Wilderness: Mountain Peaks, White Mountains National Forrest NH
Location: 43.989911°, -71.299120°
Get There: Mt. Chocorua is accessible from multiple trailheads, however, the allure of an ice glazed Champney Falls was enough promise to start at its namesake parking area. As winter White’s trailheads go, this is a well-managed parking lot easily accessed from the Kancamagnus Highway (NH Rt 112). The National Forest Service will keep this lot regularly plowed, but for luxuries such as roadside amenities, you’ll find yourself out of luck.
Log: With the original plans of prime season backcountry snowboarding at Gulf of Slides discouraged by the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center, thoughts shifted to a snowshoeing summit on Mt. Chocorua...Safety first kids.
Needless to say, I didn’t return from this wilderness disappointed. 80+ MPH gusts while navigating between potholing snow drifts and rime iced granite made for a memory packed winter summit.
Stepping onto the trail my boots quickly accessorized with snowshoes as the initial 1.5 miles greeted me with powder-filled glades and frozen appalacian streams. The hike to the Champney / Pitches falls trail spur is gradual, which makes this first stretch of the hike a popular White’s classic.
I found myself alone to take in the silence of the winter woods and repetition of the crunching snow beneath my feet. Eventually, this was accompanied by the sharp sounds of crampons and ice axes chipping away at what only could be the frozen Champney falls. My pace quickened as the trail descended steeply, I found myself at the foot of a stunningly narrow ice glazed box canyon. I stood in wonder, this place was incredible.
Although the falls appear frozen in a perpetual glaze the sound of water could be heard trickling behind the icy walls, as if refusing to surrender to winters grip. It leaves you with a surprising wonder and unease, reminding you that this scene is only temporary until the spring brings back the turbulent flow of the falls. I quickly spotted the climber topping out after a solo top rope on one of the main ice features. He calls me over to help clear his ropes, I welcomely lend a hand.
I made my way out the rear of the box, requiring a steep ascent to the top of the frozen canyon. Meeting the climber on my return to the Champney Falls spur we share a few stories and common amazement that we are the only people present on such a gorgeous day. He offers up beta of past Chococura winter trips, warning of a .5 mile lime iced path to the summit.
I thanked him and we parted ways as he dropped into a rappel to the bottom of the canyon. I headed South to reconnect with the main trail and began the switchbacks to Middle Sister Cut Off. Gaining altitude and I found myself looking back to the North, the Presidential Range had become a predominant feature on the horizon. I thought about the Gulf of Slides, looking forward to future adventures.
Climbing another 1000ft reminded me it was time to refuel, digging out a quick lunch spot bench I took in the views before pushing onto the summit. At this altitude, this winds picked up to a sustained 50MPH and the lime ice joined the party, only not to be outdone by their mutual friend, snowdrift potholes.
Due to the lack of traffic with the recent storms, the path to the summit was not clearly revealed. Weighing my options I took the Western approach which provided the most snow grip and prevailing winds blowing towards the mountain. Being on the sunlit side of the peak, this offered incredible views of the Whites to the North and West.
The final push was a snow covered 100m, 45-degree climb, revealing fantastic 360-degree via snow free granite slab. The now 80MPH gusts only added to the ruggedness of the scenery. This combination of frigid wind, blue skies, and endless views clears the mind of unimportant day to day minutia. The raw wilderness binds you to the present.
With incoming weather, I made my way off the summit and started my descent. The exposure you get on this hike is not like much experienced on the East Coast, but classic for the Whites. If this is a gateway drug of what lies within this vast wilderness, consider me an addict.
Altogether I was able to complete this trip in 6 hours, I look forward to returning during other seasons to see what Chocorua has to offer. If it’s anything like this first excursion, it won’t disappoint.