I wear a necklace with a small brown rock on it. When people ask about it, I tell them it’s from the top of a mountain that my father and I climb “every few years.”
But we recently realized we hadn’t climbed Mount Chocorua in nearly ten years. The last time we went up, I had just graduated high school. We’d tried to climb it various times over the years but various things interfered, such as college, weather, and one time, a hangover (whose? I’ll never tell).
Yesterday was my father’s fifty-second birthday, and we celebrated it by taking the day off and conquering Mount Chocorua once more.
As is tradition, my dad got up at five a.m. and managed to pick me up in Brighton by six. So, bleary eyed and loaded on carbs and coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, we drove out to Tamworth, NH to take the Piper Trail to Chocorua’s summit.
Prior to 1997, we’d climbed Chocorua a number of times. Previous trips have included many friends and family, including Ed. We’d always handled the hike fairly well, but with the ten-year interval and my general lack of exercise, I was a bit concerned I wouldn’t be able to make it this time. Even last time, when I was a young turk of 18, I’d nearly given up in exhaustion before reaching the summit.
At the base of the Piper Trail, I picked up a walking stick (left behind by some previous traveler) and we began our hike.
About twenty minutes up the mountain we came to a switchback. There is a small cairn at the base of a tree in this spot. Even after eight years, the ashes of my dog Friskie remain undisturbed. Friskie climbed Chocorua twice (four times if you count all the dashing back and forth he would do while we hiked). Later we added the ashes of Lassie, a beagle who never climbed Chocorua but probably appreciates being near her buddy Friskie, and Snickers, a housecat who’s no doubt wondering what the hell she’s doing on some mountain in New Hampshire with the two dogs she thought she’d finally gotten rid of.
Things became a bit harder after that. Climbing Chocorua doesn’t involve any pitons or pick-axes; it’s just a hike. But it’s a steep hike, and the Piper Trail’s difficulty is classified by mountain guides as “moderate to difficult,” so it was fairly ambitious of us to brave it as we did. But the climbing was complicated by unseasonably warm weather. As you may have heard, yesterday broke a temperature record, hitting 92°.
Usually it gets cooler and windier as you climb, but for some reason the air remained muggy and still as we ascended. I drank four bottles of water during the climb and sweated out at least two. When we hit the ledges, where we had to scramble over gigantic glacier-era rocks to reach the peak, we began to mutter about how we thought they’d re-routed the trail and how insanely hot it was.
But we did finally reach the peak, where we enjoyed cooler air and strong winds. We ran into a friendly Swiss tour group, who took some photos for us and gave us some Swiss flag pins in the interest of good international relations.
Despite the heat and being out of shape, we made the climb forty minutes faster than the estimated time in my dad’s guidebook. That may be why we were so freaking tired on the way down. We actually took as long to get down as it had taken to climb. We’d chatted all the way up, using conversation to distract us from how tired and hot we were getting, but on the way down we just focused on not slipping on the rocks and getting the heck down to the bottom.
As soon as we got down, we stopped at a store and desperately drank water and Gatorade as if we were pilgrims crossing the Sahara. Once we’d rehydrated, we drove to Chocorua Lake and drank a beer, admiring the view of the mountain we’d just climbed. We’d started our ascent around 8:30 a.m. and were sitting on Chocorua Lake by three.
Next time, my dad says he’s going to rent a hotel room so he doesn’t have to worry about rushing up and down to be back in Boston the same day. Given the way my muscles feel right now, I’m inclined to agree. But the hike went well, and it was great to finally commune with our family mountain once again.