Three Beginner-Friendly New Hampshire Ice Climbing Destinations

If you haven’t busted your ice tools out yet or you’re a beginner just looking to enter the sport, now is the time to do it. But before you head out, consider exploring one of these three awesome New Hampshire locations as the perfect spot to get in the…swing of things.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Kinsman Notch

Blending a mix of beginner-friendly ice with steep columns and big bulges in a fun, craggy setting, Kinsman Notch is a destination where you can find something for everybody, no matter who’s in your crew. Located just outside Woodstock on Route 112, getting to the ice at Kinsman requires a short-but-steep, 15-20 minute walk uphill on an easy-to-follow path. You’ll know you’re at the ice when you see a short, steep pillar straight ahead and the approach trail begins to level out as it bends left.

Kinsman’s first crag contains two fun climbs: Pot O’ Gold (the WI4 pillar) and Killarney (an easier route up the ramp to the right). Whether you’re leading or top-roping—walk around right for good trees above to build anchors—these climbs are well worth doing.

Just a little ways left of Pot O’Gold are several other popular flows. The first is Shamrock—a long, wide flow that ranges from WI3 to WI4 depending on the conditions and the precise path you take. The next flow is Hanging By The Moment, two steep columns on either side of a large rock; these are among the hardest climbs in the area. The final flow in this area is Leprechaun’s Lament. It has three distinct parts with the left-most flow (WI2+) being the easiest, the middle curtain going at WI3, and the right-most ramp falling in between the two in terms of difficulty. All three climbs allow access to the top ledge, which climbers can use to set up anchors above the WI3 curtain as well as some of the more challenging routes on climber’s right.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

If all these climbs are occupied, climbers can follow the typically beat-in path further left for about 200 yards. Soon you’ll see the Beast (WI4+) and the Ramp Route (WI3-4), two multi-pitch routes with steep first pitches followed by some mellower sections above. If climbing columns is your thing, don’t miss the Beast!

If the multi-pitch routes are already taken as well—which is possible because Kinsman is a popular weekend destination—there’s an additional wide flow another 50 yards left of the Beast. Known as Blarney Stone, this is a great place to get some sticks in while the parties ahead of you get pumped out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Champney Falls

Champney Falls is an excellent location for beginner and intermediate climbers looking to challenge themselves on steeper ice. Located about 30 minutes outside of North Conway Village, climbers will find parking at the aptly named (and well-signed) Champney Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the normally well-packed Champney Falls Trail as it climbs gradually for roughly 1.5 miles and take the obvious spur into the gorge. Inside the gorge, there’s a small cave which is perfect for stashing gear in—opposite the cave is a wall of ice ranging between 25 and 40 feet.

There are two options for setting up top ropes at Champney Falls. For those uncomfortable leading, it’s possible to scramble through the woods to the top of the cliff. This is a popular destination and you’re likely to have a packed-snow path to follow. If not, a rusty wire fence leads to the top, providing a guide to the clifftop. The other option is to lead the ramp in the back of the gorge—depending on the season, this ramp can range from running water to  snow to a big fat flow. Either way, pack a reasonably long static line for building anchors; the sturdiest trees are quite far back from the edge.

The routes at Champney are all fairly vertical. With the exception of the snow ramp/ice flow, the routes in the back of the canyon are the longest and steepest (WI5). As the routes move toward the front of the gorge, they lessen in both height and difficulty with a normally yellow-ish ice section in the middle going at WI4 and giving way to shorter and bulgier ice in the WI3 range. Some short-ish mixed lines that are fun to play on also form at the mouth of the canyon from time to time. Champney Falls is a popular destination and can accommodate only a few parties, so if you’re heading there on a weekend in prime ice season, you’ll want to get an early start.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The North End of Cathedral

There’s good reason the North End of Cathedral is one of the busiest single-pitch ice crags in New Hampshire—the approach is only about five minutes. Located on Cathedral Ledge Road just after the winter gate, the North End is the most accessible ice in the North Conway area. It sports several large flows offering everything from mellow slabs to steep ice.

The three most popular flows at the North End are Thresher, the North End Slab, and the North End Pillars. In good conditions, the latter two are wide flows that can accommodate multiple parties at once.

Of the three flows, the easiest is the North End Slab (WI2). It is also the longest climb in the North End, climbing a moderately angled ramp that is fantastic for first timers. For climbers planning on top roping the route, be aware that a 60m rope will be too short; climbers can instead build an anchor partway up the climb and top rope from there.

Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck
Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck

The North End Pillars (WI3-4) are located just to the right of North End Slab. A very wide flow, there’s often room for multiple parties on these easily accessible steep columns and they are a great place to practice climbing vertical ice. Climbers interested in top roping can access the good tree anchors at the top via an approach trail on climber’s right.

The final flow at the North End—Thresher (WI3)—begins a bit left of the North End Slab. It starts with a few sporting moves up a chimney, then ascends a slab and bulges toward the trees. One note of caution—you’ll need more than a single 60m rope to rap back to the ground. Of course, there’s an easy solution, enjoy this stellar route as a party of three.

Now that you have the beta on these three awesome areas, it’s time (if you haven’t already) to bust out the tools and get climbing. Make sure to tell us in the comments how you fared!