Thursday, April 4, 2013

Skiing on Garfield 4/3/13

Working title: Moments of brilliance

Peak: Mt. Garfield

Trails: Gale River Road, Garfield Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail

Mileage/time: ~12 miles, ~3100 feet of gain, book time of 7:35, actual time of 7:50

With winter winding down, and snow melting at lower elevations, you'd think I would have slowed down. That hasn't really been the case, though I did take last week off. I finally got my ski setup to the point that I was ready to take it into the back country, and tested it out a couple weeks ago, by skinning up Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and skiing down the Sherburne Ski Trail. This would be my first extended tour, and I would spend almost 8 miles of this "hike" on skis.

Wednesdays. The bane of my existence. Working nights, and having Wednesdays off is all well and good, except for the whole, getting out at 6am on Wednesday thing is concerned. Sleep deprivation is a funny thing, it leaves your mind reeling from mental exhaustion, and this day was no exception. I was to meet up with a fellow Randomite named Elena, who had wanted to do a couple of training hikes, before coming on the Baldface/Royce traverse that I have scheduled for later in the month. Work was done, I coffee'd up, and headed north. Things were looking cloudy in the mountains, but it was sunny for most of the way. When I made the turn towards Conway, I saw the clouds. Giant lenticulars, over the Presidentials. It made me glad I had bailed out on doing Monroe and Washington, it must have been crazy windy up there. I probably should have paid more attention to the road, but the clouds were amazing. It was awesome to watch them form, be ripped apart, and re-form. I had to stop at the rest area in Intervale for a picture.

It snowed off and on through Crawford Notch, and it was super windy, but then it cleared up, and it looked to be a promising day. I met up with Elena at the Cannon tram lot, and she followed me to the plowed area at the end of Gale River Road. I got changed out of my work clothes, and put on my ski boots... if they aren't broken in after this hike, I'll be very surprised. We started off down the road at 9:15. I started out on my skis, but soon found that flat ground isn't so kind on touring skis, and soon took them off and carried them on my pack. The snow-covered road walk went quickly, as the snow was quite firm, and we soon found ourselves at the summer trailhead, and started up. There was very thin cover on the first mile of the Garfield Trail, and there was some ice and a lot of bare ground. It had been two years and four days exactly, since I had last been on this trail, and looking back, there was more snow then.

The two crossings were still fairly well snow-bridged, and the snow pack increased above them, enough so that I put on my skis. We climbed with the constant sound of the wind, roaring above, and gusting through the treetops. It was nice and sunny, and I was in base layers, working a good sweat skiing uphill. I think this might be my preferred mode of uphill winter travel (besides a ski lift), as I found it to be less effort than snowshoeing. There were several small streams that had opened up across the trail that made things interesting, but I was able to navigate them with my skis on. As we started into the switchbacks, there was fresh snow clinging to the trees, and snow blowing around above us, flung from some far off tree or slope.

Up through the switchbacks, the trail had drifted in, more than a foot in places, but it was easily followed, thanks to the group from yesterday. The sun was still shining, and I was excited for some spectacular views.

Upon reaching the junction, I took off my skis, and left them. The last 0.2 miles to the summit would have been too steep to climb with them, and skiing down would have been deadly at best. I was able to bareboot to the summit, and my boots provided decent traction on the semi-solid snow, Elena stayed in snowshoes.

Proof! My skis were here

Breaking out near the summit
The steep climb soon ended, and we were greeted at the summit by rime covered rocks, brilliant sunshine, biting cold, and pushy westerly winds. The high peaks definitely didn't get the memo about it being spring.

Northeast to the Pilot/Pliny Ranges

Presidentials creeping behind the Twins

Guyot, the Bonds, and Carrigain

Hancocks, Sandwich Range, Osceolas, Owl's Head

Franconia Ridge


We quickly realized that the old fire tower foundation wasn't going to provide much shelter from the wind, and decided to head back to the junction for a break. The steeps would have been good snowshoe skiing, but not so much actual skiing. The lesson of the day was this: more snow = better.

After lunch in the sun, we headed down. I kept my heels unlocked for the first part, as it's not really steep, and there are several uphill sections. It wasn't nearly as tiring as hiking down, but it still took quite a lot of effort, and I was happy to have Elena behind me, so I could take breaks in between. Once we were off the switchbacks, I stopped to take off the skins, and have a go at it. Referencing the lesson of the day, the descent was crazy fast! I should have known it would be, having skied at resorts countless times, somewhat icy consolidated base, with an inch or two of fresh snow, means fast. No crashes, or near misses were had, and there were moments of brilliant (tooting my own horn maybe) weaving through some tight saplings, hitting some pockets of deeper snow off trail. Far sooner than expected, I reached the point where I had put them on, and decided it would be best to take them off.

Skis are heavy, and ski boots (even touring boots) are interesting to hike in. Some pain was had on the flats, and on the road walk, but all in all, the boots held up well. When we reached the road, the sun had been working hard, as there were many clear areas, that had been snow covered only hours earlier.

We soon reached the cars, and I was finally able to drop my heavy pack. Elena and I parted ways, with plans to hike on the 12th, in preparation for the 20th. The drive home was awesome, at least while I was still in the mountains. The cloud show I had witnessed in the morning, was apparently only a preview. Again, I should have probably been paying more attention to the road, but there were lenticulars of all shapes and sizes, stacking up all over the place. A beautiful sight that I'll be keeping for me, there are no pictures.

Thanks Elena for a great day!