Published Date Written by Ed ParsonsI do a lot of hiking alone, because I like to get outside when I have the chance. I enjoy it, and don't feel isolated. I always leave word where I am going.
I also enjoy hiking with friends. A few weeks ago, I went for a 5.6 mile round trip afternoon hike up to the top of Carter Ledge on Mount Chocorua with a friend. We had known each other a few years, but this was our first time hiking together. Recently, he had gotten into four season hiking, and we finally connected for this moderate summer jaunt up to a great view.
The hike was basically a two and a half hour dialogue, sometimes with stretches of silence as we climbed, often with remarks concerning the view, yet most often with more general remarks about our wider lives, and where they intersected.
We started up the Carter Ledge Trail at White Ledge Campground (located 5.6 miles south of Conway on Route 16), and wound gradually up through the forest, swiftly leaving civilization behind. The junction with the Middle Sister Trail was a one mile mark, and with unspoken commitment we continued, reaching that open glade on a hemlock knoll where the junction with the Nickerson Ledge Trail is reached in another mile.
At that point you start to see the rise up to Carter Ledge through the trees to the west, and feel that slight boost of "wind horse" energy that comes with knowing that the trail will get steeper soon with interesting vistas along the way, culminating in a bare panoramic ridge top.
After a dip in the trail the steep switchbacks began. And of course, that is where we met a spread-out group of hikers descending.
The first lookout opening on that section is a small slope of rotten granite below a ledge seat. The view of the nearby summit of Mount Chocorua, rising at the end of Chocorua River valley, is a taste of the wide vistas to come.
A few more switchbacks brought us up to the rolling flat ledge of the ridge top, where stunted pitch pines share scattered forest patches with the unique evergreen called the jack pine.
Pinus banksiana, the jack pine, is called an eastern tree. But that just means that its range is east of the Rocky Mountains in Canada from the Northwest Territories to Nova Scotia. Interestingly, in the furthest west of its range, it hybridizes easily with the western tree called the lodgepole pine.
Often the White Mountains are considered at the southern end of its range, however, it is found further south in northwest Indiana.
Its short thick needles are in bunches of two. Its cones open when exposed to the heat of a fire. However, many of the older cones found on the stunted jack pine located on Carter Ledge are open. Two other alternatives might be the cause of this. One is when the heat reflected from the ledge just below the cones reaches above 80 degrees. The other is when the wind chill in the winter reaches minus 51 degrees, effecting the resin.
The twisted cones and gnarly limbs of the jack pine look prehistoric, and compliment the pale granite ledges.
After the steep switchbacks, immediately upon reaching the first level spot on the ridge, we took a left and walked on smooth ledge out a the drop off, then took a right on a tiny path through the trees to a great Carter Ledge lookout.
The eastern escarpment of Mount Chocorua dropped down into the valley of the Chocorua River. Those impressed by the view of Mount Chocorua from NH 16, will be exponentially impressed by the view from Carter Ledge.
Incidentally, the Chocorua River winds south for 15 miles — in and out of Chocorua Lake; through the village of Chocorua; into the woods east of NH 16 to Moore's Pond, where a mill dam burst in a flood around 1913; and finally recrossing under NH 16 just south of West Ossipee and entering the Bearcamp River.
After soaking in the first initial view, we retraced out steps out to the main trail and continued up over rolling granite to the top of Carter Ledge. The summit is located to the right of the trail, just before the trail enters the woods again, on its way to the top of Middle Sister.
The vast view from there looks north towards Mount Washington.
We lingered, until the world down below called. We had more to do that day. Later at our cars, located in the hiker parking lot at the campground, we knew more about each other, filtered through the perfect lens of the mountain.