Today I met up with a new friend Kevin. We decided that we’d hike into Champney Falls to do some top rope ice climbing on the frozen waterfalls. With the forecast showing increasingly warm weather we knew this would be one of the last opportunities to climb!
We met at the Champney Falls trail parking lot off of the Kancamagus Highway and quickly geared up setting foot on the trail by 8AM.
The hike along Champney Falls Trail is only about 1.6 miles (3.2 miles RT). The terrain is rolling and very gradual with minimal elevation gain. Despite the gradual terrain we still took our time getting in. Our packs were heavy with climbing gear and we were in no rush. Eventually the trail splits, on the right the trail continues on to the summit of Mt. Chocorua (a fantastic hike!). The left heads towards the waterfalls.
Picking a Line
Within about 45 minutes we turned a corner into a wide cleft cut into the mountainsides rock. Thick Ice flowed down from its southern ledges. What’s incredible about this location is that it was about 20 degrees colder at the base of the climb than it was at the parking lot. The large walls of the waterfall blocked the sunlight, and acted as a wind tunnel. Both Kevin and I threw on our extra mid-layers and hard shells to protect ourselves from the colder temperature, flowing water, and wind. Temperatures had to be in the 10-15F degree range at this point. But would warm throughout the day.
This is a rather popular ice climbing destination but luckily for us we had the place to ourselves this morning. We walked the perimeter of the wall trying to decide where we’d set up our rope. The wall varies in difficulty from somewhat moderate angle to extremely steep and vertical. Parts of the wall reach up to 45 feet in height while others are around 25.
Kevin wanted to practice his screw placement on steep ice so he chose one of the harder lines on the wall. We were first on the climb so it was featureless, and nearly 90 degrees vertical. Much steeper than the ice I usually climb.
The First Pitch
Here’s some footage I shot from my gopro during the first pitch of the day.
There’s two ways to set up a top rope anchor at Champney Falls. You either hike around to the top on a climbers path, or you lead climb to the top. Kevin was confident today and decided he’d lead one of the easier pitches to the top.
We roped up as if we were on a multi-pitch climb and Kevin began his lead. Carefully placing his tools into the ice and working his way up. About mid way he placed an ice screw… and again near the top of the wall. Once he topped out he placed two more screws into a nearby ice wall and constructed an anchor to belay me on. I followed his lead just as we would on a multi-pitch climb. This first pitch was super fun, mainly because I felt so confident on this easier flow (Maybe WI3-).
At the top of the wall we broke down the ice anchor, and set up a much stronger anchor to top rope from. This anchor was made up of two cordelettes slung around a healthy birch tree with two locking carabiners.
We threaded the rope and set up our harnesses for rappel. Kevin went first, I followed slowly descending down the ice wall.
Top Roping and Mock Leading
Kevin decided to take the first run up the wall on top rope. He wanted to practice placing screws on steep ice. He configured his harness as if he was leading. A couple screws, a couple alpine draws. As he climbed, he alternated placing screws to his left and right. He was at the top in no time and made it look relatively easy.
Getting Pumped, A Learning Experience
Now it was my turn. I racked up a couple of screws and intended to follow Kevin’s example by placing some protection as I climbed. I started making my way up the steep ice wall. Starting strong but fading quickly.
I started to lose control of my ice tool swings. For some reason my wrists felt really weak today. I totally abandoned the idea of placing screws and just hoped I’d make it to the top. Just as I was about to top out my arms totally gave out and I took a fall. Thanks to the top rope, it wasn’t incredibly eventful and Kevin caught me. However, I was pretty disappointed in my performance.
We spent some time traversing side to side on the ice un-roped. Practicing technique, and form. I focused on swinging my tools with the least amount of effort to reduce the fatigue I was feeling in my arms. I’m guilty of putting a bit too much force in my swings and overgripping my tools. It was good to focus on this for a bit.
After some traversing and bouldering we resumed our top rope climbing. Kevin climbed the steep line again, placing protection has he went. I decided to shift the rope over to a slightly easier, but still very steep route. I felt strong this time around, I focused on my swings and sticks and didn’t feel fatigued at all by the time I topped out. I placed a couple screws on my way up to practice leading. It felt great!
The temperatures were warming up by this point. More and more flowing water was coming down the wall. Luckily we both had our hard shells or else we’d be soaked by now. After a few more runs for both of us we decided to call it a day and go grab a beer. The ice was getting a bit too mushy to keep on climbing much longer.
We packed up our gear, and hiked out. It took about 45 minutes to get back to the cars.