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


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


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


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


It begins


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!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

South Baldface Touring 3/26/15

Working title: Steep potatoes

Peak: South Baldface (3547')

Trails: Baldface Circle Trail, Slippery Brook Trail, Baldface Knob Trail, bushwhack

Mileage/gain: ~8.4 miles, 3194' of gain

An early 2000's film shot of the Baldfaces from 113

For those who don't know my back-story (or haven't gone back and read my first post), I'll fill you in a bit about what's so special about this particular day.

From the age of 16 up through nearly my 29th birthday, I smoked cigarettes, between a pack to two packs a day. Granted, I quit for almost two years during that stretch, but the damage to my lungs was immense. I reached a point where I would wake up nightly, being unable to breathe, eventually finding a position that allowed me to go back to sleep. When I would wake up for the day, the first thing I would do was step outside and smoke. Enough was enough, and I quit cold turkey on March 26, 2010. In the five years since, I've accomplished more than I ever dreamed I was capable of, or had the capacity to do. I stand firm in the belief that none of it would have been possible if I still smoked. I'm grateful for every night that I sleep through, and every breath that passes unhindered through my lungs.

With my love for driving, I often wound my way through the Whites on long day cruises, and usually found myself rolling through Evans Notch. I remember stopping roadside many times and taking in the view of the Baldfaces, and taking pictures on my film camera. This trip wasn't planned by me, but it was somewhat ironic to be climbing and skiing on the snowfields of South Baldface, on this fifth anniversary of my quitting... or what I look at as the beginning of the rest of my life.

Introductions out of the way, on to the day at hand! Mike and I would be meeting up with Nate (a friend of Jake's) for a tour, and we had a short weather window to work with, before rain was forecast to move through the region. We had a good breakfast at Priscilla's, and jounced along up 113 along the Maine/New Hampshire border. I don't think I went faster than 35 the whole time, the frost heaves were THAT bad, and even 35 was too fast at times!

A brief respite from the bumpiness

Just before the trailhead we got a glimpse of the peak, and the cover on the east ledges looked thin. Sketchy. Nate assured us that there was a line off of them that was in, so we got our things together, and walked down the road a piece to the start of the trail. Skinning up (a bit of a misnomer) the flats to the split the cover was good, but the snow was covered with fir tips, and one large blowdown, all thanks to some recent winds. Hitting the junction, we started up and shortly turned onto Slippery Brook Trail, where some delayering needed to happen. The second day in a row of skinning in a t-shirt!

That would be the last time we'd see Nate for a while, but we followed the track up to the Eastman/South Baldface col, where we found the Eastman Mountain Trail and continuation of Slippery Brook Trail untracked. Turning up the Baldface Knob Trail, the skinning soon got steep, then became impossible. Off with the skis, we booted up the last steep pitch, and soon broke treeline on Baldface Knob. Considering the forecast, this was an unexpected and fortuitous surprise, barely a puff of wind and bright sunshine. My only wish is that I had brought my sunglasses!

The east face of South Baldface's summit cone

Sable Mountain and the Doubleheads

Oh my, the opportunities


The Evans Notch peaks, the Royces, Caribou, and Speckled

We could see Nate ahead on the summit ridge, so we dropped briefly down and got up to the Baldface Circle junction, where we made visual and voice contact with him. He told us to meet him on the backside of the summit, so we got headed up. Even though cover looked thin (and in places was), there was more than adequate snow depth to support turns. That and the snow that was there was corning up nicely under the strength of the spring sun.

Once we hit the summit it was dead calm, though clouds had begun to filter in. We found Nate ready to roll down the snowfield on the south side of the peak, but Mike and I weren't ready to go just yet, so we told him we'd meet him down at the Baldface Knob junction. Nate commented about it being one of only two calm summits of South Baldface he'd had, and upon thinking about it, I can say this was the calmest it's been for me. It was good to spend some time relaxing on the summit, as I've spent more time on North Baldface whenever I've been up here.

Summit ahead


The Mahoosucs over Meader Ridge

Pleasant Mountain off in the distance

Washington over the Wildcats, Carter Dome closest at hand

Kearsarge North, the Moats, and Sable

The Carter Range over the broad Wild River Valley

Once we'd finished our break, we de-skinned and clicked in for the turns. While the snowfield wasn't wide open, it was a hell of a lot of fun avoiding rocks and scrub as we descended toward the junction, the snow being eminently edgeable. Off the steeper upper section, it was a nice cruise down around the bare spot in the middle of the plateau. The clouds had darkened and lowered, and it started to lightly spit snow. I took the opportunity to take a rest on the stone bench that sits here, while Mike went up for another go at the lower section.

Some turns

Off he goes

Sign down! Sign down!

Nate came along from above, having been forced to climb most of the way back to the summit, due to getting cliffed out to his right. We regrouped and headed for the imposing east ledges. I can't say I skied it well, but I made it down in one piece, and without falling! The skiing was difficult (for me), not only because of the narrow ribbons of snow on the upper ledges, but the thick stuff down lower. I even managed to try and take a bite out of a tree branch, which just so happened to be at mouth level. Some cursing (from me) later, we all made it down to the shelter for a quick break.

Less dramatic than the picture might suggest

A great place to ski

Skiing down the trail proper back to the car was a lot of fun, and not nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be. This opens up a whole bunch of new terrain, though it will be a pick and choose kind of thing, which trails are able to be skied, and which cannot. The lower fir tip covered section was slow, though Mike and I never had to put skins back on. Nate made it back to the cars a couple minutes ahead of us, and we chatted a moment in the increasingly steady rain before parting ways.

Bumping back along 113, Mike and I took a respite at Stow Corner Store and had a huge "lunch", which was big enough to suffice for dinner! Love that place. Thanks to Nate for his forecasting prowess and suggesting this one in the first place, it was a fantastic day.

Here's to five more years of being tobacco free!