Author’s note: Today, as New Hampshire rests and we all breath a sigh of relief that Sandy seems to have passed through the state without too much hardship, I thought I’d offer our readers an extended excerpt from our recent hike up Middle Sister and Chocorua. This hike was a watershed moment for us, where all our effort and training these past few months played out. Janelle and I agree that Chocorua was our favorite mountain on our journey thus far. Thoughts go out to our friends in the mid-Atlantic. Stay safe and dry everyone! Onward!
Janelle blows by two hikers like they are standing still.
The enormous summit block of Chocorua rises before us like a granite castle, hard rock seemingly shooting straight up like grey seracs. A stiff wind rolls up out of the valley, gaining velocity as it creeps up the side of the mountain. Atop one ledge, the wind hits us and I watch her hobble for a split second before planting a pole, ducking her head and regaining her balance. She’s learning how to do this, how to readjust to changing, and challenging, conditions.
She loves rock. She asks on every hike if there is any scrambling. Now, Janelle has a full quarter-mile of nearly nothing but rock – exposed and sheer – to play on. I work hard to keep pace.
In some areas the trail takes us up and over ledges that are eye level on her. But we work together. The wind is too loud to hear each other, but after 44 mountains we know each other well enough to not need to talk. She’ll toss me her poles, use her hands, then I’ll toss them up to her. In one instance, she waits before climbing up a ledge and I realize she wants me to plant myself below, in case she slips.
It is a solid 30 minutes of trail dance as the girl and I duck and dodge and shimmy up this mountain, on top of the world, at the top of our game. Two months ago, she could not have done this. I would not have let her try. But now, we’ve reached that moment that hikers always long to feel, where the hike is effortless, where you are so in the moment with the trail that there are no aches or pains, no worries. Only joy.
We spin like this around the base of the summit rock, and she skitters ahead of me toward the summit. There, near the top, we encounter reality.
“Wow, guess you’re going to be mad at your dad later for dragging you up here, huh?”
The man near the summit directs his question at Janelle. The question is so abrupt and sharp, the girl freezes. At nearly 3,500 feet in howling wind, fully exposed to the elements, I’m not interested in engaging anyone in a long explanation so I ignore the “dad” part and make light of the comment. “Nah, she’s the one dragging me up here. She kicked my butt all the way up!”
But he won’t let it go.
“You ever been here before? First mountain?” Again, he addresses Janelle. She shakes her head no to both questions.
“We’re working on the 52 With a View list, we’re nearly done,” I say, sidling up next to her. “Let’s go find some shelter from this wind and get a bite to eat, kiddo!”
We stop at the glorious summit for a moment, then drop down to a lower rock shelf that breaks the wind. But he’s not done.
“You know, if you go down the summit area about 100 yards or so,” he points south, “you can find some shelter.”
All I can think is that 100 yards off the summit is no longer the summit. “We like the views,” I say pleasantly.
“Great views from down there as well,” he says.
“We’re good. Thanks.” I put an edge to my tone which he appears to hear as he doesn’t bother us again. And soon, there are half a dozen other hikers at the summit and we’re forgotten.
Janelle and I lean back against the rocks and sip chicken noodle soup out of a thermos, and all is again right with the world. After a little while, she says, “That guy, there was something wrong with him.”
“Guess he was a little creepy, huh? I’m sorry if he ruined your hike.”
“What? Why would he do that?” she says. “This has been my favorite!”
A hiking friend of mine once suggested that to some adults, after spending hours huffing and puffing their way up a mountain, seeing a child at the top deflates their own sense of accomplishment. Bursts their bubble, so to speak. We’ve been lucky, Janelle and I, surrounded by family and friends and a hiking community that is genuinely enthusiastic and encouraging about our quest.
And now, as we sit at the top of Chocorua with the waves of wind from approaching hurricane Sandy bursting like tiny explosions over the mountain’s bald top, the end is in sight. In two weekends, if all goes well, we’ll tag the summit of Starr King together and then… what?
For now, though, this is enough.
Middle Sister and Mt. Chocorua (10/28/12)
Heights: 3,340 and 3,500 feet
Location: North Conway, off the Kanc. Route 93 north to Exit 32 Route 112 (The Kanc) to The Champney Falls Trailhead on the south side of the road.
Our trailhead: Champney Falls Trail to Middle Sister Cutoff to Middle Sister, then the Middle Sister Trail to Piper Trail to summit. On the return, straight down the Champney Falls Trail.
Distance: 8.1 miles.