For my son’s 9th birthday we spent the weekend in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Red Jacket Resort. The resort had an indoor water park with water slides and a wave pool that the boys could play in all day. Early Sunday morning I got up to make the short drive to Mount Chocorua to hike it for sunrise.
Mount Chocorua, one of the more difficult peaks in the White Mountains for me to pronounce, was named after a Sokosis Chief. Legend had it that the mountain’s namesake leaped from the summit to his death while cursing the surrounding land rather than being killed by the white man who was pursuing him. It is that beautifully rocky, shark-fin peak you see peaking between trees when driving from Maine toward the Kancamagus Highway.
I got to the Champney Falls Trail parking lot off the Kancamagus Highway at 4:45 am and found two cars already there. It was clear and in the 20s, not bad for an early January morning. The water crossing close to the parking lot had an ice bridge but it was crumbling from the mild weather we had been having. I was able to easily follow the Champney Falls Trail in the dark as there were prints from a cramponed person, and dog. Some sections of the trail were icy, like above the Pitcher/Champney Falls Loop Trail, but my microspikes were able to handle the ice.
As the trail approached the col between Middle Sister and the Sister closest to Chocorua it steepened and began to switchback. When I reached the junction with the Piper Trail the footprints that I had been following diverged from the Champney Falls Trail. They must have gone to Camp Penacook for the night. As I hiked the flat terrain around the Sister closest to Chocorua I caught a glimpse of the dark ruby horizon and got excited. In a hurry I broke above the treeline for the final icy ascent to the summit.
This was the first time I had hiked Mount Chocorua and I wasn’t positive of the route, so I just hiked what was sensible. In many places the snow was blown to a hard crust that I could walk upon. In other places the snow had gathered in near-waist-deep drifts that I had to push through with great effort. There was one sketchy part where I climbed up a small cliff face that was covered in hoar frost and dropped a hundred feet to the forest below.
I reached the summit at 6:45 am, with plenty of time to throw on my heavier layers and fully enjoy the sunrise.
As the sun peaked its glorious face above the distant horizon the wind picked up and the clouds shifted. I turned away from the sun to see Mount Washington proud in the rosy alpenglow. It had been resting below a blanket of clouds and had risen to watch the sun with me. I focused my DSLR on it and it refused to release its shutter. Frozen. I pulled my phone out of my breast pocket, also frozen. All I could do was laugh at circumstance.
I tucked my phone inside my shirt to thaw it against my chest. I packed up to head down and checked my phone when I was ready. It had warmed up enough to turn on and I was able to get some photos and video of the amazing pastel scene.
It was 7:20 am when I started back to my car. I had spent over a half an hour by myself on one of the most popular peaks in New Hampshire watching an amazing sunrise. I was elated.
I hustled down the mountain only stopping once I had warmed up to take off my heavier layers . The snow smoothed and softened the trail and my spirits were high, so I nearly jogged down the mountain. When I got to the upper end of Pitcher/Champney Falls Trail I took it. The trail and steps above the falls were super icy and it took all I could to stop myself from slipping into the river.
I dropped my pack near Champney Falls and explored the area around it and Pitcher Falls. An ice bridge covered the entire area and I was able to walk into the gorge that formed Pitcher Falls. The rock walls were decorated with different color icicles that hung 20 feet or more toward the ground.
Once I had thoroughly explored the area I grabbed my pack and continued down the trail, joined back up with Champney Falls Trail and head to my car. On the way down I spoke with a solo hiker and then came across a large group at crumbling ice bridge. I waited as they precariously crossed the ice bridge, then I wished them luck and sauntered across the rocks in a few leaps.
The rest of my day was positively charged with the experience of winter sunrise on Mount Chocorua. I returned to my family where we checked out of the resort and had breakfast at a local diner. After breakfast we headed to Echo Lake and Cathedral Ledge State Park for some snowshoeing before heading back to Maine.
I highly suggest this hike to anyone comfortable enough with their hiking skills to attempt a night and icy winter hike of Mount Chocorua. The views were absolutely worth the effort and the blasting cold winds of the summit. This trip continues to be one of my most fond and memorable hikes. If you’re not comfortable with hiking at night or in the winter, then Mount Chocorua is still definitely worth it. It is on the New Hampshire 52 with a View list and one of the most popular hikes in the state.
The walk, the hills, the sky, the solitary pain and pleasure—they will grow larger, sweeter, lovelier in the days to come, like a treasure found and then, voluntarily, surrendered. Returned to the mountains … it leaves a golden glowing on the mind.
Video of Mount Chocorua sunrise hike
Music from Free Music Archive: “Cendra-sonar” by -ono-
Date Hiked: 17 January 2016
Trail Conditions: mud, blue ice, loosely packed snow, drifts
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: NE 20-30 mph
Highest Elevation: 3500′
Elevation Gain: 2250′
Distance: 7.6 miles
Book Time: 4:55
Actual Time: 3:25
Tracing White Mountains Trails:
Champney Falls Trail
Pitcher/Champney Falls Loop
Winter Hike: Return to Chocorua – 13 March 2016