#44 & 45 Middle Sister and Chocorua: Excerpt

Tough Cookie takes in the views from near the summit of Mt. Chocorua.

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?”

Working the ledges of Chocorua, Tough Cookie gets epic!

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.

Atop Middle Sister, Tough Cookie does not appear to have been “dragged” anywhere!

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.

Categories: Excerpts and 52WAV Mountain Stats | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “#44 & 45 Middle Sister and Chocorua: Excerpt

  1. Nancy

    Once again, she’s unfazed by another’s behavior, adept with her people-reading skills, unwilling to allow someone/thing else steal her joy. Good for her!!
    And how sad that someone else feels the need to control, for whatever reason. Takes all kinds, everywhere, huh?
    I’ll admit, I’m a bit sad to realize this particular journey for you two is nearing it’s end. I know there will be more adventures to come – and Janelle will continue to grow in so many ways from this beginning – but the 52WAV has been one continual “wow!” for me. Thank you, always, for sharing this with us.

    • Well, we’re still new to this Nancy and who knows, maybe he was just trying to be helpful and the tone was all wrong. But yes, she’s pretty unflinching when it comes to her hiking. She knows she can do it and isn’t interested in naysayers!

  2. I agree with everything Nancy said. Janelle is one amazing young lady (and you’re not so bad yourself, Dan). I know that this is only the first list for you and there will be many more journeys, both on and off of lists, for the two of you to enjoy. I’d tell you to make the most of every one of them, but I know that isn’t necessary.


  3. You and she will continue to get that from certain kinds of people. Fortunately, most of the people you’ve met (and will continue to meet) will be supportive. Everyone else…well…let’s just say they’re not worth knowing anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Shoot, wish I could edit my response. That should have read, “…most of the people you’ve met have been supportive, as will most of the people you’ll meet in the future.”

    • Hi Trish, yup you’re right. As you say, 99.9 percent are on board and excited and supportive. Sometimes that’s what makes that tiny percentage that isn’t just stick out I guess. I know I really shouldn’t dwell on it but it was the first time it appeared to clearly happen and I wanted to record the experience. Onward!

  5. Scott R.

    I confess! My bubble has been burst in the past, not by kids though, by a “very” pregnant women. I’m exhausted, heart slamming, you know. I get lapped up and down! Oh well, next on my bubble bursting list are the DOGS! I’ve met a few that have completed the 48 TWICE, and they carry NO GEAR! Their owners are their Sherpa’s! Oh well hike on.

    • Hi Scott, I remember you mentioning that, LOL! I’ve been in that spot as well. I just chalk it up to my being out of shape, haha! And you bet, we’ve hiked with some dogs that run up and down the trail so much they likely hike the thing three or four times to our once!

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