On a moody, mostly cloudy Wednesday this week, Beverly and I did an old favorite hike — the 5.6-mile round-trip hike to Carter Ledge on Mount Chocorua.
Normally, a good reason to do this hike is to see a close-up of the dramatic summit ridge of Mount Chocorua from the rolling open granite ledges atop Carter Ledge, which is the lower section of the northeast ridge of the mountain. We hoped that clouds lingering on the summits would clear later in the day while were up there.
They didn’t but that was fine. The beauty found in closer views — of forest details and cloudy ridges, was just as rewarding to see and be part of. Anyway, we just wanted to hike.
The forest service’s White Ledge Campground is located on the right side of Route 16, 5.6 miles south of Conway. We drove in to the main field of the campground and parked on the right in the hiker/guest parking lot, used by campground guests and those hiking the White Ledge Loop or the Carter Ledge Trail.
We walked a few feet back on the road to a right-hand turn and past a couple campsites to the sign for the Carter Ledge Trail.
The first 2 miles of this trail is a gradual uphill walk through a forest transitioning from northern hardwoods to evergreen.
It was a perfect morning to hike. It was just after heavy rain, and the bugs had not risen yet. The old beech leaves on the trail were flattened and didn’t hide any rocks to misstep on. The sun was not out completely, and the forest was cool.
We both happened to be wearing light gray Choucas Tour Hats, made by ZP Sports of North Conway, and given to me by the owner Mona L’ Heureux to check out and write up. They were very light, yet warm.
They were developed by L’Heureux and her husband, Ian Cruikshank. This local couple goes to Europe annually to climb and ski. There they developed ideas for two performance hats: the Glide and Tour hats.
The Glide is a lightweight, easy to store cap for backcountry skiing that comes in many colorful options.
The development of the tour hat is best described in her words: “We were on a spring ski trip to Chamonix. We realized the need for a hat that provided protection for the bright sun intensified by the upward reflection for the snow. But the hat needed to stay on for the wind induced ski descent. Also, while on tour it is helpful to be able to easily stow one’s hat in a jacket for easy on and off as conditions changed during the day.”
They have found that both hats are great for other sports; for example, the Glide for use under a ski or ice-climbing helmet, skating, snowshoeing or winter hiking; the Tour for kayaking and hiking, etc.
Almost a decade ago, Cruikshank gave me a colorful Glide hat to check out and write up. Recently, seeing them both at an event at Tin Mountain precipitated a renewed opportunity.
The Tour hat is on sale, and is perfect any time of year. Go to their website at choucashats.com.
Back on the trail, in 1.1 miles we passed the sign for the Middle Sister Trail, which loops to the north up to the top of the ridge. In almost another mile, we reached the junction with the Nickerson Ridge Trail and bore right downhill for a short way, continuing on the Carter Ledge Trail.
Then the serious uphill started. The trail wound up like a snake, sometimes smooth gravel, but usually damp angular boulders that required one to fashion each step to surmount them.
Openings in the trees where the view of Chocorua’s summit would appear revealed clouds instead. But beauty surrounded us when we chose to look.
Finally, the trail eased and after a brief descent in woods, we came out on the first of many smooth ledges with pockets of trees.
Many of these trees were jack pine. A prehistoric-looking tree with two short needles to a bunch, the jack pine is at the most southern point in its range in the White Mountains, and found in only a few places, including here and Welsh/ Dickey in Waterville. Growing 60 feet or more out West, its cones normally open by ground fire. But here, subzero winter temps will also open them.
We walked out to the first lookout overlooking the eastern ravine of Mount Chocorua, the watershed for the Chocorua River. Clouds started halfway up the mountain, and below that, fog enhanced the pastel green of spring and the forest glowed.
We worked our way up, following blazes on granite to the topmost spot on Carter Ledge. Just beyond, the steep rise toward the Three Sisters was socked in. We sat and leaned on an unusual irregular boulder for lunch.
It wasn’t until we started to leave that my partner noticed that the 2-ton boulder shifted with a push. We had discovered for ourselves the Tipping Rock on Carter Ledge.
We took care on the way down.