Monday, March 30, 2015

Green Hills Finish 3/25/15

Working title: Doing it right

Peaks: Cranmore Mountain (1667'), Black Cap (2369')

Trails: Ski trails, Cranmore Trail, Black Cap Trail, Black Cap Connector

Mileage/gain: 4.6 miles, 2013' of gain

New redlining miles: 1.5

Following last weeks poor showing in the skiing department, I decided I needed to work my skis, and work on my skiing on them! Mike had gotten in touch on Tuesday night, and I gave him a rundown of what I was thinking... I don't think I was precise enough, because he was confused by my initial plan! Out of work, the inaugural Wednesday AM drive back to Conway commenced, and I hit some breakfast with Ashley and her friend Matt before getting myself together for the day. I had purchased a lift ticket the night before for Cranmore (since they require an uphill pass ($12) anyway), planning on skiing the resort after the initial climb. Mike thought I meant just taking the lift to the top, then skinning up to Black Cap and skiing back... wrong! I know there's no rule for redlining about having to start and end at the road (trailhead or wherever), with no motorized assistance, to have it "count". But in the spirit of doing it right, we skinned up the ski trails.

Part of our 1100' initial ascent

Baking in the sun, we slogged upward, staying well to the sides. We got smiles from skiers passing us, and friendly jeers from the chairlift when we neared the top... "you know there's a lift, right?!". Heading out of bounds, we passed the big tree disguised cell phone tower at the top and found the little kiosk for the Cranmore Trail.

Nice try

Skinning up the Cranmore Trail, we enjoyed the bright sun and t-shirt weather. It was super mellow and easy going, much more so than the ski trails below, which had me sweating in no time flat. Hitting the Black Cap Trail, we found it packed by snowmobiles, but softening in the warmth. Turning off the packed trail, we hit the final 0.3 mile section of Black Cap Trail up to the summit, the final length of trail for me in the Green Hills. The closest new redline to me is now significantly further away!

Nice newish signage

Firm old track in the middle, soft on the sides

Skinning up the snowmobile packed bits

Tracks

Almost to the top

Reaching the open ledges at the top, I finally got the views I was denied when I was last here in November. The skies were clear, the wind was light, and it was super pleasant in the sun, so we took a nice break near the top. Even as the snow softened around us, I found myself lamenting the end of winter. While I look forward to the warmth and renewal of spring, and the unfortunate heat of the summer, it's the cold months where I feel most alive.

A solid view (that I had to work for a bit) over to Evans Notch 

Big Dubs looking proper

Northwest view out to the Pemi

Following our break, it was time to get back to the ski area, as there were lift served laps to be had. We ended up skiing down the Black Cap Connector back to the Cranmore Trail, where the sun had softened the snowmobile track up enough to provide for some quality turns. Really we should have just skied down the ledges back to the trail... but I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities in the future. The Cranmore Trail had a decent enough angle to provide for a good cruise (with only a little uphill) back down to the kiosk.

Turning it up on the Black Cap Connector

Back down to the bottom of the lift, we got to the laps. I never even put my shell on, instead skiing in my base layer and liner gloves, and my helmet of course. I'm not sure how many laps we got in, but they were all quality. To put a finer point on it, it was hero snow. I got to really lay into my skis, and they responded like they never had before. Note to self: ski em' like you stole em'. We ended up doing some laps with Ashley and Hallie as well, before the lift shut down for the day. As much as I wanted more, I was glad when 4 o'clock came around, because my legs were toast from charging so hard. It was a superb spring day!

So that's that for the Green Hills, and leaves only 5 sections of trail remaining in the Carter/Baldface section, the largest section (both mileage and trails wise) in the White Mountain Guide. The finish creeps closer with every tenth of a mile!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Frozen falls and CCC history 3/21/15

Working title: Meltdown precursor

Trails: Coppermine Trail, abandoned Coppermine Ski Trail

Mileage/gain: ~6 miles, ~1400' of gain, time of ~2.5 hours

This past summer and fall I ended up hiking the Coppermine Trail twice, and vowed to return in the winter, not only to see the falls, but also to ski at least a portion of the old ski trail. A late wake up led me to a very busy Sunrise Shack, an always delicious breakfast, and unfortunately cloudy skies. Thankfully, as I tooled along Route 3 toward Franconia, blue skies appeared, and the temperature started rising. Booting up, I had to walk a short portion of the road, before turning onto the trail proper and putting on my skis.

I had a warm and sunny climb up to the falls, the sound of my skins accompanying me on the way. Coppermine Brook was still buried under the great mantle of the winters accumulated snowfall, only a muffled trickle could be heard. While the calender might say it's spring, it's still winter in the hills. I saw no one during the climb until I neared the shelter, and saw a couple heading down. They warned me about the large group at the falls (there was a small bus in the parking area), but the group of students were pleasant and never were in my way. The falls were excellent in their frozen state, and I was able to ski right up to the base of the ice. A gorgeous spot made better by the season.


Going to be nice and cruisy on the way out

Buried





Now came the fun. With skins still on, I swooped down the ledges by the falls, and got some glide going past the group at the shelter, before I ended up at the bottom of the abandoned ski trail. The initial pitch is steep, necessitating skinning off to the edge in one spot. Hooking to the left, the trail moderated, and I climbed in the sun, the snow softening beneath my skis. Surprisingly, I ran into a couple on snowshoes, happy to be out on the first full day of spring. I skied up to the point where the trail narrowed and started to contour on the slope, just before the upper crossing of the brook. A snack in the sun on this piece of New England skiing history was just what the doctor ordered.



On with the skis, it was time for the down! The sun and warm temps had softened things up, more than they were, even in the short time of my break. Turns were easy and very buttery, and the section of the old trail skied very well. Dropping down the steep lower section, I got over the bridge, and started down the official trail. While not the most exciting trail to ski down, it was still a pleasure to glide out, making turns occasionally on steeper portions. I ended up passing the groups I'd seen at the falls, all were surprised to see me again.


It was super good

Much like the previous day, I'd done my due for the day, and didn't feel like doing more. Along the way back to Conway, I stopped at the viewpoint on 302 by the Mount Washington Hotel, because things were overtly dramatic on the Presidentials.


I already like calling this place home, it just feels natural.

GOS Morning 3/20/15

Working title: Farewell to winter

Peak: None

Trails: Gulf of Slides Ski Trail

Mileage/gain: ~5 miles, ~1900' of gain, time of ~3 hours

Memorial on the second emergency cache on Gulf of Slides Ski Trail

Mere hours before the vernal equinox ushered in the spring season, I got out for a tour on Mt. Washington. Feeling somewhat accomplished by getting my new apartment in some semblance of order on Thursday (after moving the heavy stuff Wednesday), I figured I deserved it. Up and breakfasted early, I signed in to the log at Pinkham around 7:30, and after walking back to my car, I clicked in and got to heating up. A couple headed up just ahead of me, though I never did see them, and their car was gone when I got back.

The sun was shining, and for the time being the sky ahead was blue, so I cruised along, skins squeaking, generating my usual massive amount of heat. Before long, I turned onto what I refer to as the "secret skintrack", though it obviously sees a lot of use. It cuts off a little distance, and avoids a tricky steeper section of the trail proper, reconnecting a bit higher up. Much like my initial journey into the GOS, I was solo, it was cold, and I wouldn't be venturing higher than the base of the main gully. I realized early on that this one was just going to be for the workout, and certainly not for quality turns. Conditions were universally solid, with only a bit of softness on the sides. This is all a part of learning to love the up as much as the down.

Skintrack





It really was a gorgeous morning, though clouds started building in from the south and west, but blue skies ruled up ahead. Along the middle and upper section of the trail, whenever I stopped, I would hear a light tapping in the woods around me. A downy woodpecker flitting about the trunk of a birch tree, probing with its beak, was the source of this soft sound. Not the typical, rapid fire succession of drumming that I've come to expect from woodpeckers, especially the larger varieties. I don't know if it was the same bird, but every time I stopped from there on out, if there was a birch nearby, there was a downy woodpecker on the hunt. Maybe the surest sign of spring I've seen yet.

Woodpecker haven

Rolling in over Kearsarge North

Gulf of Slides sentinel



Sadly, once I reached the base of the main gully, the clouds had overtaken the sky, except to the north where blue still prevailed. Even though the avalanche danger for Tuckerman Ravine was moderate, I erred on the side of caution, and didn't boot up the gully to have a run at it. Transitioning and clicking in, I turned down and made my run. It was another case of not my best skiing, but I can't really blame the skis for that. Skiing the firm (hard snow) is always a challenge, but especially so on narrow backcountry trails. I had a few good turns, and even got a little softness on the sides, but overall it was ugly. Back down at Pinkham, I packed it in, and decided against doing anything else for the day... even though it was only 10:30.

Crossing the avalanche runout

Wildcat

Main Gully

The flanks of Boott Spur

Snowfields on the Slide Peak ridgeline

I could get used to the whole short drives for a short tour/hike thing, though I'm not afraid of the long drives. Must. Not. Become. Complacent!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wishicouldtellya Glades

Working title: Ski not where there are other tracks, make your own

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind! I've leased a small apartment in North Conway, and have given notice at my place in Portland. Who would have thought I'd have two apartments, even if it's only for a month! So the moving, and accompanying packing and throwing/giving away unused things has commenced. There has also been skiing, and some pretty good skiing at that. Since I apparently had the disposable income, I also picked up a brand new pair of skis, more on them in the second part.

Into the Wishicouldtellya Glades: 2/26/15

Peak: Mt. Wishicouldtellya

Trails: *redacted*, *redacted*, bushwhack

Mileage/gain: ~7.5 miles, ~2300' of gain

New redlining miles: 2.4 (ooo, what trail?)

A typical sleepless Wednesday came, and I had an afternoon appointment to look at the aforementioned apartment. I headed up early and finally finished off the Doublehead Ski Trail, which was in decent shape, but far from ideal. A little powder on the edges, and some soft spots, but overall very skied up. I also had my heavy touring gear, since I was getting the lighter setup tuned... so that sucked a bit.

Fast forward to an early Thursday morning, and it was a lot more cloudy than forecast. Mike was unable to join me, due to a back tweak the day before, so I hit a very quiet Sunrise Shack, then headed north. That's about the last directional cue you're going to get out of me.

Undisclosed location, weak colors

I got myself parked in the empty lot, and after gearing up, I clicked in and headed down the trail on a well packed snowshoe track. This didn't last long, as a short distance later the packed trail bore right, leaving my trail of choice straight ahead, and unbroken. There were some visual remnants of an old track (no firmness below the surface), but visual remnants don't make trail breaking any easier. Sinking in 6-12 inches (to start) with each step, I stopped often trying to get into a rhythm that was always just out of reach. Climbing up old logging roads (and occasionally crossing them), the trail soon steepened a bit as it climbed toward the high col flanked by the glades. The sun played behind the clouds, visible through them, but providing nothing in the way of warmth.

Deep ice and snow on this stream

Follow that old road

Pillowy

Faint track, still deep

Corridor, turned out to be a fun little descent

The open woods and sporadic blazing near the top led me off trail a couple of times, but I was always able to correct. Passing through one junction, I continued downhill a moment to the second, and turning uphill, I started into heaven. It had been more than two years since I'd been through these glades, and while I remembered that they were there, I didn't remember just how expansive and gorgeous they were. In my defense, it was late fall, and I happened through them in the middle of a long day hike. Excuses. I soon lost the trail, and started angling up through the birches.

High col

Plastered

Opening up

Mmmmm

The higher I climbed, the deeper the snow. To this point my skis had cooperated, but lo and behold, in the deepest of the deep, one ski decided to pre-release. I got it back on without too much trouble, and continued onward. Much to my surprise, I caught sight of a blaze, and found myself back on the trail as I neared the top of the glades. I ended up following (fighting to stay on) the trail to the top of the mountain, and its restricted views, which would be a dead giveaway if I were to post them! Returning to the top of the glades, I cut off my skintrack, and found a proper spot to take a break.







Here the snow lay in deep silent repose. If it had been tracked previously this winter, there was no sign of it. Once again, I had issues with the bindings not locking down my heel, but I soon got it sorted out, and made my run. The snow was very deep (knee +) and not really consolidated, making for some difficulty getting my narrow skis to turn. What turns I did make were pretty damn incredible. The mistake I made was not crossing my own skintrack, as there was plenty to be had below it, and cutting to the south. Sadly, this put a premature end to the steeper bits, and ended with me straight-lining down into the spruce that line the high col. Skins back on and a bit of whacking later, I came back upon my track at the second junction. Since it was cold and I was alone, I opted to get out of there and return another day.

I may have made a turn or two

Back up to the height of land and out of the col, I took the skins off and got a really fun narrow downhill run to within about a mile of the trailhead, at which point it became an exercise in futility to try and get there without skins. Sadly, in this mile, my bindings pre-released no less than 6 times. Only slightly infuriating.

I'm glad I kept this one in my back pocket, and waited to check it out. It exceeded my expectations, and will be a popular powder destination in the future (for me anyway... if you can hack it, you're welcome to come with).


A week passed, and I returned: 3/6/15

With no (very little) new snow in the week prior, I couldn't resist the pull of the glades. In the intervening time, I'd tried to mount the new bindings I bought on the K2's, and ran into trouble. When I brought them into the ski shop, they said they could re-drill the toe piece to get everything to fit correctly... but I'd been doing some research into new skis. Long story short, I walked out (not that day of course) having gotten a fantastic deal on a new pair of DPS Wailer 99's. I got to take them out for some resort runs at Cranmore, skiing for a few hours in warm temps and softening snow with Ashley. Needless to say I had to reteach myself how to ski, or rather how to ski on these particular boards. They're a lot of ski, and are going to take some getting used to.

With that out of the way, I got together with my friend Radley, who I'd only hiked with once, and hadn't seen since then! He needed a place to crash for the night and wanted to get in some skiing the next day... and I so happened to have a floor. There will be no couch-surfing, since I have no couch.

Up early, we headed for the glades after some breakfast. I had a bright idea to try and get into the glade from below, instead of coming at it from the trail. It appeared that my skintrack hadn't been touched since the prior week, and that made me smile as we started up. At a likely spot, I took a compass bearing, and off trail we went. My bright idea turned out to not be so bright, as we ran into lots of undergrowth, not conducive to skiing up or down. That and the snow was super deep, as expected. We did see what looked like a fairly recent snowshoe track in this thicker section, which was surprising, but we never saw it again. After some toil we entered the glades partway up, and ran across the remnants of my skintrack, which we followed for a bit, but lost just as quickly. We skinned up to the top of the glade, and got to taking a break in the sun. The weather was indeed on our side, bluebird skies, and a warmth to the sun that's been missing since the fall.

My week old tracks




Peek-a-boo

Clicking in (and not having any issues with it!) we got started down. It was however NOT my best skiing, by a long shot. Apparently I need more resort days to get used to the new boards. My first fall landed me in an awkward position, and it took a moment to get back on my feet. The second one was more catastrophic, as I got launched out of my bindings, and ended up mired in a bush. Some thrashing, swearing, and eventually righting myself, I found the snow was up to my chest. I'm sure all of this was much to Radley's amusement, considering he didn't fall once. Gathering my skis, I ended up having to push myself up, straddle my skis, and then stand up on them... just to click back in! A struggle to say the least. I did make some good turns, but my two instances of operator error shook my confidence a bit. Note to self: don't fall. At the very least, we skied the full extent of the glade that I had missed the prior week. Skinning back up, we found my old skintrack, and came right out at the junction and started out on the trail.

Gratuitous

It's pretty nice up here

There was a LOT of moose activity on and around the trail, their tracks and bedding areas criss-crossing and sometimes following the corridor up near the col. Taking the skins back off, we made a fun run down the narrow upper section of trail. I'm pretty sure we skied out further than I had, but not by much. The flat skin out was just alright, and we made it back to the car in good spirits.

Moose mucking around

Thanks Radley for not only joining me, but for being my first "couch" surfer, I hope to ski/hike with you again soon!

So with that, it's a wrap. This is the last entry I'll be publishing from Portland, and it's somewhat of a bittersweet goodbye. Having grown up right next door, and having lived in the great state of Maine all my life, it's going to be an interesting adjustment. I'll still be down here during my work "week", but my off days will be spent where I want to be. A small step, but a beginning nonetheless.

Here's to new beginnings (even if they're only partial), and perhaps more timely trip reports!