Top o’ the world


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.

On the peak

  1. Ryan left a comment on May 26, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Awesome story and pictures, sir!

  2. Dad left a comment on May 26, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Now that it is over and 24 hours have passed, I have convinced myself ours aches, pains and time of descent were entirely due to our absurd rate of ascent in 90 degree temperatures. We were on the verge of heatstroke, short and simple. (At least, this 52 year old was…)

    My temporary pause, initiated after we reached the bottom of the trail yesterday, to rethink my attempt to conquer the 48 4000 ft peaks in New Hampshire ( I have 16 done)is over and it is onward and upward, with some rules 1) Never hike in 90 degree temperatures 2) Bring water AND gatorade 3)Take it slow up and down, and plan to stay overnight instead of the hike and 7 hours of commuting the same day 4) Get my back fixed so it doesn’t freeze up when I sit on a rock 5) Drop a minimum of 30 pounds…that’s like carrying two cases of beer on the way up under each arm…6) get better hiking shoes

    All that said, it was a great hike and great to have a chance for Jas and I to get away together to climb and talk…It is amazing how time flies and you keep putting things off…It was nice to sit with Jas at the edge of the lake and look up, while sipping on a beer and realize what we had accomplished…Just a great day! PS – I am still hydrating!!!

  3. Agreed, good story. I hiked Mt. Chocorua with my Uncle, Aunt and two cousins when I was about 12 or so. We were camping for a long weekend nearby and I have fond memories of the lake and the mountain. I remember the top being very windy and steep (for getting down anyway). I have thought over the last 10 years I should do it again sometime, but never do.

  4. Ed left a comment on May 26, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    @Uncle Ron – Regarding 5) Drop a minimum of 30 pounds?that?s like carrying two cases of beer on the way up under each arm…

    Agreed… drop the pounds thus opening the door for the raging kegger on top of the mountain. I’ll spot you an additonal 30 and will carry 4 cases up as well.

    Whose bringing the nachos and strobe light?

  5. Ed left a comment on May 27, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    I have to echo everyone above – this was a damn fine piece.

    Those NH trips are a big part of my childhood and I cherish all of the Chocorua memories.

    Hey, it wasn’t for nothing that your Dad fitted me with the moniker Vacation Man out of my superhuman ability to sniff out my extended family relations’ vacations and somehow get my name added to the guest list. I was the anti Kevin McCallister. Instead of a family heading off on a slapdash trip to destinations unknown only to discover they were missing a child, your family would come to the startling realization that they had adopted one more.

  6. Mollie left a comment on May 27, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Oh, I love it…what a glorious tale. Well done, both of you, and thanks so so much for writing this up. It made me think ever so fondly on family trips up Monadnock and Mt Washington. Oh, New Hampshire, crazy state of trees and rocks! I am glad that you, at least, are taking advantage of it’s beauty.

    Thanks for the story!

  7. Andrea left a comment on May 29, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    As a fellow classmate of yours , I’m damn proud! As for your son and never telling whose hangover it was,……if he’s anything like you,…..his secret is safe with me! Congrats to both of you for not only fulfilling a quest, but for spending that time with each other that we always say we will , but never seem get around to it .Bravo!….you’re not bad for a half century!!!
    Let’s see ,…one of our reunion committee members just did the Boston Marathon, did Chochora,…..what challenges are in store for Ann , Cindy and I??? Maybe we’ll join you next year!!!! Take it slow….(by the way, is DEhydrating) !!!! Your friend,Andrea

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