Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hiking Mt Chocorua, New Hampshire in the Winter

The summit of Mt Chocorua, New Hampshire
Well, I am proud of myself; I hiked another non-4,000-footer in New England. I'm one of those compulsive people who has a mountain tick-list a mile long and I receive a certain amount of deserved flack for it. I've met many hikers on the trails throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and there really are two groups- the peak-baggers who exclusively bag 4,000-footers and those who basically climb anything with a view. On multiple occasions I've noticed that there's some playful antagonism between the two. I am a shameless peakbagger with an excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the lists I'm working on. But I'm also known to occasionally venture off the list and bag something just for the hell of it.

Mt Chocorua is a bald, 3,490ft summit with commanding views of the Mt Washington Valley, Maine and the eastern White Mountains. Its not on the 4,000-footer list, the 50 finest or 100 highest but it was one of the better views I've had in the Whites. The trail was very do-able although we did run into strong wind at the summit. Well worth the trip!
Summit Views from the Piper Trail
There are several ways to get to the summit of Mt Chocorua and we decided to do the Piper Trail. The parking lot is located 7.0 miles from Center Conway, NH. Its located just behind the general story and in the winter you have to pay $3.00 to park. In the summer, the Forest Service parking lot is open. 

The Piper Trail was well cut for us and easy to follow. There were many different turn-offs along the trail and there are options for doing the summit in a loop. We did an out-and-back hike which ended up being 9.0 miles from the parking lot to the summit. It starts at roughly 700ft and ascends about 2,700 ft to the summit. The trail starts out on a gentle slope and gets steeper as you get closer to the summit. Fortunately, it is a straightforward ascent; most other places I've hiked in the Whites have enough of the pointless up and downs to drive you insane. The views also get better as the summit gets closer!
Mt Chocorua from the Trailhead
Summit Views
The last 0.4 miles of the trail are very exposed and in the winter it was violently cold and windy. Its not uncommon for winds to blow over 50 miles an hour at the higher elevations and this day was no exception. We strapped on crampons and made a mad dash for the summit. The ambient temperature was already in the 20s and the wind was blowing so hard that I needed to hunker down to keep from being blown clear off the ridge. I wouldn't have wanted to spend too much time up there, but the views were nevertheless phenomenal. Absolutely one of the best summits in all of New Hampshire! Had the temperatures been warmer, I could have spent an hour just sitting up there! 

I would recommend taking crampons or micro-spikes in the winter and definitely snow shoes if it has snowed within a few days. I almost left mine in the car but I probably wouldn't have summited if I didn't bring them. Even if you don't summit, the hike is still worth it!
I love hiking in the winter!
That was a wonderful hike. I'd recommend it to my OCD, peak-bagging, 4,000-footer obsessed ilk in a heartbeat. 

...postscript: Mt Chocorua, as it turns out, is on a peak-bagging list- New Hampshire's 52 With a View. It wasn't the primary reason I hiked it, but I just had to share that!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

1 comment:

  1. Great writeup! I hiked Chocorua several times while in the Boy Scouts 30+ years ago, but never in the winter. Just this past Sunday (March 12 2017) my snowshoeing buddy and I did it. I'm not in the best shape and Piper Trail seemed more difficult than I wanted to attempt, so we took the "moderate" rated Champney Falls Trail. This is a 7.2 mile round trip, with gentle ascents for most of the way but with a series of switchbacks below the treeline that taxed me somewhat. But what good is something if you don't have to work for it? We brought snowshoes, but before leaving the parking lot were told the trail was packed so spikes were what we needed to wear (which we had with us) so the snowshoes were left behind. We stopped just below the treeline for me to put on another layer (I'm a furnace and despite all my efforts to avoid sweating my base layers were slightly damp), then continued upward. The wind was absolutely fierce - I'd hiked to maybe the 5000' level on Mount Washington (Lion's Head Trail) in October 2015 but Chocorua seemed more windy. I was comfortable, though the wind had me tearing and was blowing snot everywhere LOL. This is where it all fell apart for me, though. I'd forgotten that there's a rock scramble to the peak, and the Sorel Conquests I'd worn, while good boots for snowshoeing and non-technical hiking, allowed my feet to move inside them too much for me to be comfortable scrambling even with the spikes on. Without the spikes? Forget it. So I waited maybe 200 feet below the summit while my friend scrambled up, then we tackled the descent. I thought my quads were hurting on the climb! Another problem was that the boots both of us wore didn't really have rigid enough soles for extended use of spikes, and by the time we made the parking lot both of us were pretty footsore from the pressure on the balls of our feet. But it was absolutely worth the effort, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat even if I knew the outcome would be the same.