Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Adirondack Backcountry - 3/12/12

To be fair, I didn't really say we were going "skiing", I only asked if Pat was "up for an adventure".  And that turned out to be exactly what we got. Where? Well, apparently, you aren't supposed to divulge backcountry spots on the internet, but let's just say that this a "popular ski destination" that has been talked about a lot.  Oh, and I went there in November.

We set off from the Garden Parking Lot in Keene Valley, and started up the Phelps trail towards the John's Brook Lodge. Most of the trail was covered in a nasty layer of ice that probably would have been easier to navigate with Micro Spikes (click on the pictures to enbiggen them and enhance the experience).

Luckily, the hiking got better as it warmed up throughout the day.  We passed a couple of other skiers who were on their way back to the parking lot because they said the snow had deteriorated mightily over the past couple of days. They were bringing all of their equipment back out and were just going to try and do a few summit pushes.  Hmmmm . . . . Come to think of it, the closer we got to the slide, the bonier it looked.  It was then that we started thinking that this trip might not work out so great after all.  

Still, though, we persevered. We crossed the cool suspended bridge at the DEC Interior outpost:

We walked a little ways, and were approaching the slide we wanted to ski, when we happened upon this nice scene:

I briefly thought that this might be the base of our slide, but a quick glance at the map said that this was Wolf Jaw Brook, and not Bennie's Brook (Whoops. I said the name and ruined the backcountry experience for everyone . . .  Damn). So just as we were crossing Wolf Jaw Brook, I stepped on what I thought was solid ice on top of a rock.  It turned out to be unsolid ice on top of thigh deep water.  Suddenly, I was butt deep in a freezing cold torrent of water.

After scrambling out of the creek and back to the trail, I took off some clothes, put them out in the sun to dry, and reassessed the situation:

My boots were soaked, but I could just switch to my dry tele boots (they had been on my backpack).  After about 20 minutes of sun, my socks and snowpants were dry enough (drier than they would be skiing in the rain).  And it was about 60 degrees and sunny out.  Adventure continues!

We got to the slide and some parts were a little tough to ascend:

We were mostly able to pick our way around the difficult parts, though:

And eventually, we hit the meat of the slide:

The sound of melting was all around us. To be honest, the skiing didn't even look worth it.  All ice, thin cover, rocks, no good lines, etc. etc. etc. 

But when we made a couple of turns, the surface surprised us. The ridiculously high temperatures made the ice pretty edgable:

We had to step over some rocks, ford some rivers and barrel through some stumps at some points, but I managed to keep my skis on all the way down to the Southside Trail (the trees on the left side were somewhat open with soft snow over a mossy base, actually quite nice for skiing).

We decided to go back via the Southside Trail to make a loop out of it.  Unfortunately, there is no bridge back to The Garden, so we had to do a little creative fording:

All in all, it was a fun trip.  The skiing wasn't really spectacular (or even very good), but the adventure more than made up for it.  And really, that's what we set out for anyway.


  1. Wow. I think you invented a new sport. Tele-glace? That's got to be some COLD water.

  2. This kind of suffer-fest sounds way too familiar. Way to persevere. Almost that time of year to add a snorkel to the gear list.

  3. My buddy and I had almost the same adventure on Saturday.

  4. And I thought it was thin a year ago. Wow. Your perseverance and adaptability are admirable.

  5. Hey those conditions look very similar to the slides in the spring of '08. Looking down from the top they looked like blue ice, but as soon as you set an edge in it, you knew it was going to good!!
    Nice TR!!