Mount Chocorua is not your typical 3,500 foot mountain. This dramatic peak has steep pitches, an exposed summit and a hiking experience that you expect from mountains that are several thousand feet taller. It is no surprise that this is one of the most hiked mountains in the Whites. I recently climbed it on a cold and windy day that gave me a great taste of winter climbing in the whites.
Our plan was to do a 9.2 mile loop that started from the Piper trailhead. We would take the Piper Trail to the summit which is one of the most popular and direct routes. From there we would backtrack to the Middle Sister Trail to traverse the semi exposed ridge along the Third, Middle and First Sisters. We planned to take the Carter Ledge and Nickerson Ledge Trails to link back to the Piper Trail and complete the loop.
We pulled into the parking lot to see a fresh dusting of snow, temperatures below 20 degrees and an occasional mighty gust of wind; does it get any better? The forecast called for low temperatures and strong winds so we packed plenty of warm gear and hit the trail. The Piper Trail, like many hikes in the Whites, starts out wooded and relatively flat which made for a great warm-up. Occasionally a wind gust would sneak through the trees which persuaded me to keep my softshell on.
Eventually the climbing begins, the trees get smaller and the views start to become much more impressive than what you might expect from the low elevation.
This is where the route changes from a wooded trail to ice covered rock slabs which meant that Microspikes were pretty much mandatory.
Once we got our first glimpse of the summit it became clear why this mountain is so popular. How many 3,500 foot peaks look this impressive?
The views got more dramatic and expansive as we approached the summit. This is what hiking in New Hampshire is all about.
Before long the summit got closer, the temperature got colder and the winds got stronger. Before our final summit push we stopped to add layers and face masks to deal with a subzero wind-chill.
Then we cleared the tree line and the bald summit cone was right in front of us. The final approach was a combination of hiking and rock slab climbing.
Relentless wind gusts pounded the summit but we still took a moment to appreciate the unbelievable 360 degree views.
Our plan was to head down via the semi exposed ridge of sub-peaks known as the Three Sisters. To get there we back tracked down the Piper Trail to the Middle Sisters Trail. From here it felt like a classic ridge traverse that occasionally dipped in and out of the trees; in other words it was awesome.
We even encountered the ruins of an old building on the Middle Sister.
The trip down was via a series of steep and ice covered rock slabs.
We chose our footing carefully and made use of any available hand holds since a fall would result in a long and painful ride.
We encountered a seemingly endless series of icy slabs until the trail finally leveled out and we got a final glimpse of Mount Chocorua and the ridge we just descended.
We finally took off our Microspikes but what the trail lacked in ice it made up for in being hard to follow. We completely lost the route a few times and had to either find the trail or retrace our steps. If you descend this way pay close attention to the trail signs or you might end up getting lost.
We soon met back up with the Piper Trail and the parking lot was just a few minutes away. Hopefully this is a sign of many great winter hikes to come!