About three weeks ago I had the idea to hike and alpine ski solo Mt. Washington's the Gulf of Slides, Great Gulf, the East Snowfields and Tuckerman Ravine, all in one day. I did it and what a rush! I have not felt that much excitement in the outdoors since many excursions in Montana and the Northern Rockies, back n' the day for me. Thank you T4T for helping inspire this trip.
It started on Thursday, thirsty Thursday, and because I did not go out after work, I woke up Friday with the energy and the ambition to break off work early and head north from Boston on Rt. 1. See, no drinking on Thursday in the city equates to ripping it up on the best above treeline terrain east of the Mississippi. This is good...
It was a beautiful evening at the family house in Jackson, I took this pic when I arrived. Packed my pack, and went to bed early.
I set off on the Gulf of Slides trail at 8:26 a.m on Saturday. Because I am not an expert photographer, and I was doing this trip solo, I decided to take a self portrait in my car's window.
I started up Gulf of Slides at a blistering pace. As I reached the base of the Gulf, the clouds were hugging the Boot Spur ridgline 700 feet above. To my pleasure at this point...no other peeps. Memorial day weekend and no other people? I couldn't believe it. Oh, btw, I would have more pics but "someone" forgot to put the memory card in my camera.
I continued to hike directly to the summit of the Gulf of Slides and skied down. It was a beautiful run. Nice large GS turns in fresh, corn snow. The run choked a little, as you can see in the pic two-thirds of the way up, but I timed perfectly and skied it smooth all the way to the bottom. Didn't miss a beat. Quick gear change to rid wet clothes drenched with perspiration and hiked back up Boot Spur ready to head to the Great Gulf over the summit.
Once above treeline it became very interesting. The winds were wipping, the summit reported sustained 78.4mph winds. These winds are legitamate hurricane force. I felt good, a little apprehensive, but good considering the wind speed. With only thoughts as my companion, I continued toward the summit. As I hiked up over Boot Spur I took this cool pic of the summit. In the pic, you can see where the East Snowfields come close to Tucks, that is where I eventually crossed to go down into Tucks.
Hundreds of feet below the summit the wind quickly lessoned because Mt. Washington's summit cone was barricading the westerly winds. At the summit however the winds were instantly back in force. After refueling and seeking wind refuge on the auto road embankment 100 feet below the parking lot, I ventured down the road 200 feet and then to the Great Gulf. I felt chilly and tired however I pressed on and made the decision to continue to keep my body temperature warm. I continued to the Great Gulf rather than escaping via the East Snowfields.
I never skied Great Gulf before making me want it even more. The winds were ripping and the beauty of the Gulf wilderness was directly 1500 feet below my feet hiking to Airplane colouir. My love affair with adventure was beginning to reach its peak.
Suddenly, as before, the winds lessoned to zero by the time I reached the top of Airlplane couloiur further down the col. It was a typical strange Mt. Washington weather moment. Either way, it was a great moment. It was gorgeous as I stood atop Airplane and the Great Gulf, as the winds lifted on the western flanks to produce a steady calm where I was at. I ate some chocolate and drank some fluid and took my time changing my boots and dropped into Airplane and the Great Gulf. Fresh tracks baby! Freshies all the way. In my opinion, anyone who skis this should do it non-stop if conditions persist, hips straight fall line curve. Its fun that way. I manage to bust 30-40 bold, strong and graceful turns down past the Airplane wreckage and to the bottom. My hips facing down hill at all times and smile from ear to ear. The fresh corn snow reminded me of Cooke City, Montana in May. And the terrain, well, the Great Gulf is a off piste eastern jewel.
Looking back up at Airplane...nice tracks huh?
The hike back up Airplane was the most difficult physical challenge of the day. As I made it to the top of the colouir my sense of accomplishment was overwhelming. Adrenaline took over and I was on auto pilot for the rest of the day. Strong and confident, I began hiking back up the summit. I felt at extraordinary peace with myself step by step.
I made another quick boot change on the top of the Snowfield and enjoyed its passive magnificence.
East Snowfields, about to ski over to Tucks...
Almost there now. I skied the Snowfields and traversed over to Tuckerman Ravine. After crossing a talus rock pile I was connected to the snowfield right above the head wall. I traversed over the headwall, not knowing where the best line would be. I could have traversed/hiked back up to Left Gully but I feel most comfortable while I am on my ski's. I will be honest, I have not skied the Headwall of Tucks, or Tucks for that matter, in almost 20 years (14yrs old). However the solid, spring corn conditions were ideal. I felt ten times more stress in my office today.
I traversed fresh tracks on the snowfield over the headwall, creating sloughs that dropped over the headwall and sounded like thunder hitting the bowl (you can see all three of them in the pic below). This reminded me of prior experiences in the Rockies. On upper headwall, I turned around, slowly traversed, made two well executed fall line turns, and cautiously headed to the Lip. The only moment I sensed danger was now. The steepness, 55+ degrees, was steep. Also, I was acutly aware of the crevasses and the rushing meltwater that I could hear falling off the mountain and under the snowpack. I then proceeded smoothly onto the Lip. I skied it cautiously, four solid, quick turns and then, pointed, hips straight, smoothly caressed the Lip and into the bowl Bowl carving nice GS turns to the bottom. My only companion was a large slough, which most "easterners" would label as an avalanch, that was no match for my speed. Check out the pic.
The Lip and the slough on the right...
Wow, yes, that is what is all about. Thats it, plain and simple. Now that is a great day of skiing. Can you say..."ripped up Mt. Washington?" My gear change was quick and efficient, just like the prior 6 before. Many witnessed my descent down Tuckermans, asking for my name. Also, congrats to the 79 year old ski patroller who witnessed my descent and chatted with me as I changed for the hike down. He was a fitting inspiration to me at the end of the day. 79 years old and in Tucks! What irony? I was at Pinkham at at 4:52. Below is a trip/vertical profile...12.4 miles and thousands of vertical feet hiked and skied, you can count below. Oh, and, one last thing to remember, fresh tracks all day. How do you like them apples. J.