Friday, May 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Backcountry Trips

I haven't posted in a while, because the weather has been way too nice to waste it sitting inside staring at a computer screen. I would like to talk about a pair of ski trips I took over the last few months, just to highlight the variety of trips that people talk about when they say that they are "skiing the backcountry".

First, there was a trip in Early March up in the ADKs that can only be described as a slog. Here're some pics:

I'll try to stay out of the location disclosure/nondisclosure kerfuffle that was raging earlier this year, and I'll just post this picture that tells everybody exactly where we were:

And since I'm not saying the location in writing, there's absolutely no chance someone will try to google this mountain, along with the term "backcountry skiing", and gain all of the important knowledge that I am about to impart. Haha, secrecy and jingoism win again over knowledge and information!

Anyway, the reason the trip was a slog was that it took forever just to get to the base of the slides. It was 5.8 miles of up, down and flat skiing with skins on our feet, and it was not ideal. In retrospect, I should have used an XCD ski with some fischscaled bases that would have enabled me to kick and glide over the flat parts, ski the downhill parts, and hold my own on the ups. But, since I didn't have that ski, I just had to use my NTN setup with skins.The way in, although annoying, was pretty beautiful:

We reached a lean-to about 5 miles in. A better plan would have had us staying here the previous night, but I'm not big on winter camping. Someone else seemed to have used the shelter recently, though, because there were signs of fire (and a relatively fresh skin track):

(Photo by Mitch)

After a hellish 0.75 more miles, we reached the slides, the low clouds started to lift, and we started to get some views:
(Photo by Mitch)

The slides are named as fingers on hand would be (pinky, middle, index, ring), and you use the "wrist" slide to access. I'm pretty sure we skied the index slide, but I still have to buy my updated ADK Slide Guide to know for sure. Here's a couple of pictures from the descent:

(Video Capture by Mitch)

The snow was good. Tiny little crust with about 5 or 6 inches of pow underneath. After skiing, it was just a quick 5.8 mile jaunt back to the car:

It was an awesome trip. We were the only people on the mountain (the only people for miles, actually), the conditions were wintry, and it was a ridiculously long day - probably about 12 miles of hiking when all was said and done, which was a pretty epic day as far as my winter adventures go.

It was about as far as you possibly could have gotten from two weekends ago at Mount Washington:

It seemed like everyone in the east coast skiing community was there that weekend, so you can read their reports. I'll just give you a couple of pictures to show how different it was from the earlier adventure:

We arrived on Saturday around 9:30 am, and we were forced to park a quarter mile down the street from Pinkham Notch. We walked in from there with full packs (I was carrying 24 beers for consumption that night at the shelters):

The hike in was fine, if crowded. Before we even walked a mile, we were able to put our skins on:

Up to Hojos, which was a mob scene. We met dogs (this one was named Steve):

And picked out some lines:

Then we hiked in to the ravine:

And went up:

Paused at the top for a second to check out the steepness:

(Instagram by Mitch)
Then we did some skiing:

Definitely a good day. We didn't want to leave the ravine:

(Beers came in handy)
We stayed in the shelters that night. The party was good, but the camping was kind of chilly - and I stupidly left my sleeping pad at the bottom because I didn't feel like I had room in my pack (what with all the beer). Sleeping bag on top of Lean-to floor was not the most comfortable arrangement.

Didn't stop us from getting up early the next morning to check out Hillman's Highway:


Hang out at the top of the climb:

And ski down the Highway:

After navigating the Sherburne trail, we hiked back out, and went to a bar for some well deserved hot food.

The point to all of this is that there's more that one way to ski backcountry. Whether you're skiing alone deep in the woods, skiing a well traveled BC "proving ground", or just skinning a closed ski area (Big Tupper Video coming soon - I promise), there are lots of ways to put that shiny new AT gear you bought to use. You can camp, or just do day trips. You can be by yourself, or with the entire skiing population of the east. Just go out and do it.

There will probably be one more skiing report this year - I'm thinking either Killington or Tuckerman again by way of the Auto Road. After that, we're on to summer. I've already had the mountain bike out a couple of times this year, and the trails are in pristine shape. Loving this time of year.