planning a zero day for tomorrow anyway. Our thinking is: if we don’t need to think about getting up tomorrow or doing anything special, why not just push ourselves a little bit today?
And, yes, we do stop at our regular soft-ice cream stand on the way home. We may be tired but we’re not that tired.