A night of revelry in Bean City on Thursday
made an early bedtime on Friday night pretty easy. I woke up
early on Saturday and was able to catch a sweet moon set and
a killer sunrise on the Kancamagus Highway.I was also early enough
to get a parking spot at Pinkham Notch. If I had to get a spot
at Hermit Lake, I would NOT have been early enough, as a long
line had formed for tickets to reserve a spot there.
I assembled myself and chose my AT gear for
tools - 190cm Tua AT boards mounted with Silvretta EZ-Go bindings
fitted for Scarpa Denali boots. I trudged up the Gulf of Slides
trail, excited for some new adventure in a place I had never
been to. Over the New Years week, I trudged up the Boot Spur
Link trail in a minus 70 wind chill and was barely able to peer
over the edge to get a glimpse of this place before scrambling
back down to Hermit Lake and letting hypothermia set in. This
folly was not victimless, however- my trusty Olympus pocket click
'n shoot camera went into a coma for several days thereafter
from the cold.
I encountered a large patch of snow at roughly
2,800 feet (I think) and put on my boards to skin up. Bad move.
I rounded a corner and descended into a small gully and stream
and thereafter found too many bare spots. Since my AT boots are
made for hiking, I went into that mode until I hit some more
consistent, linked snow patches where I retooled for skinning.
With its more southerly aspect, snow coverage on this trail wasn't
anywhere nearly as full as the Tuckermans/Sherburne combo on
the other side of the ridge. Snow coverage was much more positive
at 3,500 feet.
At the end of the cut trail, I was sobered
when I encountered the Wald/Crumbaker memorial avalanche rescue
cache, established in memory of the 2 victims of a March 1996
avalanche in this bowl. A few strides later, I discovered snapped
trees and forest debris. It seemed too fresh to be from the aforementioned
accident and was very haunting.
It was a sight that I had never seen before
in the East. I was informed afterwards that the large slide was
the result of a February wind event of the vicious kind that
the Rockpile frequently delivers.
But on the bright side, I was enlightened
by what else lied in front of me - the countless chutes and acres
of snowfields there! I can't believe that a place like this gets
"this" overlooked. There appears to be more routes
here than in Tuckerman. What this place doesn't have is:
3. Huge VW Microbus sized blocks of ice ready to crash on you
5. Yahoos who are clueless as to what to do and fall on you from
6. Lines of people that impede your ascent
Don't get me wrong, I love Tuckerman. But
this place was a refreshing change. OK, the descents aren't as
extreme and wont be showcased in a Mountain
Dew commercial, but there's still plenty of 40 degree skiing.
In front of me were the standard chutes that appeared to be a
bit tracked with a few small bumps here and there. But, what
really caught the corner of my eye was an open bowl to the south
which appeared to be untracked. Goodman's guide quietly refers
to this as the "Snowfields" and requires a small entertaining
bushwack to access. Trust me, it's worth it!
Three people were in these snowfields. About
a dozen more (at the very most) were to join us for the rest
of the day. I skinned up and then climbed in my boots, dropping
some unneeded gear on the way. I climbed in earnest for run #1
and postholed occasionally - no well packed preformed steps,
here. Halfway up, I grabbed my ice axe in lieu of ski poles.
Some might look at this as some corny overkill, but found that
it made the climbing much easier/enjoyable. I took a slope measurement
with my inclinometer and recorded a reading in the low 30's before
it steepened. I estimated the steep portion to be in excess of
40 degrees - geez, who sez' there isn't steep skiing in Gulf
First run was sweet - real corn! Not wet snow,
or rain softened snow, but a surface that had frozen the night
before and now had a luxurious coating of wet snow with a firm
base underneath. I descended just to the skiers left of my ascent
down the headwall. Oh, and 1 more thing, it was untracked corn
where I was making tracks. I had no idea of what the name of
this run was ... the sun was bright .. the sky blue .... no yahoos
to dodge. I bagged somewhere between 5-750 feet of vertical (as
I did on all of my other runs) - as if I really cared about actual
At the bottom, I reassembled. Climbing
was actually fun, especially when the slope got steeper - it
woulda' been a great day if all that I did was climb. The Scarpa
Denalis worked well, especially when I remembered to click the
boots onto hiking mode.
My 2nd run was to the right and at the "corner"
of the "rectangular" shaped Gulf of Slides bowl. I
danced through some widely spaced krumholz and let out a whoop
as I bagged some more untracked. When I occasionally did run
into someone, we all spoke smugly about how great this place
is and how we were glad to be there rather than that "other"
Run #3 was one where I traversed left and
dropped in, making some turns as
aggressively as I wanted to. Even in the mid afternoon sun, the
snow held up well, never turning into mush. Granted, it got a
little heavier, but it still retained much of the classic textbook
Run #4 was even further to the left, which
had some tracks in it ... but not enough to make it so I couldn't
find some untracked corn on the side and not pause at the bottom
and look at my faint tracks!
At about 3:30PM, I wanted more. But I was
by myself, and I wanted to err on the safe side. I packed my
stuff, and skied down the fun narrow gully through the krumholz
and into the woods, stumbling onto a campsite. I negotiated the
narrow, super gnarly Gulf of Slides ski trail 'til it ran outta'
reliable sun and hiked down. The hiking descent was muddy and
rough, but I never noticed it as I was smiling from my best spring
skiing day, ever!
David Goodman's guide claims that the bottom
of the bowl is 2.5 miles from Pinkham Notch. Hmmm, I think that
stat is based on how the crow flies. The trails twists and turns
seems - though maybe I'm wrong - to make it longer. I hope I'm
right and this will discourage many from trudging up to this
OK, after 2 weeks which including some heavy
rains, its time to pack the gear for one more weekend adventure
Stay Tuned For Part 3 Next Week