Getting miles of hikes under your belt certainly provides experience of optimizing your pack settings, weights, distances and preferences on the trail, but ensuring a good mix of hardships is also warranted. The concept of willingly walking in the rain for a ten mile out-and-back seems absurd (especially for an Irish person), but the realities are that I won’t have a choice when I’m on the PCT over whether to sit in my tent or start walking. With this in mind, myself and trekking friend Ben started out on a damp and dull day to summit Mt.Chocorua in New Hampshire with nothing but rain on the forecast.
I was a little nervous at the concept of hitting an NH bald-granite peak in the wet (an ankle twist right now would be pretty inopportune timing), however as with everything in life, sometimes the payoff is worth the risk. The PCT’s terrain and status as an equestrian trail means that rock-face scrambles are not a concern for the most part. As a result the typical footwear used by most trekkers is a trail shoe with less ankle support but more breathability and lighter weight. My Brooks Cascadia 11’s are perfectly suited for the mission – less for for a wet peak in NH as I found out.
The initial trail to Mt.Chocorua summit was a perfect mix of wandering low-impact terrain in deciduous forest. The freshly exposed leaves from last autumn provide a comfy bounce with every step – certainly a help with 20lb pack on my back. In a few spots the trail crosses a number of brooks with plenty water. My first realization with wet-hiking is that something as simple as taking 5 mins to filter water in the rain is the most distasteful idea ever, so I scrapped the thought of even getting some additional water gathering experience. The trail weaves beneath the peak of Mt.Chocorua on the east side, despite its sub 4000ft height, the prominence of the peak is impressive at the approach with a Yosemite dome-style top.
Eventually the trail breaks the deciduous tree line around 3000ft with a short rock scramble, before following a path along the flanks of the mountain inside the trees again, in areas still muddy from snowmelt along with some pockets of free snow from last weeks storm. It was a sultry mix of wet soggy socks, mud, dull skies and shifting mist but it was still a very pleasant route. By the time we reached the final break in the trees, the summit loomed above at around mile 4.5. This final ascent included a lot of rock scrambling and some confused blaze-searching where we simply could not find the trail at one point. The views were non-existent however the rapidly closing and opening boxes of clarity in the mist were interesting and dramatic.
We didn’t idle long before deciding that down was the only way to go. The descent was a little harrowing. The pack weight along with the Cascadias provided a challenging set of variables given the slick rocks we scrambled up, if anything I think it was probably good strength-training for my ankles and knees although my agility levels with a pack leave a lot to be desired. We’ll see how that works out in the Sierra with even more weight! All in all the day was very enjoyable and it was good to catch up with Ben, with whom I hiked Mt.Whitney in 2012 and last saw at Lima airport last year after we hiked the Inca Trail. Hopefully he might join along the PCT for a few days if the stars align.