November 11, 2005.

9 mi | 6.5 hr

Piper > Weetamoo > Hammond > Chocorua > back the same way

Today would be a training hike. Tomorrow, I’d hike up Mt. Washington in winter conditions with new gear. So I figured I’d test everything out in a lower stress environment on my own. I’m not used to carrying much weight on my back and I didn’t want to slow my team down.

I got a bit of a late start (10:30 am!) so I kept my agenda flexible. I parked at the Piper trail head and started up a wet, leaf-covered trail.

The trail became slick and snowy. After I took a nice fall, I put on my Yaktrax and kept walking. The trail became rocky and ledgy in places, with sheets of ice that were in various stages of melting. The bare rock and ice at the summit was difficult to walk on and I was grateful for the traction of my Yaktrax.

There were a few people at the summit when I arrived, including a college group who’d walked up from Liberty Cabin. I found a spot out of the wind to sit down and recover for a few minutes. I was tired, hungry and thirsty. Carrying a big pack was a major hassle because I had to dig around for my stuff and it was difficult to put it on and take it off all the time. I’m learning about this winter hiking stuff fast.

With sunset rapidly approaching, I took off from the summit, intending to take the Piper Trail all the way back to the car. The network of trails near Chocorua was confusing, so it was not easy for me to figure out where I was. The map didn’t have a ton of detail, either. Since I knew the way I came up I decided to just retrace my steps back.

I moved as quickly as I could while still being safe and comfortable, which was still not fast enough. The last mile or so, I hiked by headlamp. On the Piper trail, there were tiny reflective pegs nailed into the trees to mark the way out. They shined brightly in the beam of my headlamp. The blazes were very hard to see, so this was a big help.

Luck was on my side today. It was nerve-wracking to get a late start, hike in unfamiliar territory, in unfamiliar conditions and alone. I only saw people at the very top. Psychologically, hiking alone is very taxing. I’m really noticing the difference now that I’m doing lots of group hikes. But I think the late start and waning daylight had the most significant impact on my psyche today.

I’d like to try Chocorua again in better conditions. It seems like there’s plenty to explore up there and with less wind, the summit would be a great place to hang out for a while. Lots of trails, exposure and views.

I felt happy and accomplished hiking out in the dark, guided by mysterious reflective pegs, changing in an empty parking lot, snacking on Pringles, swigging Gatorade and listening to the car radio. Only to set off for camp in preparation for tomorrow’s big hike.

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