Blog written by Pete Lampley – Interpreter at White Lake State Park
Lounging carelessly on the shores of White Lake, you can take in a stunning view. Loons dive in and out of the lake. Ducks and their ducklings saunter from the picnic tables behind you into the designated swimming area (nice of them to follow the rules). Stands of tall, healthy pines encircle the lake, perfectly framing the distant mountains rising up to the Northwest. From left to right, you encounter Whiteface, Passaconoway and Paugus – each an impressive figure in their own right. Straight to the North however, you see the jagged, tooth-like summit of Mt. Chocorua scraping against the horizon. It stares back. It makes eye-contact. You squirm uncomfortably on your beach towel and try to work up the resolve to stare back at this mighty mountain. You know it would be fun to spend the day swimming and hiking around the lake – the flora and fauna astound and the waters are inviting and warm. But you’ve planned a whole week at White Lake and feel a hankering for adventure! The itch spreads up from the tip of your toes all the way up to the top of your head. You feel invigorated, inspired, indefatigable. You steel your gaze and stare back at mighty Chocorua. Today you will summit!
The hike up to Mt. Chocorua is a challenging 4.5 mile climb, only about 15 minutes away from the sandy shores of White Lake. Heading north on highway 16 towards Conway, the Piper trailhead shows up before you know it. A measly $5 day-use fee supports the US Forest Service and gives you access to the parking lot (with its space-age bathrooms) and the complete loop to the summit of Mt. Chocorua. Taking ample water, snacks, an extra layer (it can be pretty chilly up at the top!) bug and sun protection, friends, family and a camera for glorious, glorious selfies, you should be ready to ascend. But just in case, you take a quick picture of the map at the trailhead kiosk (good thinking). It seems an imposing hike – 9 miles total – but you are aware of the challenges that lie ahead and are prepared to face them.
Near the beginning of your ascent, the grade is easy and level. You step in a few soft muddy patches and secretly enjoy the squelching of soft dark dirt as you pass through it. All around you are tall hemlocks, mighty and august. They drop their tiny cones all around the forest floor and you pick one up to investigate. You snicker, knowing this dainty little seed pod dropped off one of the biggest hemlocks you’ve ever seen. These little cones are an important food source for a number of foraging critters, and as you continue your hike, you may be lucky to see a few cross your path. You cross your fingers.
About a mile down the trail the grade suddenly becomes steeper and your climb begins. You will be gaining 2,000 plus feet over the next three and a half miles to reach the final peak elevation: 3,478 feet. Don’t expect this to be easy, but don’t turn back now! You’ve already come so far and the 360 view at the top awaits you. You press on. Eventually you pass a trail shelter, break the tree line and find yourself on an exposed rock face, surrounded by wild blueberries and mountain laurel (don’t confuse the two!). The view is stunning, but don’t break out the camera just yet. Over your shoulder, Chocorua stares down impatiently and beckons. But Chocorua can wait you decide. You stop to take a water break and look at some of the various lakes far below. You eat some wild blueberries and take the first of many selfies.
From here the trail becomes rocky and uncertain, but you know which way to go. You have seen the peak, and the trail is carefully marked by the Forest Service. You scramble up rocks and sweat and gasp through the heat until you find your way back under the protective shroud of tree cover. You notice that these trees are different… You no longer see any hemlocks, striped maples or beech trees. Instead, you are surrounded by spruces and firs. Fragrant and hearty, you have a lot in common with these high elevation trees.
As you press on you start to wonder why you are doing this to yourself – you could be napping on the beach back at White Lake like you were only yesterday, gently tanning and powering through your summer reading. Now you are sweaty, sore and gross. Gasping and aching with every step. But suddenly it all comes rushing back. You reach the base of the summit – the only thing separating you from greatness is a couple hundred feet of rock. The wind swirls around you in a welcome embrace, cooling you and whispering words of encouragement. You scramble and scramble and scramble. The view improves with every step. The satisfaction mounts and you feel your heart beating with the combined intensity of exertion and anticipation.
This is it. The final stretch. You want to stop and catch your breath – but the summit is within reach. You want to take off your pack and reach for your water, but your feet keep moving. You want to sit down and rest for a bit, but your hands won’t stop grasping at the rocks ahead of you.
Stillness. Serenity. Calm.
You’ve reached the top.
Atop Chocorua, the view extends in every direction. Behind you, mountains rise across the horizon. Ancient Appalachian peaks that have stood for millenia stand before you now in all their glory. On the other end, the lakes region displays its namesake. Lakes dot the ground far below. Silver Lake, Lake Chocorua, and yes, White Lake. One of the smallest visible lakes, White Lake appears dainty at this distance, although it took you a full hour to hike around it the other day. If you look closely, you can see the beach where you were lounging only hours before. A small yellow strip on a small little puddle on the edge of the horizon.
A couple of other hikers are making their way up the final stretch and a few are snacking on trail mix, softly chewing in silent appreciation of the vista. Reverently, you shrug off your pack, and step up to the very top of the peak by the geologic marker. You can see for miles. All you can hear is the rushing wind. Everything else disappears.
Now would be a good time for a selfie.