It's been a long time since I've been around this forum, but I figured I might as well post a trip report from my weekend expedition... no pics unfortuantely because my camera doesn't feel like working at the moment.
Anyway, I met up with a friend of mine at about 8 pm in North Conway on Saturday night. After a late dinner at The Flatbread Company, we headed up to Pinkham Notch just as it started raining. Our original plan was to get an earlier start, then hike/skin up to the base of Gulf of Slides, camp there overnight, then figure out somewhere to ski on Sunday. But by the time we got to Pinkham Notch it was getting late and it was raining. Not exactly the most enticing conditions to go out and hike more than 2 miles at night. After considering sleeping in the cars, we finally decided to suit up and hike in a little bit.
As seems to usually be the case when hiking in marginal conditions, the hardest part was getting out of the cars. Once we started hiking it actually wasn't that bad. We ended up hiking about 1/2 mile in, then finding a stealth spot of the side of the trail and tenting there.
The next morning dawned semi-clear, although it looked misty higher up the mountain. It wasn't raining at least though. We slept in until about 7:30 or 8, then packed up camp and continued on up the trail. We hit marginally skinable snow ("creative route-finding" in a few places) at what I'm guessing was about a mile or maybe a little more in from Pinkham. It definitely helped get the weight of the skis off the back. It started snowing, just those mid-elevation flurries that put a slight dusting on the trail. The whole trip to this point had felt very autumn-esque... not much snow, but fairly chilly, no leaves, and flurries. However, as the snowpack increased we moved into winter. By the time we arrived at the avalanche cache at the base of the ravine there was at least an inch of fresh snow in places (the wind was blowing it around though).
We met a few other people who had spent the night at the base of the Gulf, but they didn't really feel like skiing that day since it was gold and the snow had frozen up pretty solidly from the warm temps earlier in the week. We ate an early lunch of bagels, PBJ's, and nutella (not all mixed together!), put on our beacons, then set out to see what it looked like higher up.
We chose to try to ski Gully #2 because it looked the best and the people we talked to said it was probably the smoothest (anythign that was heavily skied a few days ago was ice-bumps). We skinned up through the trees at the base of the gully and tried to get an idea of the snow conditions. There was a solid base, but it wasn't bulletproof. On top of that were 1/2 to 2 inches of windblown new snow. This new snow was really pretty heavy, but it did a good job of providing a "buffer" between us and the ice lower down. We paid close attention on the way up to the potential for windloading of the gully, and there definitely was a lot of blowing snow, but there never was enough new snow to form a slab. We dug a pit before heading up into the main part of the gully, and we couldn't really get the new snow to shear; it just broke apart/did nothing. Below that the individual snowpack layers had consolidated into a single consistancy for the most part. It looked like pretty well-bonded rounds. We hit ground about 4 feet down.
Having decided that, barring an increase in the amount of windloaded good snow, the gully was safe to ski, we continued up. We managed to skin about 1/2 way up, but after that decided that it would be easier to set a boot-pack. Right in the middle about 1/2 way up there was a visible stream around some rocks, but it was very easy to ski around them.
Up top it was actually suprisingly cold and winter-feeling. There was blowing, new snow and about 2 inches on the ground. We put on the skis, ski cut the slope, then headed down. The skiing itself was a mixed bag. Wherever you could find new snow it was actually really nice, but wherever you went onto the ice you had to be a little more careful. Still, both my friend and I had huge smiles on our faces when we go to the bottom.
We decided to lap the gully again, this time setting a bootpack all the way up. The second run was just like the first, but I felt a lot more comfortable on my skis (it had been a few weeks). This time at the bottom we broke out the topo map and decided to hike back up, then traverse over to Hillman's.
As we reached the top of the snow in the gully, we put on helmets and goggles, since the wind looked stronger up above. This proved to be a good idea, since the wind began ripping once we got up onto the ridgeline of Boot Spur. It wasn't strong enough that standing/forward progress was difficult, but it definitely added some excitement to the traverse. I'd guess that it was about 50 MPH with a few higher gusts. Visibility was about 50-100 feet with blowing snow, but we were able to follow the compass and terrain and stay on the ridge of boot spur until we ran into the cairns of the boot spur trail right as it crossed the top of the spur. This was the windiest point we found, and it definitely felt like full-on winter (though relatively warm... i'm guessing low to mid 20s).
We descended from this point to the north-west, and eventually found our way first to the top of Dodge's Drop, then to the skier's right fork of Hillman's. We left our packs in the rocks at the top of the hillmans fork and descended about 100 feet with crampons & ice axes to confirm that we had the right gully & evaluate the snow. The top snowfield was pretty bulletproof, definitely more solid than the GOS gully had been. Right over a little convex roll-over there was a field of new snow though. This was about 2-4 inches deep, but seemed well-bonded to the layer below it. Also, the roll-over itself was clear of new snow because of the wind. We decided to ski down, so we hiked back up to the packs.
The first few turns were careful, as we gingerly traveresed the bulletproof above the gully. We ski cut the new stuff once, but it held on very solidly, with just the typical steep-slope sluffing. We decided to ski it.
Hillmans was actually very good, provided that we stuck to patches of new snow. This meant that we had to pick our way down to some extent, going from island to island across patches of bulletproof. Still, wherever we were in new snow the skiing was great. The snow was definitely deeper than over in the GOS, and Hillman's is a great run. The bottom came all too soon.
We took off down Sherburne. We made it to about a 1/3 of the way down before we had to walk over a waterbar, then we got another 10 turns before getting to an orange rope and hiking back to the hiking trail. The skiing on sherburne was great, the only corn we got. I'm guessing the lower elevation allowed it to soften up more.
Overall it was a great trip, especially considering the somewhat marginal (for spring skiing) weather. It was interesting to be in winter again after all the warm weather we've been having lately
Skiing, Sleep, Food
The rest is just distractions...