We’d found that temperatures had cooled down a bit yesterday afternoon at the end of our Bolton outing, and slopes that were not in the sun had begun to tighten up. In general though, temperatures stayed relatively warm, and there was no new snowfall through this morning. We hung out at the house in the A.M., and as skies brightened a bit in the afternoon, Dave and I headed up to Bolton. Since there weren’t going to be any substantial changes in the spring-like snow conditions we’d experienced yesterday, and some of the natural snow trails were going to be closed due to the warmth, we decided to do a tour on the Nordic/backcountry trail network. Dave had never been on Bolton’s backcountry network, so he needed to at least get a taste of the plentiful options for turns.
Up in the village, there was one other car in the corner of the tennis lot providing quickest access to the Broadway area, so I’m guessing they had the same idea as us. In general though, things were quiet aside from a few Nordic skiers moving around the trails. We skinned the skis and headed toward World Cup where we found a group of patrollers checking passes. I can’t recall the last time I had my pass checked on the Nordic network, but I’ve heard the mountain is doing it more frequently this season so that’s nice to see. We chatted with the patrollers for a bit – they were initially wondering if we were planning to stay at the cabin, but we let them know we were just out for a quick tour.
We headed up the Bryant trail and it was a really pleasant ascent. Temperatures were in the 40s F so we stopped frequently for photography to capture the sights. At one photography stop, a couple of patrollers stopped by and we talked for a while. We chatted about skis, cameras, and some of the new glades, and then they headed on their way up to take care of a tree that had fallen onto one of the trails. Coverage on Bryant and in the surrounding backcountry was excellent, with generally a couple feet of settled snow. We did see a couple of small openings in streams along the side of the trail, but they were more an opportunity for photos than anything. Any stream crossings on Bryant were in fine shape and there was no open water across the trail. To check out the rest of the text, images, and GPS track, continue on to the full Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry report from today.
The Mount Washington Auto Road was finally open for business by the weekend of May 22nd – 23rd, but since E was out of town, Memorial Day weekend was our first opportunity for a ski trip. As always, weather was an important determinant in whether or not we would try to take the boys up the mountain, but as the weekend grew closer, the good forecasts continued to hold. None of the days looked like a total washout, but Saturday looked like the best bet since the NWS point forecast indicated the chance for gusts as high as 100 MPH in the higher elevations of the Presidential Range on Sunday, and Monday had higher potential for precipitation. On Friday evening we put ice packs in the freezer, charged batteries, and planned to make a final check on the forecast in the morning.
Saturday morning’s forecast still looked decent; there was a chance of precipitation in the afternoon, but winds were expected to be low with comfortable temperatures. I reserved a campsite for Saturday night, and we spent most of the morning getting things together for the trip and taking care of other stuff around the house. We finally headed out in the late morning under mostly cloudy skies, but no signs of precipitation.
Once we’d reached the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, we stopped in at the Great Glen Lodge to hit the restrooms and check on the summit weather. We were excited to see that the summit weather board indicated winds of just 4 to 12 MPH and a temperature of 50 F. Even better though, was being able to look up toward the higher elevations to the west to see blue skies. Last year’s trip featured 50 MPH winds and fog, conditions that were more amenable to playing in the strong gusts on the deck of the observatory than skiing with the boys. From our views along Routes 2 and 16, the snow up high looked less plentiful than we’ve often seen at this time of year. The level of the snowpack was potentially due to at least a couple of factors. Although there were some nice snowy storms in April and May, too many of the midwinter storms skirted off to the south of Northern New England this season, and more recently we’d seen warm, or even hot, dry weather with lots of sun. One never really knows quite what the snow situation is going to be until they get up on the mountain though, and based on the Mt. Washington web cam images, we knew there was going to be plenty of terrain to ski.
The fair weather made for an enjoyable drive up the Auto Road, and the views were stupendous as usual. We stopped in just briefly at the summit, and got an overview of the various eastern snowfields on the drive back down the road. We could see that there were plenty of options, and continued our drive down to the parking area below Ball Crag where we’d based ourselves before.
Consistent with the faster depletion of the snow this season, although potentially due to seasonal variability as well, the snowfield that we’d skied with the boys in May of 2008 was absent. But, based on the boy’s enthusiasm, along with their improved endurance and ski abilities, we were looking to hit some different snowfields this season anyway. The plan was to head up the Nelson Crag Trail for a bit as we’d done on our last ski trip to the area, and then traverse generally southward below Ball Crag to search out some snowfields that would work well for everyone.
Our equipment setup from our last Mount Washington ski trip had worked well, so we used a similar configuration with just a couple of changes. I carried the big SLR in my photo/ski pack, which is also set up well to carry multiple pairs of skis, so I carried mine as well as the boy’s. E and I simply hiked in our Telemark boots, but since the boys would be skiing in alpine ski boots, they wore their hiking boots to make their traveling much easier, and along with her skis, E carried their ski boots in her pack. The boys had their poles for hiking, and a new addition this time was that they carried their water, food, clothing, and helmets in/on their packs.
We hiked roughly two tenths of a mile up the Nelson Crag trail before breaking off and contouring southward. The boys were very mobile in their hiking boots and light packs, and they moved along at a great pace. Compared to our last ski outing on Mount Washington, Ty was much more comfortable traveling through the alpine setting; he was well ahead of the rest of the group and opted for a much higher traverse. I knew that we would eventually run into the main portion of the east snowfield if we didn’t run into any other snowfields first, but there turned out to be earlier options. Ty was the first to spot some of the bigger snowfields below us along the Upper portion of the Huntington Ravine Trail, and we planned to work our way toward those after seeing what we found ahead of us. After only about a tenth of a mile of traversing, we hit a small snowfield, and the group, which had become a bit scattered during the traverse, got back together to start the descent.
That first snowfield was moderately steep, perhaps in the 30 degree range or so. Since it was steep and rather short, the boys decided to wait until one of the bigger snowfields to start skiing. They opted to simply do some sliding on the snow. E and I mentioned that it was likely to be easier to ski than slide since they would have edges to control their descent, but they were having fun. E and I skied the snowfield, and then we all traversed over to a much larger snowfield off to the north. When we’d arrived at the initial snowfield, there had been a couple of people skiing laps on the edge of the larger snowfield below, but by the time we got there they were gone, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. In fact, they were the only people we’d seen on any of the snowfields in that area. We were surprised by the lack of people since it was Memorial Day weekend, but perhaps everyone had already done their skiing the previous weekend. The weather continued to feature interludes of sunny and cloudy periods, and although we’d seen what looked like thicker clouds and showers off to the Green Mountains in the west, no precipitation materialized in our area.
Ty and Dylan were the first to ski the larger snowfield, and it was fun to watch Dylan follow Ty through the terrain. The snowfield wasn’t quite as steep as the first one, and it was a fun experience for the boys to have the whole face to themselves with the ability to decide what route they wanted to take. The boys stopped about 2/3 of the way through the descent to wait for us, then E joined them, and I skied all the way to the bottom to get some pictures from below.
From the bottom of that snowfield we traversed north and slightly upward to another snowfield section that was connected to the first. At that point we were on the long collection of snowfields that sits above Huntington Ravine. The next section of snow didn’t provide quite as much vertical drop, but it didn’t seem like it had seen any skier traffic in quite a while, so it was extremely smooth. I made a boot ladder that was spaced well for the boys, and we hiked up to the top of that section. The boys had been happy with their earlier turns, and were most excited to play on the rocks and stairs of the Huntington Ravine Trail, so they switched back to their hiking boots and played around while E and I did a bit more skiing. Those turns were a lot of fun, and E got the time she’d been looking for that let her practice and dial in some smoother Telemark turns.
I hadn’t really been following the recent freeze thaw cycles up on Mt. Washington prior to our outing, but looking back at the Mount Washington summit weather archive, it says that the lows for the two nights before our trip were only down to 35 F, and the nights prior to that were even warmer. Apparently, once the corn is formed, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the temperatures go below freezing nightly or not in terms of maintaining quality conditions for spring skiing. We never encountered sticky, rotten, or mushy snow, just good corn with a peel away layer on the surface. I’m sure it would have been much less enjoyable for the boys if the snow had been difficult, but thinking back, I can’t recall any really tough snow in our Mount Washington outings at this time of year. Perhaps the snowpack is dense enough by this point in the season that freezing cycles aren’t as critical.
It was only a few minutes of hiking to get back to the car from there, and it really had been an efficient outing; for all the skiing we’d done, it had only required about ¾ of a mile worth of total travel. Although I’m sure Dylan was a bit tired, both boys were still bounding around on the final leg back to the car, so the distance had clearly been good for them. Just as we were about finished changing clothes and packing the gear back into the car, one of the Auto Road vans came by and let us know that he was the last one heading down. It was just about 6:00 P.M. by that point. We didn’t dawdle on the way down so that we wouldn’t hold up the final van, but there were plenty of people still out of their cars below us as we passed by, and even a pair of hikers just below our parking area that seemed to be making their final descent via the road.
After an enjoyable Auto Road descent with more fun views, we headed over to Shelburne, NH and checked in at White Birches Camping Park. We’d reserved a grassy site, and they’ve got some nice ones right on the edge of an evergreen forested area that contains access to the Shelburne Basin Trails. The evening’s burgers were some of the best in a while, and there were no complaints from me when Ty couldn’t quite polish his off burger or sausage.
In the morning, we had some breakfast and broke camp, then the boys went off with E for a while to go swimming and play on the campground’s equipment while I worked on repacking the gear. The weather was still nice, so we decided to take a circuitous route home and see some sights. We headed back to Gorham, then north along the Androscoggin through Berlin, past Umbagog Lake, and up to Lake Aziscohos. North of Berlin, we were certainly in the land of lakes, loons and logs; houses seemed just as likely to have a loaded logging truck in their yard as anything else. Between the abundance of big rivers, dams, and lakes, it’s quite a water paradise. We saw several groups of flat water and whitewater boats, and lots of fly fishing taking place. At Aziscohos we were getting close to the Saddleback/Sugarloaf zone, although we didn’t head quite that far into Maine.
After lunch at the picnic area on the south shore of Aziscohos, we headed west through Dixville Notch and got to take in its impressive craggy views. We also stopped in to check out The Balsams Resort Hotel and The Balsams Wilderness Ski Area, which we’d never visited before. The ski area isn’t huge, offering just over 1,000 feet of vertical, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s very much the type of ski area we enjoy. Akin to some of our favorite local ski areas like Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana and Bolton Valley in Vermont, it’s got low skier traffic, low speed lifts to keep it that way, and decent snowfall. Wilderness doesn’t quite get the 300+ inches of annual snowfall that Bolton and Lost Trail do, but knowing the snow trends for northernmost New Hampshire, I suspect they do decently on snow preservation like Saddleback and Sugarloaf. Based on an article I found by David Shedd on easternslopes.com[SJ2] , it sounds like minimal skier traffic helps out in maintaining the powder and general snow quality as well. The 1,000 feet of vertical at Wilderness is said to be nicely sustained, with no runouts, and that was definitely the impression we had when we drove to the bottom of the lifts and looked around. E and I have been thinking it would be nice to do a ski trip coupling Wilderness, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf together. Of the three areas, we’ve only been to Sugarloaf, and only in the spring. It’s usually hard to leave Northern Vermont’s snow during the middle of the ski season, but a good time to go east would be when one of those storm cycles comes through that focuses on Northern New Hampshire and Western Maine.
We got back into Vermont in the far northeast part of the Kingdom, and took the northerly route to I-91 along the Canadian border past Wallace Pond. It’s not a huge body of water, and it was fun pointing out to the boys that the houses just a couple hundred yards away on the other side of it were actually in Canada. We also passed Great Averill Pond, Norton Pond, and finally Seymour Lake, where we stopped for a few minutes. We went through Derby, but didn’t quite get up to Derby Line to show the boys how the library/opera house is split by the international border. At some point we will have to get them up there. Once on I-91, we were pretty quickly back in our own neck of the woods, and I’d say one of the more surprising things that we discovered was how close Balsams Wilderness Ski Area is to our location. Being so far north in New Hampshire, and mentioned so infrequently, it seemed to be on another planet. But, barring horrible road conditions, it should only be two to three hours from Waterbury. After our visit to the area, it has certainly moved up higher on my hit list.
Below I’ve added a web cam image of the east side of Mt. Washington from last weekend, showing the various areas of snow that were present at the time. The longest runs up near the summit still seemed to be off the main east snowfield that we didn’t visit. We haven’t had any of the hot temperatures that we had the week before our visit, and things have been much more seasonable, so there should still be some decent easy access skiing up there at this point.
“The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun.”
With the snowfall thoughts in mind, the plan was to do some skiing off the west side of the Camel’s Hump/Mt. Ethan Allen area. Unfortunately, on Friday we found out that Tom had tweaked his knee and ankle at soccer, so the ski group for the day was going to be just James, Ty, and myself. We met up with James in Huntington Center a bit after 9:00 A.M., and decided on an initial plan of heading up the Forest City Trail to do some skiing on the lower flanks of Mt. Ethan Allen (3,674’), the next prominent peak south of Camel’s Hump. We headed up Camel’s Hump Road, finding that the access to the Forest City trailhead was going to be difficult because the road there wasn’t plowed in the winter. There was a little room along the snowbank to potentially park a couple of cars, but a more important factor in our case was the added distance to get to the trailhead. Ty’s backcountry range is not that great yet, so we weren’t looking for a big approach. There was the option to connect over to the Forest City Trail from the Burrows Trailhead area, but we decided to just do something simple off the Burrows Trail. James had commented to me earlier that there was going to be a temperature inversion in effect, and that was indeed what we saw on our ascent of Camel’s Hump Road. From down in Huntington Center (690’) where the temperature was somewhere in the middle single digits, the temperature was up around 10-11 F at the trailhead parking area (~1,900’). The lot was about half full, and while we geared up, we could see that several parties of people were heading out for hikes on snowshoes.
Starting up on the Burrows Trail, I checked the snowpack and found a couple inches of fluff on top of a generally thin crust, atop a lot more settled powder. A few of the lower elevation stream crossings on the trail were open with small gaps, and that represented a bit of a challenge for Ty, but he managed well. We didn’t have any lofty goals in mind other than getting in a little skiing, since our ultimate destination would likely be affected by Ty’s mood and stamina. Our pace was pretty slow with Ty taking his time, but it was an easy go, and everyone’s skins were working well on the packed trail. There were lots of dogs, lots of people on snowshoes (including a bigger group that seemed to be from the UVM Outing Club), and we also saw a party of about four skiers that passed us on their way up the trail. One of the more interesting sights was a woman coming down trail at breakneck speed on a sled that looked like a booster seat. We made sure to move out of her way, but she seemed to be very conscious of the uphill traffic and stopped easily. James inquired about how her sled worked, and she demonstrated that for braking, you just lean back. I know that people like to use those Mad River Rocket-style sleds on the trail and elsewhere, but this was the first time I’d seen what this woman had.
Up to about the 2,300’ elevation mark the surrounding vegetation was on the brushy side, but above that point it began to thin out and the potential for skiable lines looked a little better. Off to our right, we could see some open, moderate angle slopes across the big gully that had begun to parallel the trail, and off to the left we could see the more obvious lines that steepened on the way up to Bald Hill (3,041’). Ty had some good bursts of skinning speed when we kept him motivated, but as inquiries about how far we were going and when we would get to ski became more frequent, we decided it was time to think about our descent route. Heading off to the left for the lower slopes of Bald Hill was going to make things easiest for getting back to the trailhead for Ty, so a bit above 2,500’ when we hit one of the skin tracks breaking off the Burrows Trail and going in that direction, we took it. The change of scene was enough to keep Ty motivated for a little bit longer, since we were able to tell him that we’d be able to descend soon.
We headed up into the glades a little farther, reaching an elevation of about 2,700’ before Ty seemed to be getting just a bit too antsy. There were plenty of good lines available with untracked snow, but we could see that taking them would mean dropping right back down to the Burrows Trail almost immediately. So, we continued to contour westward to get something that might drop a little more directly to the trailhead. We could only traverse so far though, since Ty knew we were close to skiing and his inquiries started up again. When we finally called it on the traverse, James and I skinned up a little farther to catch a nice looking line, while Ty waited just below us.
The skiing was good, and definitely worth the hike, but certainly not perfect or quite up to what I’d found off the Monroe Trail the previous weekend. The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun. Ty stuck with just alpine turns, but had a lot of fun catching air and working on his jumping technique. Our extra traversing had bought us a little longer descent, but we still dropped back to the Burrows Trail pretty quickly. Instead of trying to ski on and near the trail, we took a traverse out to the west with the aim of eventually dropping back down to the parking lot to finish our run. I used the GPS for route finding, and as is often the case, James went by his natural sense of direction. The biggest issue with the traverse was that like on the Burrows Trail itself, a few streams were still open from the previous warm weather. They weren’t too hard to cross since there were still snow bridges around, but Ty’s smaller skis definitely set him at a disadvantage for spanning some gaps. We helped him across when needed. Even with the aid of the GPS, I overshot the parking area by about 100 feet or so and had to swing back during my final descent, while James nailed it right on.
From what I’d been hearing, ski conditions were generally decent around the area this week, but new snowfall was sparse. Subsequent to the 9 inches of snow that Bolton picked up last weekend, they’d only reported 2 to 3 inches of additional accumulation. Down at the house in Waterbury (495’), we picked up 4.8 inches of snow from that weekend event, and then smaller events on Monday and Wednesday dropped 1.2 inches each. It was enough to keep things fresh, but it was rather dry snow that probably didn’t add too much new substance to the snowpack.
The end of the week also saw an increase in temperatures, with our location in the valley getting up to around 40 F at times. It was a little hard to get a sense of what had gone on with the weather in the mountains, since I heard talk of a crust in the Mt. Mansfield area, but Paul Terwilliger’s report from Central Vermont suggested that the powder was great down there. Unsure of whether I was going to encounter, powder, crust, mush, or who knows what, I chose to keep it simple and earn some turns close to home. I decided to check out some terrain right across the Winooski in North Duxbury below Camel’s Hump. From the Winooski Valley, at an elevation of about 400’ or so, the Camel’s Hump Road heads southward up into the mountains for several miles to an elevation of about 1,500’ where there is access to Camel’s Hump State Park and various hiking trails. My friend Weston used to live right up near the top of the road, and told me that there were plenty of glades up above him along the route to Camel’s Hump. I took a peek at my copy of David Goodman’s backcountry skiing book for Vermont, and he also speaks of the various glade skiing options along the Monroe Trail.
This was actually my first time driving up Camel’s Hump Road in the winter, so it was neat to get the perspective with the snow. The drive offered great views of Ridley Brook, which flows near the road throughout the drive. I always get a kick out of some of the funky houses along the road: some that seem to be accessed by unique bridges, and others with their own quirks, like one that seems to be some sort of partially underground structure with a flat roof. At this time of the year, the very top part of the road is closed, so I had to park in the winter parking area at ~1,200’. From a temperature of ~38-39 F down at the house, the temperature dropped to ~36 F at the parking area, and in terms of snow conditions, I hoped that the temperature would continue to drop as I ascended.
With skins on, I quickly made it up the rest of the snow-covered road to the main parking area and trailhead at around 1,500’. I checked out the plaque near the trailhead commemorating the 1944 bomber crash on the mountain, and then I was on my way up the trail. I began checking the consistency of the snow, and it seemed like the powder was dense, but not really wet, and there was no detectable crust. Within a few minutes of being on the Monroe Trail, I began to see obvious glades up above me as Weston had suggested. The Monroe Trail didn’t really attack the fall line, instead it seemed to gradually contour up and to the left in a southwesterly direction. I figured that one approach to skiing the glades would be to see if I could gain some elevation on the Monroe Trail and eventually traverse back in a northeasterly direction for a fall-line style descent back to the trail, but I wanted to see where the Monroe Trail would take me on its own before I started breaking snow on a new route. The trail was well packed, and plenty wide as David Goodman suggests in his book, so it’s really easy to cruise along with skins. I was happy to have full-width skins in a few spots where the trail gets steep, but one could certainly make due with less as long as the snow consistency supported good grip. There were a few ski tracks where skiers had come out of some of the glades, and tracks suggested that a few more folks seemed to have skied on and around the trail, but I didn’t see any skiers during my tour. I did see a lot of people on snowshoes: one group of 6 to 8 people, a few couples, and a couple of other groups.
The trail continued it’s mostly gradual, southwesterly ascent, and at around 1,800’ I noticed that the trees seemed to have more brush in them than I’d seen in the earlier part of the climb. At 2,300’ in elevation, I reached the junction of the Monroe and Dean Trails, and direction-wise, continuing on the Monroe Trail was the obvious choice for what I wanted to ski. The Monroe Trail had been starting to wrap around toward a more northwesterly direction, getting more in line with my efforts to eventually head to the northeast, while the Dean Trail headed southwest. Not far above the junction, the forest began to turn into a beautiful combination of birches and evergreens, and I could see some nice ski lines for folks that opted for the skiing in the trail area. Then, a little above the 2,500’ elevation mark, I hit the frost line and everything began to turn white, changing the look of things again. Ascending farther, the forest transformed back into more hardwoods again with some decent open ski lines paralleling the trail, and I could see that a few people had used them. Finally, as I approached the 2,800’ level, the trail was actually starting to almost make a north/northeasterly jog and far above I could see huge cliffs on the eastern face of Camel’s Hump directly ahead of me. The forest quickly transformed yet again into an area of almost exclusively evergreens.
It was after 3:00 P.M. by that point, and as I didn’t want to push the available daylight, I began to look for the best route to traverse northeastward for my descent. I followed the Monroe Trail for as far as it seemed to jive with my plan, and when it really seemed to head southward I had to begin my traverse. I traversed north/northeastward among the evergreens, and down below the cliffs the trees were often quite open. If the snow was elevation-dependent, or if one wanted to simply stick in this terrain, I could easily see this area being used for some great laps of skiing. Indeed, I saw various tracks of previous skiers scattered around, suggest that folks had had some fun. As I made my traverse through the evergreen forest, I came across various tracks of people that had either been descending or ascending, but I eventually picked up a skin track that seemed to be very much in line with my plan. I followed the track through the evergreens until it broke back out into a lot of birches, crossing what looked like an interesting trail marked with blue flagging tape. That blue-flagged route looked intriguing, but it ran literally perpendicular to where I wanted to go, so I had to pass it by and chock it up to future exploration. I checked several times with my GPS compass to ensure that the track I was following was legitimate, and not something left over by somebody that had simply been lost, but it stayed on course.
After another couple of minutes of traveling through some flat, very open terrain, I noticed that the skier/rider before me had started to make a couple of turns, so I decided it was time to take of my skins and focus on the descent. I was excited about the skiing prospects, even if only due to the snow depths and consistency I’d see on the ascent. I had little idea about what I might find for slope continuity or vegetation below. In terms of snow quality, there had been no sign of a crust aside from a couple of isolated spots that had a thin coating that must have been from the sun. And, throughout the trip I’d been checking on snow depths, finding anywhere from 14 to 26 inches of settled powder atop the base snow.
You don’t always know quite how snow is going to ski until you actually get on it, but as soon as I dropped that first knee into a turn all questions were answered. The powder was dense as expected, and I was only sinking in about 4 to 5 inches, but the density made the turns really smooth. I continued on with turns, checking my GPS every couple hundred vertical or so to ensure that I was on track to hit the glades near the start of the Monroe Trail. There were some steeper options off to my left (north) but with the tree spacing they would be best for deeper/lighter powder. I found the conditions perfect for the moderate and low angle slopes that I encountered. Ultimately, my descent was not as fall line as I was initially hoping for, and I really had to keep pulling left throughout the descent to stay on target, but I was pretty happy with it for a first shot. I occasionally saw a couple of other tracks in the area as our paths crisscrossed, so obviously some others (presumably at least that track I’d followed) had done something similar. As far as tree spacing went, it wasn’t a brush-fest, and there were a few more open areas, but nothing extraordinary relative to what I’ve seen around here for what appears to be nature taking its typical course. If one didn’t have to check on or correct their route, most competent tree skiers could enjoy a fairly continuous ride without having to constantly hit the brakes for brush. A couple more feet of base would help a little on the bush front, but not too much from what I could see, and it’s certainly not needed in terms of coverage. With the base snow plus all the settled powder, coverage was absolutely bomber on everything I found on my ascent. I was able to pop off small boulders etc. and never heard a thing from my skis. The most consistently open glades on my descent were the terrain I’d seen down near the Monroe Trail, and I actually still came up just shy of one of the shots I’d been aiming for. Looking at my GPS/Google Earth plot, I can see that a longer traverse up high would be needed for a more direct fall line descent, but that’s something to strive for in a future trip. It does remind me of a quote from David Goodman’s chapter on the Monroe Trail, where he says “The quest for the perfect glade run will keep you coming back to Camel’s Hump time and again…”
So, both the base and ski conditions in the Monroe Trail section of Camel’s Hump State Park were great as of yesterday at all elevations I skied off piste (1,500’ – 2,800’). We picked up 1.4 inches of snow from last night’s activity, so that area should have picked up something in the 1 to 3 inch range as well, and I can’t imagine that would be anything but a positive on top of the conditions I experienced.
The boys were more interested in planting flowers with Mom on Saturday than skiing, so unfortunately I couldn’t interest them in going out for some turns. This meant that I was on a solo outing, but the upside was that I’d be able to do a much bigger tour than I would have been able to with Ty, or especially with Dylan. The skies were clear and blue all Saturday morning on what was likely our warmest day of the spring up to that point. The temperature was already around 80 F when I pulled into Stowe’s Midway lot (~1,700’) in the early afternoon, and with the forecast for temperatures in that range, I hadn’t been too optimistic about the snow quality. My major goal was to at least get in a good workout, so I was willing to negotiate some sloppy snow on the descent if that was the way it had to be.
Snow was available right from the Midway Lodge elevation, with just a couple hundred feet of fairly flat walking on grass to get on it from the parking lot. I was immediately surprised when I got on the snow and found that it wasn’t sloppy at all; it was all corn with just the top inch or so loosened up. That’s the sort of corn that seems to provide some of the easiest turns, so I was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for a quality descent. There wasn’t much of a breeze in the lower elevations, but the snow helped keep the air temperature a bit cooler and the ascent was very enjoyable. For ascent attire I’d gone about as minimally as I felt comfortable doing, with a short sleeve polypropylene T-shirt and my ski pants with the side zippers fully open, and that worked out to be a comfortable setup for the temperature. I hadn’t made a non-powder ascent on skins in a while, and I was quickly reminded how the lightness of Telemark gear allows you to simply fly up the slopes. Before I knew it I was up at the Cliff House (3,625’) and feeling great, so I decided to keep going up into the alpine.
I set my skis onto my pack and hit the climbing gully. There was a bit of rotten snow in spots, and as I didn’t immediately find a boot ladder, I had visions of an inefficient, sloppy climb with lots of post-holing. I’d already post-holed a few times in the outskirts of the gully (it only took one of those to remind me to get my ski pants zipped up at least halfway) but fortunately, about 50 feet up the climbing gully I found a boot ladder made by some nice big feet. That made the going fairly smooth, and the views of the Green and White Mountains continued to improve with each step. Near the top of the gully, I ran into a guy about to descend. He had spent an overnight or two on the mountain, and said that he’d been amazed to find fresh powder on Friday morning when he’d started skiing. It sounds like along with Thursday morning, Friday morning had also been good in the higher elevations with regard to fresh snow. The downside of the fresh snow was that conditions in the alpine were still a bit sloppy. The new snow had not yet cycled to corn in the highest elevations, so it just wasn’t going to provide an optimal surface. By the time I departed from my conversation in the gully, I was moments from the Mansfield ridge line. Up on the ridge I enjoyed the new westerly views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and decided to stop in at the top of The Chin (4,395’) since I was so close. There was a small group of college students enjoying the popular leeward side of the summit, and there was a pleasant breeze of probably 15 MPH or so. The high temperature for the day at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 67 F, so I suspect that the summit maximum temperature was probably close to that. Getting an April day like that at the top of The Chin is certainly a treat.
For my descent, I wasn’t able to ski right in the summit or the West Chin area due to lack of snow, but I was able to ski down the gully where the Long Trail drops away from The Chin as it heads south. It was quite a perspective to see the snow create a flat surface through the gully, when in the off season it’s a 10-foot deep chasm containing the hiking trail. I had to remove my skis to descend the very top of the climbing gully, but below that point one could keep them on continuously. As expected, the new snow up high that hadn’t fully cycled to corn wasn’t as nice as the corn snow on the bottom 2,000’, but I actually had some fun turns in the climbing gully, and it let me work on Telemark turns in steeper, tighter confines. I still had to make some alpine turns and throw in some side slipping up there since some areas were just so tight, but overall the gully allowed a good mix of styles. The crème de la crème of snow surfaces for the day was probably the top half of the Gondolier descent. There must have been very little traffic up there because most of the snow surface was just a smooth layer of ripe corn. The lower half of Gondolier still had nice corn snow, but the surface wasn’t as smooth as the top half of trail. Perhaps the lower elevations had experienced more melting that started forming aberrations in the surface. Based on my GPS data, it looks like my descent was 2,720’, not quite what you can get for vertical in the winter when you head all the way back down to Route 108, but still a decent run. There were still about 7 feet of snow at the stake on Saturday, and even though that level has dropped some with the recent warmth we’ve had, skiing should available on Mt. Mansfield for a while.
Today I headed out for some backcountry exploration in the Bolton area. I was sure that James would still be resting his ankle, so once again I made it a solo outing. After exploring part of the Cotton Brook drainage the previous week, I decided to switch it up and check out something on the other side of the valley. A convenient starting area for reaching the terrain on the western side of the valley is one of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) access points. The ample parking lot sits at an elevation of roughly 1,000 feet on the Bolton Valley Access Road. My plan was to start out on the VAST trail that heads west from the parking area, and make my way up to the ridge line that extends north from Stimson Mountain. The summit of Stimson Mountain is at 2,002 feet, and the ridge maintains roughly that elevation for several miles as it heads northward toward the Bolton Mountain area. If I was able to find a suitable route to the ridge, and the terrain was appropriate, the tour would provide about 1,000 vertical feet of skiing.
I arrived at the trailhead in late morning to sunny skies and a temperature of 19 degrees F. There was only one snowmobile trailer in the lot at that time, so the lot looked pretty deserted. I started skinning westward on the nicely maintained VAST trail, which at first had a fairly gradual slope. Then, I crossed a large bridge, and the trail steepened. After maybe 50-100 vertical feet, the trail flattened out and turned to the south. At that point I decided to break away from the VAST trail and head westward up the ridge. The going would be slower once I had to get off the trail and break my own way through the powder, but as far as I could tell without a VAST map, the VAST trail headed more southward and was not going to get me up the ridge where I wanted to be. I finally broke off the VAST trail at the intersection with an old logging road. There was a sign indicating that the logging road was not open for VAST travel.
Despite breaking my own trail, the going was pretty smooth. I’d checked the depth of the powder just after I started my hike, and found it to be 9 inches over whatever thicker layer was below it. At the bottom of the logging road, the snow was still in the 9-12-inch range, so I wasn’t bogged down by too much depth. I continued upward, following a network of logging roads and taking the route that seemed to best direct me toward my destination on the ridge. I spied plenty of great ski lines along the way, and I marked a few of the more attractive ones on my GPS. The logging road seemed to have been maintained and it made for quick travel; at least it appeared that way with the snowpack at the time. If there was a forest of saplings growing on the road, they were long buried under the snowpack. There was only one obstacle that forced me to detour from the logging roads, a huge tree that lay across the trail near the middle of the hike. It took a few extra minutes to work my way around that one. Currently, with the additional 3 to 4 feet of new snow from Wednesday’s storm, that tree is probably not even an issue.
My route took me generally westward up the ridge, with a bit of northward movement toward the end. About 2/3 of the way through the hike, I came across a large flat area, and above it was some of the steepest terrain I’d seen on the day. The terrain there actually looked a bit too steep and rocky for skiing, so the slight northward trend worked well to keep me in more skiable terrain. Near the top of the hike I attained nice views of the Timberline area across the valley. I could even hear the announcer for the ski race that was taking place over there. The race was presumably a continuation of the event that Ty and I had seen the previous day. High clouds had been building in throughout my trip, so at that point the sunshine was no longer as brilliant as it had been when I started the hike.
After several minutes of additional climbing, I finally hit the ridge. While the powder just below the ridge had built up to a depth of around 15 inches, on the ridge itself, the snow was heavily compacted and drifted. In some places, the snow had been scoured down to just a few inches in depth. Small trees all across the ridgeline had been bent over and snapped by the strong prevailing winds that raked the area. To the west below me was Bolton Notch, and I could see what looked like some skiable lines dropping eastward toward the Bolton Notch Road. I actually thought I heard the voices of a couple of people below me in the notch, but it was very faint and I couldn’t get a fix on their location. I hiked around the summit ridge for a bit while I had a snack and a drink, then removed my skins and started down.
To ensure that I’d be able to get right back to the car without having to do any hiking along the access road, I followed a downhill route in the same general area as my skin track. Sometimes I traversed out above my skin track and skied back down to it, but for much of the run I was able to stay off to the skier’s left of my skin track and follow the natural contour of the terrain. Even with the snowpack below average (as gauged by the snow depth at the stake on Mt. Mansfield being at only ~54 inches), one could pretty much ski anywhere in the area I explored. There were always some lines that seemed to be the pick of the crop, but there were few areas where the vegetation was too thick for turns. There was plenty of powder for bottomless turns throughout the descent, and the depth of the base let me tackle the lines with a fair degree of confidence. With the potential for 3 to 4 feet of snow from the storm this coming Wednesday, I suspect there will be even more wide open lines. A storm of the size expected would likely bring the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake close to 80 inches, which would actually be above average for this time of year.
For the final pitch down to the VAST trail, I actually skied the last part of the logging road I’d ascended. It was steep enough that it made for some pretty nice turns. The Avocet recorded 920 vertical feet of descent and the Suunto recorded 958 vertical feet of descent, a difference of 4.0%. The high clouds had continued to build in throughout the tour, so the temperature at the end of my run was pretty much the same as it had been when I started skinning. It was a fun and easy trip with great access.
Well, the weather setup leading into this weekend was a 4 to 6 inch snowfall yesterday; so it came just in time for weekend turns. Somehow, there came to be a bit of a crust on top, but unlike last weekend, it was paper thin and didn’t really affect the non-groomed terrain.
Today I caught up with Shawshank at Stowe sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M. and we hit the usual stashes with other folks that we knew. The big event came in the afternoon with a 1:00 P.M. meeting at the top of the Gondi and a hike into the swirling mists of The Chin. Let’s just say, without the guidance of Shawshank, there would have been no way to find anything up there in the near zero visibility. The wind was probably gusting to 40 mph at times, but it wasn’t bad for the top of a mountain, and by the time we reached the Hourglass Chute, we were protected altogether. Hourglass was fun, although it seemed to be over so quickly. I remember reaching this one point about as wide as the length of my skis (the narrow part of the hourglass) and four turns later we had to bang a left to make the connection to Hell Brook. We traversed for about 50 feet, took a quick step up a short incline, then dropped a nice little section into the low point between the Adam’s Apple And The Chin (so I was told; still socked in). After a bit more of a traverse, we found ourselves at the top of Hell Brook. I thought that it was going to be a singletrack adventure down into the Notch; I was definitely wrong there. As it turns out (at least at this time of year) it is much like an interconnected patchwork of trails, snowfields, and gullies which gradually narrows into a single gully towards the end. Actually, a lot of it reminded me of the gullies at Alta or Snowbird, except that it was a lot longer and there were hardwoods about. One could take this thing 20 times and still not know the whole maze; it makes for some very fun exploration. A word of caution: there were numerous spots where a wrong turn would mean a big drop or other hazards that could ruin your run so take it easy. Shawshank lost his goggles in a little open water spot and before anyone knew what was up, they were down the brook and under the snow. Damn. We finally wound up on Route 108 for a mostly (one bit of uphill) downhill traverse back to the Gondola and nearly 3000′ of vertical in one run. By the time we got back to the quad it was about 3:30 P.M. and we were kaput.
I stopped in at the Stowehof where my friend Chris was staying. It’s a real quaint place with great views. I think that the bar and restaurant are open to the public, but just walking around in there is a lot of fun.
After kicking in steps yesterday evening (snowshoeless are we) to 1,100′, we hiked up to around 1,350′ today with skis. Unfortunately, above this point, the line hasn’t been cleared in a couple of years and its pretty thick with brush. Below this point though, its clear sailing, about 40 feet wide and untracked. The snow conditions were about 5 inches powder followed by that crust, then another 2-3 feet of thick powder below. From our starting point, the first 200 feet down are a little brushy (a la Goat) then the trail funnels into a 50 foot chute with steep drops on either side. After this chute, the line opens up for about 200 feet of blue-grade boulevard untracked (one of the best parts). The next 1,000′ consists of a few cliffs (5-10 feet high and easily bypassed if desired) with islands of brush that leave at least half of the trail open at a all times. At this point (elevation 700′) the main power line takes a dive into a stream bed, but fortunately there is a road, or riverbed or something that parallels the line and provides a nice clear route. The last 100 feet or so is a bit of a scramble out the road. Temps were in the 20s and light snow was falling today making for great conditions. 1,000 continuous vertical of untracked powder at no charge; sometimes it’s nice to earn turns by muscle instead of $$$$.