Wednesday, May 6, 2015

April Powder Days 4/23-4/24/15

Working title: Getting it while it's good

For future reference, rain in the valley may not be so on the heights. While the calender says late April, and the bare ground in the valley agrees, the mountaintops are still getting hit. What I thought was over, is now getting a late season refresh.

4/23: GOS Main and Finger Gullies

Nate the Master Forecaster had, a week prior, predicted a snow event for Wednesday night into Thursday. Messages were exchanged into the evening, as rain came down in freshets outside my windows, and we agreed to rise early and assess. It was hard for Anya and myself to imagine skiing, when we drifted off to sleep with rain pouring down. When we awoke it was no longer raining, and the message from Nate was a go, so we made our way over to Mike's and shuttled up to Pinkham. A dusting of new snow greeted us, and with Nate running behind, we started up the thinning Gulf of Slides Ski Trail. We were able to skin all the way up excepting the crossings, which were blown out, and the cover was gossamer thin in spots. Snow depth steadily increased as we climbed, a couple fresh inches greeted us near the top.

Reaching the point where the trail descends into one of the avalanche runouts, we took a break and waited for Nate to catch up to us. We didn't have long to wait, as he soon came around the corner, all smiles. Deciding on a first run in Main Gully we skinned up to the landing, some going further than others, and strapped skis/snowboards to our packs for the boot up.

The headwall of GOS in the clouds

GOS Main, the dark patches proved interesting

Sporadic transitions

Booting up to the scrub at the top, we got to business. The turns weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but conditions in Main Gully consisted of somewhat firm bumps under fresh. A bit of a challenge never hurt anyone, least of all this guy. Unfortunately Mike had some issues with his skins (since resolved), leaving a residue on his bases, making it next to impossible to properly ski. We regrouped at the landing, then headed down to the runout where we got ready for a second run... this time in the aptly named Finger Gullies. Skinning up a short way, we got to climbing. Sadly Mike (who didn't want to put his skins back on, and for good reason) started postholing, and threw in the towel. He would end up meeting us back down at the parking lot.

Our trio booted up Finger 1, and over to the top of Middle Finger. Being protected from the winds, the snow had settled here like a fluffy blanket, 4-6 inches of freshness over a smooth base. Are you absolutely, positively sure this is April?!? The run down was amazing, my skis playfully popping me out of turns, and right on into the next. Smiles ear to ear.

Under the aesthetic tree

Finger 1

Middle Finger

Nate dropping in

Near the bottom Nate had to make his escape, for he had to work in the evening. Anya and I exchanged a glance, it was too good to not go up for another. We asked Nate to tell Mike that we'd be down after, and to tell him we'd buy him a beer. Booting back up Finger 1, we shot right back down it, savoring the powder in the narrow chute. All in all, the two gully runs rank in my top five runs of the season... they were THAT good!

Skiing down the trail itself was another story. It was spicy/sporty to the max in spots, and some of the lower sections that did have snow on the entrance, had none left for the exit. We walked a few sections, myself more than Anya, but managed to get back to the lot on skis. Thanks to Nate (for his forecasting prowess, and knowledge of these hills), Anya (for being a go-getter, and ripping it harder than is legal in most states), and especially thanks to Mike for waiting for us (for 2 hours, eek, sorry)!

4/24: Cog to near the summit

More snow showers were in the forecast for Thursday night into Friday morning, so Jake and I hatched a plan to get at the East Snowfields on Washington. Snagging bagels at the always delicious (and conveniently right down the street from my house) Bagels Plus, we saddled up and headed to the base of the Cog. A slick drive up through Crawford Notch and down the Base Road found us in the hiker lot, with about 4 inches of fluffy powder! Just when you think things can't possibly get more ridiculous, Mother Nature comes through and surprises you. Skis on from the start, we got headed up, following the faint remains of a skintrack. The cover was pretty thin down low, with scrub poking through, though we still relished the thought of skiing down through it. We soon ended up climbing into the base of the clouds, the tracks covered in the fresh snow, and crossing the tracks, took a break at the shack at about ~4200'.

Thin cover

More of the same

Fluff on the tracks

Iced window

After a decent break, we continued up the narrows below Jacob's Ladder, personally my favorite section of the Cog to ski. The forecast had called for increasing winds, but we had yet to really feel them... that was all to change. Reaching Jacob's Ladder (which I'd never gone above until today), I neglected to get a picture of Jake at his ladder, and we kept on climbing. To quote Jake, "I don't always ski the Cog, but when I do, I ALWAYS go above Jacob's". Above Jacob's, visibility deteriorated significantly, the wind made its presence known, and rime started to form on our windward surfaces. Following the tracks became imperative, as to not get lost in the white landscape surrounding us. My glasses rimed over and visibility got even worse, thankfully the tracks only disappeared into the snow once, so I still felt good about continuing. To make matters worse, Jake couldn't see much better than I could! He checked in with me at intervals, making sure I was alright to continue, and I was game as long as he was. Cairns loomed out of the fog, and we kept climbing along the tracks, crossing Westside, Gulfside, and finally Nelson Crag Trail. The wind picked up rather suddenly as we climbed between Gulfside and Nelson Crag, and began to batter us. Knowing we were close to the top, but not exactly how close, we called it. We couldn't very well transition with the wind blowing like it was, so we skittered down to a point where the wind wasn't as strong, and got into ski mode. It was one of the most memorable and somewhat scary transitions I've ever made, the wind whipping, the whiteout wrapped around us.

The narrows

Skinning up the blank canvas

Jacob's Ladder

Rimed tie

Rimed beard

The Snowplow of Doom made an appearance, and was used to great effect, as we slowly made our way down next to the tracks. Even in our half-blind states, we managed to make some turns in the soft stuff, and hit a few lurking rocks (sharks). Before we knew it Jacob's appeared out of the fog, and not wanting to take our skis off, we not so gracefully flopped down on the snow and slid ourselves across the tracks. Just after doing so, we noticed a group of four at the landing next to Jacob's... they probably asked themselves what the hell we were doing! They thanked us for setting the skintrack, and after we noticed that they hadn't tracked it up yet, we said our farewells and got after what we earned.

I can't properly describe the feeling of euphoria that encompassed the entire run down to the car. The snow was damn near perfect, hissing under our skis, as only untracked fresh snow does. I'm sure the group above us had a great run down, but it surely paled in comparison to ours. A short break was taken at the shack, to bask in the glow of the epic conditions, then we (wisely) took off our skis to cross the tracks, and got to the rest of it. Closer to the tracks, sharks were on the prowl, but near the woods the snow still covered them. We only stopped a couple of times on the way down, the snow was THAT good. With the exception of climbing up next to the Cog building at the bottom, we were able to ski all the way back to the car... in April!

While not the best weather conditions, I can safely say this was the best Cog run of my short backcountry career. Thanks to Jake for sharing it with me!


These two days were a surprise and a blessing to be sure, and a fitting reminder that the season isn't over yet!

Maybe if I don't put my skis away, it will be an endless winter...