Saturday, April 26, 2014

Washington with a side of Tucks 4/25/14

Working title: Who ever said spring wasn't a season of harvest?

Peak: Mt. Washington

Trails: Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Right Gully, bushwhack, Lion Head Trail, snowfields, The Chute, Sherburne Ski Trail

Elevation/outing duration: ~4500' gain/loss, time of 8:03

Hot on the heels of last week, and after much forecast waffling, Friday appeared to be THE day to hit something. Ideas got tossed around, and they all fell somewhere on Washington. After never enough sleep, I met up with Jake and headed north. On getting a glimpse of the mountain, our plan changed, as it would a couple times throughout the day. Pinkham was starting to fill up, but the early birds like us profit. We were delighted to find that the Tuckerman Ravine Trail was still doable on skis... now doable is a relative term. Rocks and melted out areas were very prevalent in the lower mile, and conditions deteriorated further in the afternoon.

The sweaty climb commenced, and we made great time, getting up to Hojo's in a bit over an hour and a half. Just as we arrived, the snow rangers updated the avalanche board, with most terrain having low danger, and the rest moderate. We ran into a guy that I'll refer to as The Amazing Jonathan, because of his crazy ravine ski tours around Mt. Washington. Several inches of snow had fallen in the prior 24 hours, and contrasted with the older surfaces. We skinned up as far as we could, then threw the skis on our packs for a while. It was going to be a gorgeous day!

Hillmans area

Left Gully

Fresh on the headwall
The Amazing Jonathan was already halfway up Right Gully by the time we pulled into the bowl, and it looked like it would be a decent route out of the ravine. Crampons on, we started up. The new snow was pretty soft, and we were concerned that it would become manky as the day progressed. After a short, but dicey bushwhack at the top of the gully, and we came out into the open, a short distance from the junction of Lion Head Trail and Alpine Garden Trail.

Discussion ensued, and (after seeing the Amazing Jonathan again, on his way down from the summit) we opted to summit, hit the East Snowfields, and traverse across to ski down The Chute. Skis back on, we skinned up the snowfields as far as we could, before transitioning again. A day full of transitions. The new snow was much more grippy, and we slipped a bit on the old surfaces. Sadly, the skinning didn't last nearly as long as we'd hoped for. Rock hopping became the tedious, tedious, game all the way to the summit.

Great rime formations greeted us above ~6000', and we soon saw towers poking above the talus, taunting. We had been hearing heavy equipment on our way up, and upon reaching the Auto Road, there was a Cog train and an excavator, pounding away at the frozen surfaces. It's so peaceful up here. The reality was, that the light winds, and powerful April sunshine, made it feel a lot warmer than the 23 degrees the OBS recorded during our stay. Needless to say, we stuck around long enough to take some pictures, then retreated down the road a bit to access the snowfields.

Lunch was had atop the snowfields, at 6000', basking in the sun. What a way to spend the afternoon, and we had yet to even turn our skis in anger. Transitioning, we ripped down a good section of the snowfield. The new snow was buttery, and great to turn in, as was the now softened older surfaces. This received a Jake rating of 8. With a couple of hundred vertical to go, we had to cut right through some rock bands to start our traverse over to the ravine.

There were a few others heading toward the top of the headwall, as we made our way across. I think they got a bit freaked out when they hit the steepest portion of the traverse, because a couple of them stopped, and while Jake got around them, they started moving as soon as he did. The traverse above the center of the headwall was most airy, as you look almost straight down into the bottom of the bowl, people looking like ants below.

The Chute was exactly that, narrow, and steep! The snow was good though, great corn on the left and in the middle, not so much to the right. The left and middle received a Jake rating of 9, with the right scoring a 6. A couple of stops, and some good turns later, we were back in the bottom of the bowl, searching for a couple friends of Jake's. We did find them, and climbed up to the rock they had staked out, hanging out for a little while, before deciding to head down. Hiking back to Hojo's, and getting in some quality boot skiing on the way, we transitioned again for the Sherburne run.

The top sections were in pretty good shape, with large soft bumps. We had one last encounter with the Amazing Jonathan near the top, probably as he cut over to GOS. The guy is an animal. Things then got fairly sporty with bare patches and rocks. I bailed when the grass skiing became too much, and cut over to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, about 2/3 of the way down. Jake on the other hand, went all the way to the parking lot, no matter the rock, the grass, or the meager amount of snow on the ground. 20 minutes later, I came down.

After the ride back, Jake and his girlfriend Pauline invited me in for burgers, dogs, and beer. How could I say no?! Thanks guys, for your hospitality, and thanks Jake for another great tour.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A triumphal return to the GOS 4/18/14

Working title: Spicy in, spicy out

Peak: None

Trails: Sherburne Ski Trail, Gulf of Slides Ski Trail, gullies, snowfields

Elevation/outing duration: ~4400' vertical (gain and loss), time of 6:58

Last week, I finally got the opportunity to ski in Tuckerman Ravine. The first of many. At least I got it in before the rain came, and made good things worse.

I'm sorry, this is totally off topic...
Jake and I schemed for a whole four days (see: forecast-watching), and with the reports coming out of Tucks (and the fact that GOS was on his hit-list), decided to go elsewhere. The original plan called for a GOS ascent, up and over the ridge into Oakes Gulf, then back over for a GOS run. As is often the case, things didn't work that way.

Super early to rise, and a 5am meet time. No wonder my neighbor thinks I'm crazy. Stopped for a proper breakfast at Priscilla's in Conway, then got a look at the mighty Agiocochook. What a difference a week makes! Bare spots showed all around, but the GOS looked good from afar. 

Pinkham was only half-full around 7:15, and after snagging a spot right next to the Sherburne entrance, we started up under sunny skies and fairly warm temps. Surfaces were firm, and both crossings of the New River were open but manageable. As we climbed, so did the temperature, at least it felt that way to us. In stark contrast to two weeks ago, the trail came complete with bare spots, ice, rocks, and brush. The potential was strong, for a sporty descent.

One could make a legitimate claim, that timing was everything today. As we arrived in the ravine, the three others that passed us on the way up, were about ready to start up the gully. It looked good, especially under bluebird skies.

The snow was still pretty firm, so we donned crampons, strapped skis to our packs, and started to climb. This is where I found the Achilles heel of my camera bag. When skis are strapped to my pack, it makes it nearly impossible to get the camera out... therefore, not so many ascent pictures. Mercifully, the climb ended, not without many stops (mostly by me). The forecast high clouds could be seen off to the west, the entire length of the Sandwich Range, laid out before them.

These clouds wouldn't stop the sun from doing work. It was strange to see bare ground here, 5000 feet up, while lower elevations were still cloaked. We decided against going over the top to check out Oakes, and we later found out that it's not in good shape. After a food break, run number one was on us.

We dropped into the top of Main Gully, and found the snow to be still fairly firm, but edgeable, yielding good turns. Pockets of new snow were downright manky, and really grabbed at my skis. A really decent first run overall, Jake rated it a 6 or a 6.5. Stopping short of the base, we regrouped and decided to boot up lookers left, and head for the south snowfields, where a friend of Jake's (who we saw during our break) was headed.

Slowly, we climbed, and soon crested the minor ridge, over to the other side of the ravine. I also finally retrieved my camera from it's prison. The snowfields were impressive, and there were but two sets of tracks. 

We booted to near the top, and put the skis back on, to traverse the top of the slope and drop in. The high clouds had veiled the sun, but it continued to work in our favor. Snow softened, and we savored the turns. Not easy skiing by any stretch of the imagination, but wicked enjoyable, and well worth the effort. Jake rated it an 8.

We transitioned again, and started to climb out, deciding to make up our minds as to what to do, when we got to the top. Once there, I approached Jake and said, "no more climbing". For my crime, we had to climb up and around scrub, to get to the top of Main Gully. Another quick transition, and we were off for our third and final run. Conditions on this side had improved considerably, and the skiing was fantastic. Jake rated it a 9.

Legs feeling it, we set off on our potentially spicy exit. While it wasn't the best skiing ever, it was a lot of fun, piecing together a way through the obstacles. The warmer temperatures down low had softened most of the remaining snow, so good, if somewhat mushy, turns were had. With the exception of the two river crossings, we were able to ski all the way back to the car.

Also, I'm pretty sure the group we passed going down, was some upper management from work playing hooky. Figures. The parking lot was full to overflowing, including the overflow lot, and cars were also parked along Rt. 16. They weren't in Gulf of Slides. Probably close to 20 people in the ravine today, Tucks must have been a zoo.

Retiring to the Moat, we celebrated with beers and a late lunch, and managed to get back in good time. Now to nurse the color I got today. Thanks Jake, for another great tour, and here's to three lap days!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Into the Gulf of Slides 4/3/14

Working title: Spring, fickle spring

Peak: None

Trail: Gulf of Slides Ski Trail

Mileage/time: ~5 miles, ~1900' of gain, outing duration of 3:20

You'd think that following the vernal equinox a couple of weeks ago, big changes would have taken place. Not exactly. Cold temperatures and even some snow, have kept the mountains deeply shrouded in their winter finery. A warm-up early in the week, including a day that I went to work in a t-shirt, had me itching to get out.

The Gulf of Slides Ski Trail was cut in 1935, by who other than the CCC. It accesses the slide scarred bowl separating Slide (Gulf) Peak to the south, and Boott Spur to the north. Garnering much less attention than its more famous brother to the north, it rewards the skier with lower angle terrain and less traffic. Following the north bank of the New River, the trail is significantly more narrow than the Sherburne Trail, ranging from 6-20', though less steep overall, with a maximum gradient of 20 degrees.

The alarm went off early, and upon checking the forecast and current conditions, I went back to bed. Better give the sun some time to get to work on the snowpack. When I did finally arrive at Pinkham around 11, the parking lot was surprisingly crowded, and slushy with temps in the upper 30's. A few people set off from the end of the Sherburne as I was getting ready, and soon-ish, I was off.

A light base layer, no hat, and no gloves, was what I wore from the start, and I found myself wishing for less as I climbed. My softshell pants, while able to be vented, felt downright claustrophobic, and a t-shirt wouldn't have been out of the question. The guy I'd seen in the parking lot, caught up to me (taking a shortcut), with his very friendly and energetic dog. Dripping sweat in the sun, I continued upward, clouds streaming over the ridge ahead. In the sun, the snow was soft, in the shade, it was bulletproof and solid. A sure sign of things to come. 

Nearing the floor of the bowl, the trail crosses an avalanche path, and I started to run into some other skiers. I'd heard a pair coming down, and conditions sounded VERY scratchy. It was confirmed when I talked to them, very crusty and difficult to ski. Reaching the bowl, I ran into the guy and his dog again, as they were preparing to set off for the run down. There was a group of five, a short distance away, and I chatted them up for a while. I was glad to see some equipment similar to mine, normally I see Dynafit or Fritschi bindings, and it was nice to see some Marker representation! The group was hanging out, drinking beers, waiting for the sun to soften things up. The clouds kept the sun intermittent at best, and the surfaces were still solid. Many tracks could be seen up in the gullies, but they were likely set up like concrete. You win some, you lose some. More reason to come back when it softens up.

As I was packing it in, the group of five came down, and I let them go first, not knowing how my own skiing would go... and not wanting to be a potential obstacle. Much like the ascent, the sunny bits were nice and soft, buttery even, and the shady bits were ugly. The lower I got, the better the conditions, and the smoother the turns (even in the shade). I've really taken a liking to these narrow backcountry trails, as they require you to be on point, right from the start. That being said, I've been really happy with my skiing this season, on piste and off piste, and I've noticed steady improvement. I'll be back Gulf of Slides, I'll be back.