Since the end of the school year was keeping E rather busy last weekend, the boys and I just made a quick day trip out to ski the Mt Washington snowfields on Sunday. The turns were good, and with things lightening up for E by this weekend, we again kept our eyes on the weather for some possible camping and skiing. The forecast ultimately looked even better than it did for last weekend, suggesting warm, dry weather both Saturday and Sunday, so we packed up and headed off to New Hampshire yesterday around midday.
“…Ty started banging out runs pretty quickly on that upper section because he really liked the short hike back up.”
We set a course for the Glen, NH area to see if we could get a site at the Glen Ellis Family Campground similar to what we’d had last spring. We’d never been to the campground before that trip, but we really liked the riverside campsite we had along the beautiful Saco River. Since the Sunday forecast looked even a bit better than Saturday with respect to the potential for clouds and wind, we headed right to the campground yesterday and found that they had a number of the riverside campsites available, even ones with electrical power, which we find great for charging up various mobile devices. It was a warm afternoon in the 80s F, and tubing on the river was a popular activity. They’ve really got a great setup there for running laps in the river; you just ride down as far as you want, and walk your tube back up along the edge of the campground. We spent a chunk of the afternoon working on Dylan’s throws and playing some disc golf in the campground’s massive grassy fields, then had dinner at the campsite, and finished off the day with some evening exploration of the shoals and islands in the river. Dylan discovered that the campground had Wi-Fi, and we had an excellent signal even all the way out by the river, which is almost a half mile away from the main office. They must have an impressive wireless setup to be able to span the 65 acres of their campground. I did a test on Speedtest.net and found that the upload and download speeds were both 1.0 Mbps, which is plenty of bandwidth unless you need to stream video or do something similarly intensive.
This morning we had breakfast, gradually broke down the campsite, and headed north on Route 16 for the quick trip to the Mt Washington Auto Road. Thanks to the available Wi-Fi at the campsite, I was able to do a check on the Ravines Cam to see the current state of the snowfields. It was clear that the main Ball Crag Snowfield had lost a lot of snow in its middle sections, and the snow had the look of a backwards letter “C”. The main area of the East Snowfields had broken up a lot, such that largest remaining section didn’t seem to have much more vertical than what seemed available on the Ball Crag Snowfield. With that information and our knowledge from last week about the ease of access, we decided that the Ball Crag Snowfield area was still probably the best bet for today’s trip. After reading another trip report at the Time For Tuckerman Forum last week in which someone monitored their gas mileage up the Auto Road, we decided to monitor ours, and found that it was right around 9.0 MPG up to the 5,700’ parking area in the Subaru; since the other report indicated that they managed 10 MPG in a hybrid vehicle, and we were loaded with four passengers and lots of camping and ski gear, I guess that’s not too bad. Presumably there’s not much gained in a hybrid on a long, continuous climb like the Auto Road, but whatever vehicle it was, it’s likely to be a fuel efficient one anyway. As we unloaded our gear, one of the Mt Washington Auto Road Coaches passed by, and the driver reminded us to make sure we stayed on the rocks so that we didn’t harm any of the fragile alpine flowers and other vegetation. I hadn’t seen much vegetation flowering last week, but he noted that some of the flowers were just starting to make their way up to these elevations now. It actually wasn’t as sunny as we thought it might be, and gray clouds almost looked like they might throw down some precipitation, so everyone packed light shells in their packs just in case. Being just a few minutes from the car, we find that one can pack minimally if they want to, but if rain really came down, we’d want to have something on hand.
It was again a short trip to the snowfield, and we could start to get a sense for how what the ski options were going to be. Since last week, we could see that there hadn’t been too much change in the areal snow coverage in the upper section of the snowfield, but the lower section showed dramatic differences due to the past week’s melting. The lower section was much smaller, and the snow was no longer continuous into that area. That made laps in the upper section most practical, and Ty started banging out runs pretty quickly on that upper section because he really liked the short hike back up. E slid out a bit on her first run and even got into the rocks at the bottom, but she was OK – it was definitely the most dramatic encounter with the rocks we’ve seen though, even more than when Dylan got into them a little bit last week. We often talk about how much we really need our helmets on these outings on the snowfields, since there are rarely other skiers around, but E’s slide was another great example of why we make sure to wear them. As she was sliding, even though she was in good shape being feet first, she was very happy to know that she had that helmet on. Ty kept cranking out the runs, and even Dylan whipped out a couple of quick runs before taking a break. I started to make some runs to see if I could catch up to Ty, but every time I’d take a run, he would do another with me, so there was no catching up that way. He was having fun with that, knowing that as long as he did a run every time I did, there was no way that I’d be able to catch up. It made for some fun runs where he worked on mirroring my turns, and although I couldn’t see him while we were skiing, now that I look at some of the photos, I can see he was doing a really nice job. For our last run, Ty and I connected down to the lower snowfield for a few extra turns on our way to hike out, so in the end we called it an extra quarter run, so Ty wound up with 7 ¼ runs to my 4 ¼ runs, with Dylan at 3 runs and E at 2 runs. We joked with Ty that he didn’t even do as many runs as the rest of us, because before that last run, he was quite proud that he had! The sky remained with one and off gray and sometimes fluffier clouds, with the occasional break of sun, and fortunately there were no signs of any precipitation.
The boys had wanted to head up to the summit of Mt Washington and visit the Sherman Adams Summit Building on our last outing, and we didn’t really have time, but this time we’d planned on it, so we stopped in at the visitor’s center for a while. We used our tickets to the new exhibit area in the museum, which is focused on the extreme nature of Mt Washington in the winter, and indeed it has been heavily updated relative to what was there before. The whole area seems very new and modernized all around, and there’s some impressive use of high-definition screens and other video technologies. It’s certainly worth a visit to the new exhibit if you have not seen it since it’s opening in May. We stopped in Gorham for a bite on the way home, and ate at one of the picnic benches on the Gorham Town Common, where the boys hit the playground for a bit. I’d say that’s just about it for the snowfields this season, so most of the activity will be shifting to Tuckerman Ravine. For some strange reason, the availability of snow only seems to decrease this time of year!
Using the Auto Road to gain access to Mt. Washington’sEast Snowfields is a convenient way to get to some fantastic spring skiing, but a number of factors need to align for an optimal outing to come together. First, the road has to open. One never knows exactly when that’s going to happen, since it depends on how much snow has to be removed, how fast it’s melting, how much road maintenance needs to be done, how often bad weather delays work, etc. Then, even once the road is open, weather can still play a factor. Although some folks might be inclined to head up into the alpine regardless of the forecast, I think most folks would agree that a calm, warm, clear spring day (or at least as close as you can get to that ideal) is the way to go. Those types of days can be rare on Mt. Washington, but they certainly happen, and they typically occur more frequently the farther one gets into late spring. While time might be on your side with regard to weather, it’s generally not on your side when it comes to snowpack. With each passing day of warmth, the snowpack melts a little more, and ski options diminish. And, even if the stars align to create that perfect combination of access, weather and snowpack on the mountain, there’s everything else in life that has the potential to get in the way of letting you jump at the opportunity. Once in a while, things just don’t come together before the snow melts, but somehow, even with all those obstacles, we usually manage to get over to New Hampshire for some spring camping and skiing with the boys, and this year was no exception.
“We had the snowfield to ourselves the entire afternoon…”
For two weeks from the end of April through to the second week of May, we saw an incredible stretch of clear, warm spring weather with absolutely no measurable precipitation at our house in Waterbury. This period produced some great spring skiing, but the warmth and sun also accelerated the snowmelt to a rate that was a bit faster than usual. This period was great in terms of progress on clearing snow from the Mt. Washington Auto Road however, and it was open to the summit as of last weekend. The weather was unsettled for that first weekend though, so we opted to head down to the South Shore area and visit Erica’s mom for Mother’s Day, and keep our eyes peeled for a good weather window. After a couple more days of unsettled weather, the clear regime returned this week, and prospects for an Auto Road trip were looking excellent. This morning, the forecast called for decent weather with temperatures in the 40s F, and the morning shot from the Ravines Cam revealed crystal clear skies. It also showed that the east side ski options below the Mt. Washington summit are still quite plentiful, with many additional snowfields available along with the main one.
We were on our way to the mountain by mid morning, and views from the west side were already encouraging as we approached the Presidentials. When the west side still has skiable snow, you know the east side is going to have plenty of options. Steep lines with decent snow were even visible on the north side of the range as we passed by on Route 2, and on the ascent of the Auto Road we could see various snowfields in the peaks towering above the Great Gulf. In the proximity of the Auto Road itself, the first signs of snow were at roughly the 3,500’ elevation. As for the East Snowfields, the setup today was a lot like we encountered during our 2010 trip, in that the broad strip of snowfields was present off to the north of the main East Snowfield. A look at the availability of snow in 2010 shows an interesting distribution of snow – that strip of snowfields off to the north was very prominent, and the main East Snowfield was surprisingly small. The current snowpack is definitely different from what we had available on our 2011 and 2012 trips, where the skiing was essentially down to just the main snowfield.
“The snowfield held
beautifully flat and
pristine corn snow…”
With the lower snowfields in action, we decided to go with the approach applied in our 2010 trip, which is to use the parking area below the 7-mile post on the road, instead of the parking area at the top of the snowfields. Using this technique, one can tour out along the more northerly snowfields as far as they want, even hitting the main East Snowfield if they’d like. Then, to finish the tour, instead of having to hike back up to the parking area atop the East Snowfield, one can essentially traverse back along the base of the snowfields with minimal additional ascent. Along the way, you can make descents in the other snowfields as well, which often have untouched snow. They’re used much less than the main East Snowfield and we’ve typically found that we have them to ourselves with untouched corn snow. At the end of our 2010 trip, we also discovered a very efficient use of the mountain’s hiking trail network for this type of tour. We’ve started traversing on the Nelson Crag Trail before, but, it turns out that simply descending straight down from the lower parking area on the Huntington Ravine Trail drops you right onto the northern edge of the snowfields, so you can use the trail to get you right to the snow. You can’t really see the snow from above, so it’s not obvious unless you know what you’re doing, but as long as those northerly extensions of the snowfield are present, it’s a really sweet and efficient approach. Even though the distribution of the snow in the snowfields area is different each spring, it’s nice to be developing a knowledge of what works well for getting to the snow. We’re definitely starting to dial in a good understanding of how to best approach what we see on the Ravines Cam in terms of touring the snowfields. This year our goal was to tour out toward the main East Snowfield as described above, with the potential to ski there, but it would depend on how good the skiing was that found along the way, as well as time, and of course the boy’s attitude and morale, which can be extremely flighty on these outings.
As expected, taking the Huntington Ravine Trail got us to the snow in just a few minutes of hiking from the car, and Ty and Dylan were ready to just stop right there and start skiing. E and I explained to them that what they saw was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of snow, and that we would be traversing southward for some longer lines. The snowfield there was only about 50 vertical feet or so, but typically the priority for the boys is to minimize the amount of hiking they have to do in whatever way they can. The boys did have a bit more challenge this year, since they were both carrying their own skis on their packs for the first time. Fortunately, they had both decided to use their Telemark skis, also a first for them, so it’s nice that their Teles are lighter than their alpines. This also meant that they could simply wear their Telemark boots and hike like me and Erica in ours, since they are very flexible and have rubber soles. This meant we didn’t have any alpine boots to carry, although Tele boots still aren’t quite as easy for hiking as standard hiking boots, so that was a bit of a bump in challenge for the boys. For E, this trip was also a chance to carry her skis on the Dakine Women’s Pro II 26L ski pack that she got for Christmas. Although she used it on some backcountry outings this winter, we were always skinning, so there was no need to carry her skis on her back. This was her first opportunity to really put it to the test with skis on it, and she was very impressed. I wouldn’t have thought about it, except that she commented on how it didn’t even feel like she had skis on her back – that’s always good sign when it comes to a ski pack. She also mentioned how the diagonal carry is so superior to the A-frame style carry in terms hitting the backs of the skis with your legs. I’ve always been very impressed with the diagonal carry on my Dakine Sequence ski/photo pack, so I’m glad E is getting to make use of that system. Dakine definitely knows how to set up a ski carry system. The one issue I did notice with E’s pack is that since it has a helmet carrying system (very cook and I wish I had one) it gets a bit tight when the skis are on there in diagonal carry as well. Overall the skis and helmet were nice and snug there though, and E had no complaints. Our only lament heading outbound on the tour was that with our skis angled down to the right, it meant that they occasionally touched the rocks because of the direction of the side slope on our southward traverse. It was only an occasional inconvenience though, and I joked that we could always traverse around the entire Mt. Washington summit cone in the other direction if we really wanted to avoid that issue ;).
After only about ten minutes of southward traversing, we came to a substantial snowfield of about 250’ vertical or so, and we decided to do some skiing. We hit the snowfield about midway up, so I set in a boot ladder to the top. The snowfield held beautifully flat and pristine corn snow, aside from a couple of very faint tracks from a previous skier or two that must have been there quite a while ago. The snowfield was continuous, but did have a choke point about midway down along the left, so one had to take that route.
It was good that we’d reached at least an initial snowfield, because the boys were already getting grumpy. They really wanted to get on with the camping, and while they enjoy being out on the snow, getting them to thoroughly relish all aspects of earned turns is always a challenge. Some days they enjoy the experience, or at least substantial parts of it, but other times it’s essentially putting up with Mom and Dad dragging them around to these snowy spots. We’ve learned that it’s good to have a “carrot” aspect of the trip as well, whether it’s a stop in a the Bryant Cabin on a Bolton Valley Backcountry Network outing or the swimming pool after, a chance to eat out somewhere once we’re done, or in this case, a chance to do some camping. We relayed to them that they were sitting on their own private snowfield with great temperatures, no wind, no bugs, beautiful snow, and even some sunshine. These aren’t things that you can get every day, but in their minds they were already off the mountain and down by the tent and campfire.
At the top of the snowfield, I hung out for a while and enjoyed the scene, while the boys did a bit of sliding on the snowfield, and E made the first descent. Her turns looked good, and it was amazing how fast she dropped that vertical. It seemed like she was down toward the flats of the Alpine Garden area in an instant, and she looked so far away. I skied a run next, and then we eventually got the boys to make some turns, even though they were being somewhat lazy and reluctant. They both put together some nice Telemark turns, even though the pitch of the snowfield was quite steep. E and I both made some additional turns, with me finishing off a run on the lower right of the snowfield while E shot some pictures. We had the snowfield to ourselves the entire afternoon, so even though it was only about half the vertical of what was available on the main East Snowfield, it was such good skiing that we never even continued over there. The boys were a bit too sour for that anyway, and really wanted to get on to the camping. We could hear that occasional shout from people on the main snowfield though, and I’m sure there were some great times going on over there.
The return traverse to the car was pretty quick, and E and I helped out the boys by each carrying a pair of their skis. For the extra set of skis, we went with a vertical carry, and E seemed to still be impressed with the stability and ease of her pack, even with the second set of skis on it. I made the lowest traverse, so that meant a few minutes of hiking back up the Huntington Ravine Trail at the end, but I was eager to test that out. It was nice to walk on an established trail, since the going was a big quicker than across the random jumbles of rocks that give the Rock Pile its name. While we were loading up the gear at the parking area, we had some inquiries about where we’d been skiing, and one guy was very intrigued to know that you could access the snowfield from that lower parking lot. He said he’d like to try it out in the future.
“…but in their minds
they were already off
the mountain and down
by the tent and campfire.”
Each year we like to try out a new campground on our visit to the snowfields, and this year I decided that we’d head south to Glen, New Hampshire. I’d found a couple of potential campgrounds there. The first was the Green Meadow Camping Area, but when we stopped in and found out that they weren’t opening until next weekend, we headed to the Glen Ellis Family Campground a couple of miles down the road. I’d put it as the second choice because it was a bit more expensive, but once we got there you could immediately tell why. The grounds are immaculate, and the building that functions as the main office and store was a beautiful building. Everything was first rate, and they’ve got a huge playground, basketball and tennis courts, and even a pristine baseball diamond. It’s certainly in that upper echelon of campgrounds.
Visitation was only modest since it’s no Memorial Day yet, so they gave us one of the riverside campsites. We thought that would be nice, but it wasn’t until we finally got to it that was saw how amazing it was – it was absolutely one of the coolest campsites we’ve ever had in either to Eastern or Western U.S. There’s a wooded section with the usual fire ring, picnic table, etc., but then that expands up onto a riverside area comprised of the rocks that are part of the riverbed, with a second fire ring. It overlooks a gorgeous stretch of the Saco River that made E and I feel like we were back in Jasper National Park. As soon as we saw that riverside section, we knew we were going to pitch our tent right up there. The boys headed off to the playground for a bit, we cooked up some hot dogs and beans for dinner, and finished things off with s’mores and lot of campfire time. There wasn’t actually anyone else camping out on the river since campground visitation was light, but I have to believe those riverside spots are pretty coveted on busy weekend. The fly fishing looked amazing, and we saw one guy out working the stream about a half mile downstream. That is a campsite that will not soon be forgotten, and it will definitely be on our list for the next time we’re in the area. Apparently their Laundromat is a big deal as well, because there are as many signs for that as there are for the campground itself!
Sunday update: The evening sky had some on and off broken clouds and a nice moon, and I bet it dropped into the 30s F overnight because even with the rain fly on the tent, we were down to the mid 40’s F. After breaking camp, we decided to try out one of the local restaurants for breakfast on the way home, and found the Glen Junction Family Restaurant. It definitely seemed to be the hot spot for breakfast, and the menu was almost overwhelming with the variety of combinations of fresh toast, omelets, and most of the usual morning fare that you can think of. Not surprisingly with the junction location, the theme is trains, and they’ve got some fairly large-scale trains that circulate around the rooms up near the ceiling. The boys definitely enjoyed watching those, as did the numerous children that were there as well – especially the younger ones. Of course any adults like me would enjoy them as well. One of the specials had eggs Benedict on French toast, which was tempting, although I ended up making my own omelet which contained corned beef hash and spinach. The waitress said that was the first time she’d ever had anyone put together that specific combination, and it turned out great. Everyone liked their fare, and we even had some extra to take home as the portions are plentiful.
We got home today around noontime, after a bit of maintenance on the mowers, I was able to do the first lawn mowing of the season. It’s only about four short months until I’ll be on the last mowing of the season, and we’ll be thinking about the first snows, but there are plenty of summer activities to do in the meantime. In terms of skiing, we’ll have to see if we want to take a trip down to Killington for some turns in the next couple of weeks, since they’re apparently going for June this year just like old times.
Since I’d read an East Snowfield trip report on the Time for Tuckerman Forum last weekend, I had a decent idea of how much snow was left in that area, but I still wanted to see where it was now that an additional week had passed. On Friday I checked on the Ravines Webcam from Mt. Washington, and as the clouds cleared out in the afternoon I was finally able to see where the snow was located. The bulk of the remaining snow could be seen in Tuckerman Ravine, but there were still areas with coverage up in the snowfields. While the broad snowfield that we’d skied at the end of last season was essentially gone, vestiges of the main East Snowfield were visible. The layout and extent of the snow around the Mt. Washington summit was quite different from what it often is at this time of year, because although it had been a fairly cool spring, snowfall on the mountain was roughly 70 inches below average.
04JUN11E.jpg – Ravines Image
On Saturday morning we finished up our preparation and headed on our way to New Hampshire. As we traveled on Route 2 east of Montpelier, we could see all the washouts that had come down with the heavy rains a couple of weeks earlier; some places had picked up 4 to 6 inches of rain practically overnight. Fortunately it was the weekend, so most of the construction vehicles were parked and travel was unimpeded, but the construction sites were everywhere. As we approached the Danville area, Ty suddenly noticed a spider below his feet where we had placed our firewood. That left him somewhat freaked out and reluctant to put his feet anywhere in the area, so once we had the chance we stopped at a viewpoint to see if we could clear it away. I had to pull all the logs out of the back, but we eventually found the spider and took care of it. Ty was much happier after that. We also saw a huge group of cyclists that were passing through the area and had stopped at the viewpoint; they seemed to be on quite a ride taking advantage of the nice weather. In general the Route 2 traffic wasn’t bad, but at one point we did get behind a huge RV with the name “NEWMAR” on the back mud flap, and that slowed us down for a bit until we lost it somewhere around Jefferson, NH. We joked about getting behind “NEWMARs” for the rest of the trip. As we closed in on Mt. Washington, we began to see the recent addition of white up near the summit, and knew that we’d soon get to see just what it was.
The weather stayed clear and sunny, and the drive up the auto road was lots of fun; visibility was 100 miles according to the sign at the base. Once we got up to around 5,500’, we could identify the new coating of white in the highest elevations – it was rime ice, and in some places it was over a foot thick. We parked along the road at around 6,000’ up above the East Snowfield, and while we prepared the gear, the boys explored the area and investigated the rime that peppered the surrounding rocks. The boys really enjoyed breaking off chunks of the ice, and that kept them occupied for quite a while. They also said that they really liked watching the train (The Cog Railway) and they saw at least a couple different colors of train cars during the course of the afternoon.
04JUN11A.jpg – Rime on sign
04JUN11F.jpg – Rime on sign with boys
04JUN11G.jpg – Rime below observatory
We began our descent to the snowfield by hiking on the Nelson Crag Trail, and then gradually peeled off to the right of the trail to head down to where the snowfield would be located. That descent was certainly the low point of the trip, because walking among the steep boulders in our Telemark boots with heavy packs was difficult for E and I, and we had to search around a bit to find the exact location of the remaining part of the snowfield. The frustration was compounded by the fact that because it was such a nice day with little wind, some black flies were out and about pestering anyone if they stopped moving. Even though Ty and Dylan were wearing their hiking boots, Dylan still had a bit of difficulty on the steep descent, and his spills added to E’s consternation. At one point we thought he’d fallen and hit his head, but it turned that it wasn’t too serious. Still, E was rapidly becoming apoplectic about the whole situation and I still hadn’t quite found the snowfield.
04JUN11B.jpg – Rime at Nelson Crag Trail
04JUN11R.jpg – Hiking down toward snowfield
Fortunately, we eventually found the snow we’d been seeking, and everyone was able to rest, have a snack, and enjoy the scene. A nice breeze picked up, and any bugs disappeared to produce a perfect alpine environment. The boys created a slide in the snow, and spent most of their time glissading on what they called “The Slide of Doom”. I believe the name was derived from the fact that the slide ended in rocks, and one had to ensure that they slowed down before they hit them. Ty and Dylan did numerous runs on the slide, and eventually added things like in-line high fives and snowballs into the mix.
04JUN11S.jpg – boys looking off rock
04JUN11H.jpg – Dylan sliding
04JUN11C.jpg – Ty sliding
E and I were the ones that quickly got down to doing some skiing, and although the descent was only about 100 vertical feet or so, the corn snow was great aside from a couple of icy spots. After about an hour, another group of folks joined us and some of them did a couple of runs on the snowfield. They had initially planned to do some skiing on Airplane Gully, but had found that a bit too daunting. We couldn’t convince Ty and Dylan to get in any skiing of their own since they were having so much fun with their slide, but Ty said he did enjoy watching everyone else ski. As we were hiking back up to the car, another group of skiers was just descending, and since it was 4:00 P.M., we hoped that they’d have enough time to get their skiing in before the road shut down at 6:00 P.M. Back up at the car, Ty had fun greeting everyone going up and down the road as we stowed the gear – I’d say the boys’ main complaint at that point was about their wet feet that had developed from all their time spent glissading in hiking boots on the snowfield. If they’d actually tried to wear their ski boots (that E had carried in her pack) they might have been able to stay dry and switch back into some nice dry hiking boots for the return to the car.
Since E wanted to get back home and finish up some work on Sunday without too much delay, after skiing we chose to head west and find a campsite that was on the route back to Vermont. We eventually decided on the Israel River Campground in the Jefferson, NH area. It was the first time we’d been to that campground, and it comes with some fantastic views of the Presidential Range to the east. Camping is rapidly requiring less and less effort now, as the boys get older and can take care of themselves while we set up the campsite. Ty and Dylan are becoming more helpful all the time when it comes to camping; they helped with tent setup, starting the fire, and even splitting some firewood into kindling. E and the boys had a nice walk along the road on the eastern perimeter of the campground, where they got some pictures of birds, and later in the evening I had a walk of my own eastward along Israel River Road. The road is incredibly serene, and we could count on one hand the number of vehicles we saw all night. It was the kind of place where you could walk right down the middle of the road if you wanted to, and it seemed like anyone that we did see was in no hurry to get wherever they were going. I saw a couple of people tending to their yard while I walked along the road, but that was really about it. It’s actually quite an interesting out of the way area. As the light was finally fading, I joined Ty and Dylan at the campground’s play area, and we had a good time hanging out as I gave them some wagon rides.
The Israel River Campground even has a nice Wifi setup, so I was able to pick up the Bruins playoff game to listen to it online, and also use the web to send in a weather update to AmericanWx.com. Ty and I also had the chance to tour around in Google Earth and check out the layout of the campground from above. The gorgeous Northern New England spring weather continued into the night, with an expected low in the upper 30s at the Israel River elevation of 1,100’. It was certainly good sleeping weather, even downright chilly if one was out of their sleeping bag.
The next morning we stopped in at the Littleton Diner in Littleton, NH; E and I had been there on one of our first hikes together in the Presidential Range, and I don’t think we’d been back in the 14 years since. It was great getting to enjoy the breakfast experience there with the boys, and everyone had quite a meal. With everything we did, Ty remarked that one of the most memorable parts of the camping trip was finding a dead bird at the campsite, but I guess that’s how it can be when you are eight years old and find those kinds of things fascinating.
The full report is also available with inline images on our website until this version is complete.
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.