Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A historical route to Cannon 3/24/14

Working title: I bought a beer on top of the mountain... because I could.

Peaks: Mittersill Peak, Cannon Mountain

Trails: Tucker Brook Ski Trail, Taft Trail, Rim Trail

Mileage/time: ~8.2 miles, ~3000' of gain, book time of 5:35, actual time of 3:55

Though the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) faded into memory back in 1942, there are visible reminders of the work accomplished in its nine short years of existence, all across our nation. Much of its legacy here in New England, comes in the form of hiking trails, ski trails, campgrounds, and roads, especially in the WMNF.  Many of the ski trails became the centerpieces of new ski resorts, which started popping up in the late 1930's. Others have faded into obscurity, in whole, or in part.

The Tucker Brook Ski Trail, constructed in 1935, is one that has survived the advent of lift serviced ski terrain, though in a augmented, and "unofficially" maintained state. My understanding, is that the lower 2 miles is the original Tucker Brook Trail, and the upper mile is the upper section of the former Coppermine Ski Trail. The middle section of Coppermine Ski Trail has been reclaimed by the forest (though I understand that it can still be followed), and the lower section from Bridal Veil Falls out to 116 is still in existence as the Coppermine Trail.

Having done all the reading up I could do on it, I made it my modest goal for the day. Just to be on the up and up, I stopped by the base lodge at Cannon and paid them $9 for an uphill access pass, as I figured I'd hit Cannon while I was there. The resort restructured their policy this season, and while snowshoeing and hiking on their trails is still prohibited, skinning is not. The trailhead for Tucker Brook was pretty easy to find, and I set about getting myself ready.

A short way up the trail, the fleece came off, and I climbed in a single base layer the rest of the way. The bottom section of trail is fairly narrow, and coincides with a cross country ski trail network maintained by the Franconia Village XC Ski Center. It had definitely seen plenty of ski traffic, as it was mostly hard packed, with some fluff on the sides.

The woods began to open up around me, and as I passed by the junction with the aptly named Hardwood Heaven trail, the woods became exactly that, heaven. A steep pitch lay in front of me, and the hillside to my right was tattooed with skier tracks from the weekend.

Beyond this fairly narrow, steep section, the trail widened, and the grade eased. I spied lines all around me, and the anticipation of the descent kept my pace steady. There's nothing like skinning up under sunny skies, on a spring day in the single digits. Well, it could have been warmer, but I was downright comfortable. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, as I found this middle section to be a hardwood heaven indeed.

At the top of the hardwoods, the trail bore left, and traversed along a narrow corridor. Beyond the traverse, was an area referred to as the 13 Turns. Here, the trail was no more that 15 feet wide, and moguls ruled, some pretty big ones at that! I managed to get myself into a spot that was too steep for my skins, and I couldn't really go anywhere. Off with the skis, I threw them up over the mogul in front of me, and kicked steps to the top of it. Some tedious skinning later, I exited the 13 Turns, and soon ducked under the rope at the junction with the Taft Trail.

A quick jaunt up the Taft brought me to Mittersill Peak, a 3617' shoulder of Cannon, which the Taft Trail runs over. Views instantly presented themselves, with an up close and personal look at Cannon, the Kinsman Ridge, and Franconia Ridge.

Some slight downhill later, which I didn't bother taking the skins off for, the upper Taft Trail was in front of me. Some huffing and puffing, with some intermittent motion, got me to the top of the lift. The few skiers I did see on this cold day, gave me some interesting looks! Upon reaching the lift, the attendant greeted me by saying, "now there's a guy who's loving life!". I couldn't agree more. Pushing on to the summit, I touched the high point under the tower, took off the skis, and gingerly made my way up the stairs (ice-ramp).

Finally, after four times on this summit, I have good views! Clear into Vermont and Quebec! The winds were pretty biting, but I didn't stay long. I felt kind of bad for those riding the chairlift!

Since the cafeteria at the summit was open, I availed myself of its warmth. For my efforts, I celebrated with a beer, a rather expensive beer, but a beer nonetheless. If the service exists, why not avail oneself of it?! I had a good chat with one of the employees, and finishing my beer, got to the real reason for the day... the descent.

The Taft from the top of the lift was nearly bulletproof hardpack, something that Cannon (and most northeastern ski resorts) should trademark. Instead of screwing around with skins again, I hiked the uphill section of the Taft back to the top of Mittersill. I caught up with a nice gentleman with tele skis, who was going partway down Tucker Brook before cutting back over. He went through the 13 Turns faster than I did, that's for sure!

I had to think back to some advice my cousin gave me, while skiing in Colorado a couple of years ago... three turns. Concentrating on three turns helps, when trying to stay focused on steep, mogul-filled, terrain. The traverse was taken gingerly, and I was soon back in heaven, swooping turns to the edges of the trail, dancing in the powder that lay there.

Like any good thing, it was over too soon (said often, never more true). I'll be back for this one again and again. I think, I may, have caught, the ski mountaineering, bug...

Also, did I inadvertently start the 48 on skis?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Moosilauke Touring 3/21/14

Working title: Skin up, ski down

Peak: Mt. Moosilauke

Trails: Ravine Lodge Road, Gorge Brook Trail, Carriage Road, Snapper Trail

Mileage/time: 10.9 miles, ~3028' of gain, book time of 7:00, actual time of 6:59

I said that this winter was going to be the winter of backcountry skiing. Well, up until now, it's been pretty sparse. A run on the Sherburne back in January, and another run this past Wednesday, has been about it. March, snowy March, has brought about mid-winter conditions to the resorts and backcountry alike. Being on vacation, it was time. A rather timely text from my friend Jake netted plans for some skiing on the Moose!

After skiing the Sherburne and Cranmore on Wednesday, and then Cranmore again on Thursday (after 14" of wet heavy powder), I was beat, but happy to get out for a tour. 4am came way too early, and I was out the door 30 minutes later. I met Jake at his place and we set off for the mountains. Everything was smooth until we turned onto 118. Saying that this road is a mess, would be a huge understatement. Up and down we bounced until turning onto Ravine Lodge Road, where we parked and got ready.

Under moody, generally overcast skies, with the sound of the wind in the treetops, we clicked in and were off touring. The road was unbroken, with 2-4" of snow with a light crust on top. We both worked up a sweat, and before we even knew it (about 40 minutes), we were at the end of the road and the start of the Gorge Brook Trail.

Starting up Gorge Brook, we talked about skiing/snowboarding down this trail... all I can say, is no thank you. Too narrow for my liking! Frequent stops were made, as I'm still recovering from my latest cold (second one this year!), but we still made good upward progress. Reaching the first viewpoint, it looked as though we might have a chance at views.

Trail breaking continued, but as we gained elevation, the crust disappeared, and the snow was fluffier. Smiles all around. Sadly, we were not to be entertained by summit views, as we soon climbed into the base of the cloud deck. The wind roared above us, as we discussed the plan once we reached the top. Search out snowfields, that was our objective!

Layering up just before treeline, we entered the maelstrom. Emerging onto the moonscape, we followed the cairns. There were pockets of snow, and some interesting drifts, but it was mostly ice. Visibility was poor, but enough to see cairn to cairn, snow fell from the sky, blown by the wind. It was all very reminiscent of my first hike to this peak, way back in 2010. Those times feel worlds away. This time, my glasses did not freeze. Small miracles. Reaching the rime encrusted sign, we paused. The wind markedly accelerated as it pushed over the summit, and we took shelter just down from it.

A small snowfield just off the summit to the east looked tempting to Jake, so he removed his skins, and got seven turns out of it. Re-skinning and coming back, we discussed our options. Visibility was terrible, and searching around for snowfields went out the window. We decided to head for our descent route. The Carriage Road above treeline is well marked by large cairns, which we had no problem following. There was much drifting where the trail entered the scrub and trees, making for interesting travel. Snowshoe tracks emerged as we got just below treeline, looks like someone came up and turned around. Soon reaching the Glencliff junction, we saw the tracks coming up from there. The Carriage Road looked like it had been skied a day or two prior, but looked otherwise untouched.

After our break, we started down. The trail was narrow, but not overly steep, and we got in some pretty killer turns in the soft powder. I have no pictures of the badassery, so you'll just have to take my word for it... it was some of the most fun skiing I've ever done! 1.2 miles (or 1.1 if you believe the sign) goes really quick when you're on skis, and we very quickly reached the unbroken Snapper Trail. Even though there were a couple of minor uphill sections, we kept our skis on, and had a decent run down the narrow trail. Just before reaching the Gorge Brook junction, I barely saw a snow covered bridge, open water, and before I knew it I was on the other side of the small brook, hugging a tree! I didn't make noise soon enough because Jake came right up behind me and nearly met the same fate.

Back at the junction, we took another break before skinning up and heading out. It looked like a solo hiker had come up behind us, and packed out the trail with snowshoes, so we'd have a smoother track to descend on (because obviously, they did it for us). Crossing back over the Baker River, we swung over to the lodge itself, where Moosilauke briefly revealed itself.

Skinning back up to the road, we kept them on until we got the uphill portion out of the way. Then it was skins off, heels unlocked, as we were able to make a nearly uninterrupted run back to the gate, some poling required. I decided to be different, coming around the gate, I stayed right, skiing behind the little kiosk, right up to the car. I then became mired in the unconsolidated snowbank. Totally worth it.

Renegotiating 118, we made solid time back to Maine, and even made it home before dark. For me, this was the first mountain that I've ascended and descended entirely on skis. What a blast of a tour, and one that will likely be repeated in the future. Thanks to Jake for a great day on the boards!

There's some plan-hatchery going on right now, and I should have some interesting reports in the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A 2xW48 finish on Isolation 3/6/14

Working title: Too Blue

Peak: Mt. Isolation

Trails: Rocky Branch Trail, bushwhack, Isolation Trail, Davis Path, Isolation Spur

Mileage/time: ~12.8 miles, ~3550' of gain, book time of 8:10, actual time of 8:18

As I alluded to last week, a winter finish was at hand. The lead-up to it, has been somewhat bittersweet for me, as it's been a long time in coming! What started by accident, on a cloudy, 40 degree, New Years Eve hike to Pierce and Eisenhower in 2010, was about to reach its apex. I say accident, because I didn't have a clue that there were separate winter and all-season lists. While I'd hiked Moosilauke, Carter Dome, South/Middle Carter, Garfield, Tecumseh, and the Kinsmans, in winter conditions, I'd have to do them AGAIN in calender winter.

In my first winter hiking season ('10-'11), I managed to knock off 13 peaks, not bad for a total amateur. The following winter ('11-'12) , the "winter that wasn't" (for me), only saw me go back for the two Carters, leaving 15 down. I met up with Mike in September that year, and I figured since he was going for a single season, I might as well try and finish my list. Though we made a valiant effort, he ended up being 6 peaks shy of a single season finish, and I ended up doing 30 peaks (5 of them repeats)... leaving me 8 shy of my goal.

Starts and stops have typified this winter, sickness and health as well. Skiing and hiking in rather equal measure. Seeing as calender winter is winding down, I'm glad I took a laissez-faire attitude towards this season. The finish was inevitable, it could have come early, it could have gone late. I'm grateful it took the path it did, culminating on this most perfect of days.

The forecast kept jumping around in the days prior, cloudy, clear, not windy, snowing, cloudy, clear... make up your mind! After getting in some night skiing on Wednesday, I got little sleep, and met up with Mike at his place around 8. We ended up stopping for a proper breakfast, as if to somehow forestall the finish. Parking next to a Bentley in the Rocky Branch lot (strange), we got on trail a bit after 9:30.

Skies blue, trail well packed, we made our way casually up Rocky Branch Trail. Both of us were down to base layers within the first mile. Most of the climbing on this hike occurs in the first few miles, and we worked up a good head of steam until we reached a fork in the trail, the beginning of the bushwhack.

Before us lay some of the most gorgeous birch glades, very enticing to a skier... mouth-watering even. Several times, we both stopped and vocalized, "WOW". There were some ups and downs through the glades, some views up to the Montalban Ridge, and to our goal. Some thicker areas were thrown in for good measure, and we soon popped out on Isolation Trail, at an appropriately fallen tree.

At times, while looking around, the sky appeared to be too blue. So blue, that it wasn't blue anymore. Continuing to take our time, we made it up to the ridge, and started south to our destination. Along Davis Path, we ran into the only other people we'd see, three older gentlemen out enjoying the Isolation. Views started to open up behind us as we neared the spur.

Reaching the spur, we started up. Steeply, we popped out into the open, touched one cairn on the north side of the summit, then around some scrub to the summit cairn itself. Now that the optional part of the hike was over, the interlude, and mandatory parts could commence. Not a cloud was in the sky, and barely a breath of wind was felt during our hour on top.

For a descent, there sure seemed to be a lot of uphill! As a reward, we did get to go back through the epic birch glades, both our minds wandered to skiing. While they're fairly far out there, I'd say they'd be worth the effort, just to get a chance to ski them after a storm.

In the fading light, we made it back to the trail, though really, everything was just a packed snow super-highway. It almost felt like cheating. By the time we reached the lower part of Rocky Branch, we were tired. The twilight colors were delicate, and we never needed to pull out the headlamps, as we soon reached the lot. Mandatory part of the hike, done! Our safe return to the trailhead made it official. Winter 48, done!

Dinner and a celebratory beer was had, and I can't say we didn't earn it. While today felt like cheating, because of the excellent conditions, it was worth the days of trail-breaking, sub-par weather, and epic battles with these mountains, just to get to the final peak. I was also glad to get to enjoy it, and many others, with my friend. Thanks also, to all the folks last weekend who broke out and packed down this trail, for our hiking pleasure. Without all of you, conditions like these wouldn't be possible.

What's next? Chipping away at the lists I already have going (all the lists...), only really planning to knock off the NE67 soon-ish, maybe this year, maybe not. I'll continue to redline, hoping to reach 75% by the end of the year, looking to finish next year or the year after. It's all a long game now. Daydreams abound.