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!

Earned

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...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Winter Wrap-up

Working title: It ain't over till it's over

I'm finding that I need to pinch myself often as of late, as I'm still in disbelief that I now reside in Mt. Washington Valley. Access to skiing/hiking destinations has been the biggest deal for me, and you definitely won't find me complaining about all the gas that I'm not putting in my car. Much of the last month has found me skiing (a mix of resort and backcountry), though with most of the snow in the valley melted, it sadly won't be long until the season is at a close. That being said, I have finally reached a point of comfort and trust in my new skis, after skiing on them for the better part of a month and a half. Their weight (or lack thereof), stability, and overall feel have really won me over, though I still have some binding issues to address (the leashes specifically). They don't call them Dynafiddle's for nothing!

Here are some brief synopses (and photos of course) of some recent forays, on and off trail.

4/4/15: Tucker Brook Trail

In late March last year, after finishing the last of my winter 4000-footers, I took a bit of a ski-cation if you will... and this was one of the gems I hit. It was high time to do it again, and for a change I would have some company. What had been forecast as snow, turned to rain and continued as such on the drive to meet up with my companions for the day, Anya and Kyle. We figured we'd drive up to Cannon and see what we could see, and on approaching Franconia Notch it started to snow, heavy-like! Sadly our elation turned to dismay, as we drove past the ski area and dropped down, the snow turning back into rain.

Not to be deterred, we got to the trailhead and after gearing up, got going on the trail in the rain. It didn't take long to break a sweat, and the rain soon turned back into snow, as we skinned up on soft surfaces. Thankfully we were the only ones on the trail, or so we thought. Nearing the top of the famed 13 Turns, two guys came through from the resort, and said they felt back tracking it up when we had done all the work... yeah right! Reaching the top of the trail, the clouds hung low, so there wasn't any incentive to continue further to get "views". Transitioning, we rolled down through the 13 Turns, the moguls smaller than I remember them being last year. The two guys we saw had dropped into a steep tree chute on the skiers left side of the trail, so we checked it out too... super fun! We then cruised down to just before the flats, and did some on the fly decision making... another lap was in order!

Skinning back up to the traverse, eyeing things on the way, we transitioned again. The second lap was great, as we ducked into the woods on the side, and got some turns in the trees. Uneventfully back down to the cars, we had want for beer and food. I don't know who's idea it was to go to the Cannon base lodge for said items, but when we got in there it was pandemonium... ahh, another reason I don't ski resorts on the weekends. Instead of fighting the crowds, we dropped back and punted, ending up at Truant's in Woodstock. A really awesome time with two great individuals!

A dramatic Osceola pano from the Kanc

Skinning up in the snow

Chute!

Kyle ripping it up

Anya doing the same

4/8/15: Waumbek on skis

Last year, I realized that I'd inadvertently started doing the 48 on skis. In talking shop with Jake, I decided that the rules would be these: 1.) Climb said 4000-footer on skis (in whole or in part), and 2.) Ski the (an) aesthetic line on said mountain. Examples of aesthetic lines include (but aren't limited to) the North Tripyramid Slide, anything in the ravines on Mt. Washington, Arrow Slide on the Hancocks, any of the Osceola slides, Hale Firewarden's glades, etc. The caveat to rule 2 is that some peaks just don't have an aesthetic line, in these cases, skiing the trail to and from has to suffice. Waumbek is one that doesn't really have any, so an up and back it was.

Mike's decided to join in on the challenge, and accompanied me on this day. The snow cover down low was disappointing as we drove up, but at the trailhead the snow still sat rather deeply, providing solid coverage. We skinned up the wide trail, through open hardwoods, the snow softening under the somewhat veiled power of the April sun. Transitioning into the conifers, we hit the summit of Starr King, and pushed on to Waumbek itself. We made sure to go just past the summit to the Presidential outlook, a worthy destination on an otherwise viewless peak. Keeping our skins on we shot back over to Starr King, and partway through the conifers transitioned to ski mode. The snow had continued to soften, and there was powder on the sides to had up high, with creamy goodness through the hardwoods. Not something I'd recommend doing on a weekend day, but on a week day, hell yes!

That puts me at 6 of the 48 on skis (Cannon, Moosilauke, Washington, Hale, Garfield, and now Waumbek). It's going to take some years to get them all (I'll cherry pick based on conditions), but if I have one thing, it's time.

Why I didn't see the ski potential here before, I'll never know

Hardwood bliss

Coniferous

Mike was trying to eat when he was set upon

Nice joke Starr King Trail

A 22 degree halo around the sun

A mighty fine Presidential view

4/15/15: Abe's laps

Sometimes you only have a few hours to get at it, and in cases such as these, closed (for the season) ski areas fit the bill perfectly. An opportune message from Nate landed me at Mt. Abram in Greenwood, ME a bit after 2pm on this gorgeous Wednesday. We skinned up in t-shirts and took a leisurely route to the top of the T-bar, Nate even cracked a beer on the skintrack! After an ample break (and beer) at the top, we ripped down to the bottom on some great corn snow. Our second lap involved skinning directly up the T-bar line, a solid workout to be sure! Another beer at the top, and we got at the second down, which would prove to be our last, as conditions were beginning to firm up in the shade. A really great way to spend a few hours, reminiscing about skiing here as a child.

Great views from the ski trails

Skinning up the T-bar line

Number 9, Number 9...

4/16/15: GOS and the OG

The stretch of great weather seemed destined to continue, so a trip into one of the more far flung ravines on Mt. Washington seemed in order. This was really more of scouting trip than anything else, and the learnings will be applied judiciously to future outings. Anya, Mike, and myself set off up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail under bluebird skies... it was going to be a great one!

The trail is getting burnt out in spots (the lowest crossing was blown out too), as is to be expected with the spring season, but we were able to skin right up it no problem. Hitting the floor of the ravine we strapped the skis to our packs and started up the boot ladder behind a group of three, other groups filtering into the base as we climbed. Topping out, we reached snow-free terrain at about 5000' and climbed over the ridge to the rim of Oakes Gulf, the real reason for our trip. At the top of the first snowfield we came to we got into ski mode, and made some creamy turns, before hitting scrub a short way down. Skins back on, we traversed around the rim toward the western side of the ravine, before climbing up to the Camel and taking a break. From here we'd be descending into Airplane Bowl, a gorgeous open line dropping down to the headwaters of the Dry River.

Anya found the steepest part and rolled over, cutting turns like it was her job. Mike dropped in further to the left, and I took a line in between the two of them. We each set off small "sluffalanches", which sounded like one of those rain sticks as it slowly crept downhill. The turns were simply amazing, though the venue might have had something to do with it too. We caught glimpses of some of the other lines, but foremost was the aptly named Double Barrel. The tracks we saw on it were Nate's and a friend of his, so at least we knew who to be jealous of!

Skinning back up, we zig-zagged up and out of the ravine, and booted up over the ridge back to GOS. We had wanted to hit something other than Main Gully, but since we ended up right on top of it and the sun started to be veiled by cloud, we took what we could get. It had definitely gotten skied up through the day, but the turns were still good. We saw only a handful of people in Oakes, a stark contrast I'm sure to the hordes in Tuckerman. A slightly spicy exit put us back at Pinkham, where beers were broken out, and a most wonderful tailgate was had. Dinner at the Red Fox then commenced, with more beer and food.

Couldn't have asked for a better day, or better company!

The Finger Gullies

GOS Main

Crossing Davis Path, some interesting snowfields on Boott Spur

Looking at Monroe from the rim of Oakes Gulf

Turning off the established track

Mt. Washington from the Camel

Anya about to roll over

Double Barrel... WANT!

Airplane Bowl

Tips

4/18/15: Red Hill

With so much skiing, I figured it might be a good time to break out the trail runners and try to do an actual hike (the horror). Saturday morning dawned bright, and I got up with it, breakfasting then driving to the shore of the still iced over Squam Lake. I still needed to do two of the four trails on Red Hill, and figured this would be a good time to do them. Starting on Eagle Cliff Trail, I enjoyed snow free conditions all the way to the top, with only one small section of ice. Topping out on the cliff a sweaty mess, I realized I'd worn too many clothes, so off it was with the long sleeve, the tights, and my pant legs. Hell yes, I love hiking in shorts and a t-shirt!

Sadly the north facing nature of the trail soon came to bear, and I was confronted with snow, sometimes deep, and a distinct lack of a monorail. I found myself stepping in the postholes of others, and further deepening them, as the snow was super soft and mealy. Snowshoes would have done nothing, except maybe serving to snap my feet off at the ankle. I got up to the tower in rather short order, and took in the views from the top platform (and not leaving my poles there this time... because I didn't have them with me in the first place!), before settling down on the picnic table overlooking Winnepesaukee. A couple wandered up with their dog, having come up Red Hill Trail, which being south facing had no snow on it. Other than that, I had the summit to myself for a while before I too decided to head down.

Back through the minefield, I took the Teedie Trail down to Squam Lake Road at the Moultonborough/Sandwich town line, and had a short walk on the road back to my car. Back in Conway, the weather was changing, and I joined Mike for a lap at Cranmore. We were in contact with our friend Jim, who was hiking in the Green Hills, hoping to meet up with him on the summit. A storm was rolling in, and instead of waiting we got the hell out of there, the skies opening not long after reaching the car. We ended up picking Jim and his wife Jackie up a bit later, shuttled them to their vehicle, and had a great dinner with them. A great day to be sure!

Snow free!

Nice and scrambly

Looking toward the Rattlesnakes on Squam Lake

A short bit of icy rail

The Sandwich Range from Eagle Cliff

Puffy

It begins

Confidence

The spread of the Sandwich Range

South to Winnepesaukee and the Belknaps

View over Squam Lake, Moosilauke on the far right horizon

Red Hill fire tower
With that, I thought winter might have been done for... though in the next installment, I'll be shown otherwise. Stay tuned!