Friday, February 27, 2015

Powder Days

Working title: No friends

Surely some of you are familiar with the phrase, "no friends on a powder day". The quackery that is Urban Dictionary states thusly: One has no friends on a powder day (meaning the good snow conditions trump all family and friend relationships, I will not meet you for lunch, I will not help you move, I will not go to your wedding, because tomorrow is going to be a powder day, sorry buddy). Rule of thumb, powder trumps all. No friends doesn't mean that you can't bring friends along to share in the riches. 

Last week I happened upon the deal of the century, and picked up not only a pair of Dynafit bindings, but the skis they were attached to... and some crappy skins! After my store credit (I had some items on consignment) I walked out paying $53.50 out of pocket... it almost feels like I stole them! I got a chance to check them out Wednesday at Shawnee Peak, doing some night skiing with Mike and Jake, and they performed quite well, though they need fresh edges (and still do). Thursday, it was time to take them into the backcountry.

2/19: Dwarfland Glades

Peak: Mt. Hale (4054')

Trails: Herd path, North Twin Trail, abandoned Firewarden's Trail

Mileage/gain: ~9 miles, 2550' of gain

I couldn't be bothered being mysterious about the location of this tour, as it's been a long while since this one has been known about on the internets. That doesn't mean it's not still good.

Mike and I got a leisurely start, hitting the Sunrise Shack for breakfast, and heading north to Little River Road. It had snowed during the night, with a light fluffy 6+" on the ground, and it kept up all day long. When we got to the end of the road, there were other cars, and other people with backcountry ski/snowboard gear. NOOOOOOOO! They were a friendly group of 6 dudes, saying something about things not being a secret forever, before taking off in our direction of travel. We were right behind them, but they didn't take the turn we did just after the snowmobile bridge. Lucky for us, they went elsewhere... now I want to know where!

We got into a decent rhythm up the old rail grade to the North Twin Trail, everything was quiet but for the soft sound of falling snow.

Skinning up the bed of the former Little River Railroad

Crossing said Little River on Haystack Road

Bits of sunlight on North Twin Trail

Super-fluff

There's a river under all that

Between the crossings, we turned upslope and were on the old tractor road, cut in 1928 to facilitate building the fire tower that once stood on Mt. Hale. Other than a new (to me) "trail", the real reason for taking this route was the skiing... why would we be on AT gear otherwise? For one, the trail itself is reasonably wide, but it's the glades it passes through are the crown jewel. The way things were shaping up, the down was going to be ridiculous.

Up the tractor road

Looking like fun

Almost resort like

Awe

Expansive

Untracked goodness

The trail itself switchbacks up through the glades, with many different lines down through them. Reaching the conifers, the trail passes near a bump below the summit, then descends slightly to a small col. A few minutes later we were on the summit, the snow falling more heavily, though there was barely a puff of wind. Summit shots taken, we went back down to the col to eat and prepare for our comeuppance.

Under the arch

Winter wonderland

Deep cover

On the summit cairn, on skis

Skinning briefly upward, we glided down through the conifers to a point where the birches began, then ripped them off for our descent. The angles were great, trees properly spaced, snow deep and fluffy, and the base was supportive. All combined they added up to one thing: hero conditions. I was worried about my skis, as I had some issue locking the heel when we started down. It was pretty cold, so a bit of warm breath on the heel piece got it working. I was also concerned how they would handle deep powder, as they're significantly narrower underfoot than my other skis. My concerns were soon to be met with relief and elation.

Blower

Shred

Honestly, these conditions were some of the best I've ever experienced. I barely saw my skis, occasionally catching glimpses of the tips as I made turns in the sometimes knee deep fluff. So proper. While taking a video of Mike, he got caught up in some hobblebush, and went down. Karma's a bitch, because he took some video of me, and just after I skied around the corner, there was the junction with the North Twin herdpath. I tried to make the turn, but my tips ended up diving, and I got launched, landing face first on the path! In both our cases, laughs issued forth.

The tour out was pretty flat, though not flat enough for the skins to go back on. I did end up unlocking my heels, and was almost able to cross-country ski it out to the trailhead. Not preferred, but therein lies the trade-off for such good skiing. All in all, the "new" skis performed quite well, much trepidation over nothing!

2/20: Redacted Hill

Peak: *redacted*

Trail: *redacted*

Mileage/gain: You can't redact what you never knew

With a gnarly forecast, Jake and I scrapped our plans for a somewhat above treeline adventure, and went in search of freshness at a "local" hill. Much to our surprise, there were a few cars at the parking area, but two of the three left as we passed by to check out some of the snowfields visible from the road. We could see tracks up high, but a far flung slab was untouched... so of course that's what we went for.

The sun was up, the sky was indeed blue, and it was pretty damn chilly as we set off up the skintrack. As it steepened, the very well loved skins that came with my very well loved skis, started to show their true colors. There was a bit of backsliding here and there, then my toe popped out on a steep section. No worries, as I was able to click it back in, and continue onward. This was sadly only the beginning of the days troubles.

Skintrack

Open

Deep turns

When the skintrack split, we headed right, while the other skier we encountered on our ascent took a left. Out we went across the open ridgeline, until we came to the bump at the top of the slab. Transitioning, I again had issues with the heel, but soon got it locked in, and we got to it. The steep slab made for excellent turns in 1-2' of powder, and when stepping off our skis for the transition, we both sunk in hip deep. Awesome stuff!

Ridgeline skinning

Expansive views above treeline

Slab shred

Good turns

The skin back up to the top was anything but awesome. My skins refused to grip, making switchbacking next to impossible. Popping out of my toe-pieces a couple of times didn't help matters. There fairly thin cover higher up, and at one point I ended up taking the skis off and using them to climb up a section the skins refused to. I can remember few times in the mountains where I've been more sketched out. Topping out, we chose different routes to the bottom. Jake's worked out better than mine, as I got pushed down toward the trees and had to traverse over to get out of it. Thigh deep powder is a still a great thing.

Transitioning yet again, we followed an old skintrack back toward the other slabs, and the summit area proper. This time around, the skins gripped, but the bindings refused to cooperate. For a short stretch, every few steps, my left boot would twist right out of the toe-piece. Jake even had it happen to him when he stepped into it. That didn't stop us, as we made a good longer run down some of the lower angle slabs. Reaching our skintrack from earlier, we took it up to the summit, festooned as it is with technology, including an old fenced off fire tower. Hunkering down behind a sketchy little shack, we ate and prepared for our run to the car.

Fluffy

Tower(s)

Great views, but cold

I can't say the run went smoothly, at least for me. There were a couple of quality turns made, but where Jake was floating, I was bottoming out. I ended up hitting a ledge hard and got launched out of my bindings. Then came the digging. I immediately found one ski, but the other had disappeared in feet of snow. Jake was a ways below me, and started to climb back up to help in the search. I feel bad about him climbing all the way back up, because once he did, I almost immediately found the ski. He uttered something like "You did that on purpose didn't you? Did you think I didn't get enough of a workout?". We had a smoother rest of the run back to the car, skiing down the trail and into the woods.

Minus the equipment mishaps, it was a successful tour in a pretty epic little spot. Sorry to say that I'm not sharing where this one is, everyone has to have some secrets (and this was a secret that was shared with me). Redacted Hill will remain so until some idiot outs it... which I hope is never.

Epilogue:

In spite of the aforementioned binding mishaps, the skis themselves actually performed better than I expected. Having been skiing on boards that are 100mm underfoot for the past few seasons, I definitely noticed the 78mm waist on these. I think they'll ski spring corn just fine, and they handled lightweight powder very well, but for heavier powder I found them lacking float and power. That being said, it looks like I'm going to be getting a third pair of skis. To that end, I picked up a new pair of Dynafit bindings, since they were on sale... and still not cheap. If I can sort out the frankenbindings (the toe and heel pieces are from different models) on the "new" skis, they'll become my rock/grass/junk skis. My Line Prophets will transition to be my resort skis, and whatever I pick up for new boards will be dedicated to backcountry pursuits. Worst case scenario, I throw the new bindings on the old skis, and ride them until the new boards are forthcoming.

Having already logged more ski days than last season, this has truly turned into the winter of backcountry skiing!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Moosefeathers: A bluebird day on the Moose 2/11/15

Working title: Days like this

Peak: Mt. Moosilauke (4802')

Trail: Moosilauke Carriage Road

Mileage/time: 10.2 miles, 3293' of gain, book time of 6:30, actual time of 5:01

New redlining miles: 2.7

Continuing on with this snowy month of February, and the endless shoveling that's accompanied it, the forecast looked prime for last weeks plan. I caught some great sunrise color on my drive from Portland, hit the trailhead and got myself together. Brilliant blue filled the skies above, that kind of deep blue you only get in the winter. There were tracks in the snow, but they were covered in an inch or so of fluff.

Wispy

View up to the Moose from Breezy Point

My chariots

Within five minutes of leaving the car, I had to take off a layer. Even though the temperature hovered around 10 degrees, I found myself in a t-shirt on this sunny and windless February morning. Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there! I was alone with the bright blue of the sky, the white of the snow, and the squeak of my skins. The first 1.3 miles of the trail undulates, only climbing about 400 feet to the junction with Hurricane Trail, but with the great conditions the distance passed quickly.

Heading in

Overarching

Cleft

In order to make it through the next few sections of the trail, I got to lying to myself. "It's only a mile and 1000 feet to the next junction", I kept telling myself... though I knew it was more. My boots began to bother me as the real climbing began, and when I checked my pack, I noticed that I not only brought the wrong socks for the job, I'd also forgotten the tape that would have solved the issue. Typical. This season I've become very weight conscious (of my skis), and am realizing just how damn heavy they are! At nearly 7 1/2 pounds per ski, they are far from featherweight, and today they felt like lead weights. Sweating it out up to the Snapper Trail junction, I enjoyed the untracked trail ahead of me, the base firm underneath.

Switching back

A pretty area to tour through

Will yield good turns

Getting more conifery...

Where my single skintrack came up from below, there had been traffic down to the Snapper... but not all was lost. Powdery bits hung out on the margins, and all was quiet, barely a breath of wind. The higher I climbed, the more I looked forward to the descent. Catching some glimpses up to the summit and out to the east, I hit the Glencliff junction, and pushed on.


Narrowing


Upper

Oh, there it is

Easterly view to Washington and the Hancocks

This last stretch to the summit was painful, there were many small ups and downs on a broken but very drifted in corridor, and my heels screamed as the trail pitched up. I ran into a solo snowshoer and two ladies on light tele gear heading down, it was good to see others out enjoying the day. Breaking treeline, the trail turned to ice, and the skinning became, shall we say, interesting. Avoiding a few of the rocks, and stepping on others, I got it done, and reached the summit just ahead of a solo hiker, and two others with a very friendly pup. The t-shirt wasn't going to cut it, though I was still very warm from the climb, so on went the layers. This was some of the calmest weather I've ever experienced on Moosilauke, a far cry from the whiteout and 60mph winds Jake and I experienced last March when we skied here! I could even pick out some of the Great Range peaks in the Adirondacks, 100 miles distant.

West view into Vermont

Summit ahead

Car to summit on the boards

South Peak, Smarts, Cube and beyond

Franconias, Bonds, Presidentials

Some of the Pemi, some of the Sandwich

Southwest toward Killington

Taking my leave of the top, I got headed down. Skittering along down the icy sections, I tried to stick to the left margin, where some firm snow lent itself to slow my descent. The skins stayed on back to the Glencliff junction, where I locked it down, and got to the real meat of the day... the turns.

Great lighting headed back down into the trees

Vermont summits looking blocky

The beginning of the descent

The upper section (to Snapper) skied nicely, short quick turning was the name of the game, though in the narrow upper part more powder would have been appreciated. I skied around one guy skinning up, and stopped short of his partner (on a splitboard) a bit lower down. He chuckled about his friend in front, saying that he was the more sporty of the two, while he was usually couch-bound drinking scotch. I took another break at the Snapper junction, and gathered myself for what would prove to be the best turns of the day. While narrow, there was plenty of room to flit side to side, dancing in the powder that graced the edges. The switchbacks were the extra fun icing on the cake! Tearing through the Hurricane junction, I soon came to the slight uphills, several of which I was able to keep some speed on and pole my way through. The others, not so much. I ended up taking my skis off twice for short stretches and walking, but made it out to the car on the boards.

At the trailhead, I was greeted by a nice lady and her two dogs. One of the dogs (a beautiful white husky) was blind (like no eyes blind), but her owner told me to talk to her, and within moments she was up in my face being massively friendly. It was a great way to end the tour... now if only that 3 hour drive wasn't in front of me!

ADDENDUM:

Not even a week after this gorgeous day, tragedy struck a solo hiker on the northern Presidentials. Kate Matrosova succumbed to the extreme cold and wind near Star Lake on the flanks of Mt. Adams. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support among the hiking community, but arguments have broken out, with people saying she was negligent (for being solo and going out in those conditions), followed by much speculation about what happened. The fact is this: a fellow hiker lost their life. Should she have been solo? Should she have been out in those conditions? Likely the answer is no to both, but that's easy for any of us to say, sitting comfortably in our homes. People can speculate all they want, but we'll likely never know the events that ultimately led to her demise.

As someone who hikes and skis solo a fair amount, I take exception to the arguments I've seen about not hiking alone in winter (or ever). I can't say that my solo adventures have been without mishap, but no matter how much experience you have, there's always that chance of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a risk we all take every time we go out, solo or not.

We've suffered a blow as a community, and lost one of our own. Let's honor her life, and learn from what happened. Getting bogged down in arguments and mass speculation keeps us at a stand-still, instead of moving forward, with renewed respect for our "small" mountains and just how serious they can be.

Be safe my friends.