Blessed with the prospect of somewhat decent weather for Tuesday, unlike the snowstorm that had been predicted days earlier, Mark and I made some quick last-minute plans for a snowshoe stroll. I suggested Champney Falls and so, after getting the blessing from the early MWO report, which proposed clear peaks under overcast skies, we found ourselves at the trailhead on the Kanc around 10.
This is one route up Chocorua that I hadn’t been on before, as it is usually a bit crowded in the summer and I enjoy climbing the mountain from the more secluded eastern side. Indeed, the past weekend must have seen a multitude of hikers, as the path was a well-trampled wide swath through the woods that one could easily bareboot on. In the spirit of the season, however, we left our ‘shoes on and headed up the trail.
The path wanders gradually up through open woods along old logging roads beside the ravine of Champney brook. The woods were silent and beautiful, and the brook was still and quiet. In no time at all we reached Pitcher Falls, where we were treated to a beautiful display of icy, crystaline wonder. Cascades of ice and snow were frozen in motion over the sides of a deep gorge, frosted with deep blues and brilliant yellows. Beneath the ice, the sound of hidden flowing water could be heard. The path ran up through the gorge, under the ice, and up the other side.
After an extended stay, we decided to continue up the trail. Near the top of the ravine was a great view north, featuring the snowy peaks of the southern Presidentials and Crawford Notch. Even Washington’s summit was in the clear.
Next, we embarked on a quick off-trail adventure to a little ledge that Steve Smith had told me about, less than a half-mile off the trail. Reality set in as we trudged slowly across a beautiful birch glade, our snowshoes failing to find floatation of any kind on the 3 feet of loose powder which had drifted in onto the ridge. What a difference from the well-trodden trail we had just left!
But, it was more than worth it! After a quick shove through a patch of spruce, we clambered over a slight rise out into the open with the great bulk of Passaconaway looming before us, surrounded by a panorama of the Sandwich range wilderness, as well as the great Pemi to the north.
After a well-deserved lunch break, we returned on the trail we had just broken and decided to continue up the mountain. The quiet and calm that had been present all day was broken as we came out of the scrub above treeline. Out of nowhere, the wind began blowing and the temperature seemed to drop ten degrees. The great mass of Chocorua rose up over the small trees to loom at us, looking close enough to touch.
After a pause to layer up, we headed towards the summit.
The snow cover became less and less, until only rocks, ice, and more ice were left to walk apon. Not originally planning on coming this far, we had not packed crampons or other above-treeline equipment. But we decided to continue for as long as we felt comfortable, which ended at the last little hump about a tenth of a mile from the peak.
We were fairly sure we could make it the rest of the way, but with the cold, the wind, and a slab of ice before us sloping down to the edge of a deep ledge, we made our last stand there in the shelter of the rocks. Chocorua is more impressive viewed from below it’s summit than from perched above, and we could not see the sense in taking the risk of a slip into the abyss just to “bag” this peak again. Carefully, we worked our way back down into the scrub.
Not to go away empty handed, though, we conquered Middle Sister instead!
The trip down was a quick run on well packed trails and illegal switchback-cutting ski trails which ended up getting both of us covered in snow and laughing at our own expense. Another great winter day in the mountains!