Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mt. Chocorua on a Calm Winter Day

My nephew Reid visits us from Chicagoland every February for a winter hike in the White Mountains. In past years we've climbed Mts. Kearsarge, Pierce, Hedgehog, Tom, Field and Avalon, and Major. On Friday and into early Saturday we kept checking the weather, noting the forecast for cold temps, high winds, and another snowstorm. We passed on our first choice--Mt Moosilauke--given the exposure to winds and opted for Middle Sister or Mt. Chocorua depending on conditions.

Saturday morning the roads were clear of snow and ice and the sky relatively bright as we drove north on Route 16. We checked the Piper Trail parking lot, but in winter the Forest Service does not plow its lot and the other option was private parking for $3. We drove on to the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) and the popular Champney Falls parking area. The lot was filling up by the time we arrived at 9:30, but most hikers were heading only part-way to the Champney Falls, a very popular ice climbing site.

We started the hike in microspikes as everyone else was doing the same. Later in the hike we realized that many people were in spikes or in bare boots when they should have been snowshowing given the trail conditions. The trail to Champney Falls is a moderate grade and was well packed. Beyond that point we shifted to snowshoes as fewer people had ventured up and the snow was soft. A bit of blue sky lingered until noon. That, as well as almost no wind, surprised us. We were expecting a cold, windy hike. Higher up, the trail follows a series of switchbacks, which makes the climbing easier. Just in time for lunch we took a very short side trail to a resting spot with a great view.
A view of the Moats from our lunch spot en route to Mt. Chocorua.

A north-facing panoramic view from our lunch spot
on the north slope of Mt. Chocorua (Photo by Reid Snyder)

Snow was at least two feet deep in the woods. Reid stands nearly on top of a trail sign.

Kodi has been on many winter hikes with us. He loves the cold and the wind and rolling around on hard snow. This was Henna's first big winter hike. She did well, despite being tethered to one of us the entire way.

We emerged above treelike and climbed a short way to the ridge just below the summit. Here we switched back to microspikes to tackle the wind scoured rocky summit. Srini offered to stay back with the dogs while Reid and I hiked the relatively short distance to the top of 3,475' Mt. Chocorua.

Reid and I are standing on the summit looking down at Srini--a black speck in the distance beyond the three hikers below. It looks farther and a little harder than it was, although a good call not to take the dogs up.

We've done fewer winter hikes in the last two winters and I realized on Saturday how much I missed getting out for long wintry hikes in the mountains. The crisp, clear air; long views through hardwood forests; soft snow underfoot; snowshoe hare tracks among dense fir and spruce; beautiful ice, rock, and snow.

We passed only a half dozen other hiking parties (not counting the ice climbers), which was light given that Mt. Chocorua is one of the most popular destinations in the Whites. The woods were still and quiet and beautiful.

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