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?


  1. Bill,
    Thought I'd take a minute to tell you how much I enjoyed your photos of Tuckerbrook Trail. Lots of memories there. I worked for many years on patrol at Cannon. Back in the 60's and 70's we got to make end of the day sweeps of TB on weekends. We'd go as a pair --- and take a toboggan with us. We would shoot Taft Salmon nearly straight trying to maintain some speed to carry the tobaggan up the incline toward Mittersill to lessen to distance we'd have to haul it up hill. As I remember it the one that hauled the toboggan up got to free ski down. One memory I have is of some great skiing in deep powder along the edge ---- till I caught an edge and took a tumble. While going in for my landing, right after dodging a tree trunk (pre-helmet days,) I heard a "crack!" As I began to shuffel upright, I cursed because I felt sure I'd be needing a ride down myself. Luckily the crack I heard was my ski tip not my tib-fib. Adhesive tape from the first aid pouch spliced the tip back on and got me down the rest of the way. A driver with a pick-up truck would meet us at the bottom and ferry us back to Cannon. Once in a while he'd think to bring us a beer. So where you got yours at the top, we got ours at the bottom! Both tasty I'm sure!

    1. Thanks Dayton! Before this day, I had not skied at Cannon since the early 2000's. The last time there, I had the worst skiing accident of my life. After a wax and sharpen, my friend and I went down Taft to Upper and then Middle Hardscrabble. I lost control partway down Middle Hardscrabble, and went into the woods just where MH Cut thru forks left. I cracked my helmet, and de-laminated the tips of both of my skis. Needless to say, that was the end of that skiing day, but I was able to get up and out under my own power. Come to find out, I also dislocated the lateral end of my collarbone, and didn't know it until last year! It didn't cause me any issue until last winter, when my heavier winter pack made it known that there was something amiss. An injury and an event that will stay with me forever.

      Thanks for sharing your story, and here's to well deserved beers!

  2. Bare boots, microspikes, crampons, snowshoes, skis. What's mode of travel is left for you to use?

    Nice pics and report.

    1. Thanks Jim! Levitation perhaps? Though I'm not sure where the physical fitness part would come into play. To say that skiing is my preferred mode of winter travel, is a grievous understatement.

  3. Pretty cool Bill. I was hiking the TB last weekend and I'm inclined to get back there and whack the old Coppermine path (after the 13 turns runout) down to the BV falls. I got a little bit into the route, but ran out of time. Next weekend, I hope.

    1. Thanks! I think the next time I do Cannon, I'll come up the Coppermine Trail (which I "need" to do anyway), whack the old trail, and look around for the two other waterfalls that are above Bridal Veil.