To the Top and Back
This fall, much to my chagrin, I’ve been a forty hour a week, working stiff like just about everyone else. This schedule, combined with one of the worst early seasons in recent memory has provided me frustratingly little opportunity to get out and ski. This most recent storm though, just before blanketing Stowe in a thick layer of white, first deposited a coating of snow on Mt. Washington. Add a stiff West wind to the equation, and you have a recipe for a hefty layer of the good stuff on Eastern aspects of the Whites. Allen and I cut out of work yesterday to go see just how much snow had come down, and whether it was skiable.
– The views of the mountains on my drive over from VT were great, but the clouds indicated high winds up high.
We started skinning right from the parking lot, and, based on the amount of snow visible in Huntington Ravine, we decided to head over to see how our old friend Diagonal was looking. This time of year, the trail up isn’t the usual cruiser skin track that it is in the spring though.
– exSTREAM skinning… Get it? Ok that’s enough corny humor for today.
Our friend Rich quit his real job, and is the winter caretaker of the Harvard Cabin this season. We stopped by to say hi and get a conditions report. His report was that no one had been up recently, which wasn’t particularly encouraging, but we decided to head up anyway.
– Rich, settling into his winter home.
The views got better, but the trail got rougher as we closed in on our favorite spot in the Whites.
– Looks a little rougher than usual, but the gullies could still hold promise.
– Allen, getting seriously sick of climbing over and through downed trees on the way in.
– Ok, this is getting a little ridiculous now.
– Really? This trail is so much better later in the season…
– A quick look at the pinnacle for all the ice climbers out there.
– Allen was very happy to be done with the obstacle course portion of our day.
– As was I.
– Diagonal didn’t look bad at all!
– and it’s always an enjoyable climb.
– Allen leading up.
It got a little thin at one point though.
– Allen, negotiating the challenges of an early season climb.
– Climbing out of Diagonal.
Though Diagonal looked great for skiing, it didn’t feel very good. There were two layers of wind deposited snow in the chute. Though the top layer was probably manageable, the dramatic variation in the depth of the second layer was kind of sketchy. With the tiny margin for error that Diagonal affords, we decided to play it safe and head over to Tuckerman’s by way of the summit instead.
– Allen heading up with clouds settling in.
– The alpine garden, featuring surprisingly good early season coverage.
– The crazy wind effected snow made this one of the more visually interesting climbs I’ve ever had.
– Heading up to the space station.
– Time to head down.
– After climbing rime for a thousand feet, we were a little surprised to find creamy wind buff on the south side of the cone. Sometimes this mountain surprises you in good ways.
– The low light of early winter made for a visually stunning descent of the cone. EDIT: This is a stitched together photo made from two frames of a sequence of Allen skiing by, we didn’t come across another skier with a red coat while we were up there.
Our original plan called for a descent of Left Gully, as previous reports had shown it looking creamy and fat. We however, were lazy, and didn’t want to hike all the way over to Left gully. Instead we took a chance on the lip.
– Allen, schwacking into the top of the lip. You know it’s very early in the year when the top of the lip isn’t at all obvious.
Tux looks totally different in the winter than it does in the summer, but we hoped that by following the approximate path of the tux trail down, we’d find a skiable path through the cliffs and ice.
– Allen, committing to the lip.
– We debated whether it was sketchier to ski the lip this time of year, when it’s all ice and no fall zones, or in the spring when you have people falling all around you as you climb up. We decided the spring was probably much more dangerous.
– Allen, through the first of several chokes.
– Maybe we should have skied diagonal?
– No, this will go.
– Allen, finishing off what we thought would be the hardest part of the day.
– And on down to the floor.
It felt GREAT to get out into some real mountains again. Skiing grass in VT will help curb cravings for real skiing, but it’s no substitute for the atmosphere, technical challenge, and thrill of a proper day in the mountains. Sadly the weather is changing as I write this, and by tomorrow all that snow will likely be locked up under a thick layer of ice.
I mentioned that we thought that the lip would be the hardest part of the day, that honor however goes to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. Marginal cover, tall grass, and our desperate need to get our boots off after a long day made the trail seem ten times longer than it usually does. Even a less than perfect Sherby couldn’t suck the fun out of the day though, and as I look out my bedroom window to a rain soaked, 55 degree, Burlington, I’m even more glad that Allen and I went up to check out the Alpine yesterday.
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