Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. Mason is now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck Mason!!
Bivy at hut with Mount Madison in the background.
All winter long in ‘07, storms had been served on holidays. The Valentines Day storm was ridiculous, but in the White Mountains of New Hampshire April was the deepest. Two ocean storms lingered through the first part of April only to prep the base for the next holiday.
The heavy weather of the Patriots Day nor’easter lasted until the afternoon of April 19. All week long it had been snowing in the mountains and the powder was dense, smooth, and creamy. The day the clouds broke I jumped in the car with my wife and daughter and sped to the scenic vista in Intervale to check out what almost 100” of snow in the last 3 weeks did to the Presidents. We saw what I had been waiting to see ever since Id seen these mountains; enough snow to traverse the ridge of the northern part of the range on my boards.
View from Intervale after the storm cleared.
I had the next day off. The plan was hatched. We quickly drove home; I grabbed some stuff, and headed north to the trail. I would have called Geoff, a great friend and partner, but he was currently shredding in Alaska. Solo it would be. Arriving at the Valley Way trailhead (easy way) around twilight, my truck was dwarfed by the snow banks in the Appalachia parking lot. The view of the mountains was encouraging, and I hit the trail with a light pack. A sleeping bag, bivi sack, dry food, three nalgenes, and normal backcountry ski gear is what was carried.
After surmounting the snow bank in the parking lot, a deep, deep untracked trail awaited. I wasn’t breaking much more than 6”, but the depth of the snow pack was higher than the blazes on the trees making route finding under a fading l.e.d. brutally entertaining. Although Valley Way is known as the easy way to Madison hut, I had never hiked it before. My map seemed to have disregarded several streams, and soon I was not on the trail. After lots of backtracking etc, I found my way back to the path. The Northeast has a well deserved reputation for its vegetables, and there is a thick band of them in these mountains before you emerge from the trees. Everything looked the same, sort of trail-like. The only disturbance in this trend was a fox track. Figuring it was heading to Madison-Adams Col too, I followed along. Finally busting out of claustrophobia into a starry night sky at tree line, the realization of how spent I was set in. The mellow 4 miles had taken me 6 hours of high energy output. Darkness, uncertainty, and staring at my ski tips had taken its toll. After stashing myself in a drift alongside the hut, I had a midnight snack including lots of food and most of my water.
Looking back at Mount Madison and the hut.
Waking up thirsty on 4/20 with only 20oz of water got me motivated to hit the newly installed Pump of the Gods at Hermit Lakes. I snapped a few sunrise pics, left the saddle, and headed toward Mt. Adams. I would forego summiting Madison even though a beautiful and extremely rare ski line dropped from the top straight down to the hut. There was still over six miles of alpine ridge to traverse before summiting Mt. Washington, the high point.
It didn’t take me long to realize that this storm had done some unique things to the Presidentials. Normal snow loading generally is from NW, W, and South. This wild storm ended with winds from the ENE and had gusted in the 140 mph range on the Rockpile. Snow that would predictably be on certain aspects was now on others. Instead of looking to the east side of the ridge for snow I stayed on the west side the entire time until Washington. Fantastic touring on firm fast snow led me up and over Mt. Adams, Jefferson, Clay, and Washington in good time. Jefferson ravine and the Great Gulf were as beautiful as I’ve ever seen and could see lines in them I had only dreamed about. Thanks to the opposite winds, they were better than dreams. My water had been gone for a couple hours, but thankfully it stayed cool until I took the skins off for the final descent.
Rime and Mount Washington.
I flew down Mt. Washington’s East snow fields to the top of the Lion Head ridge above Tuckerman ravine. I had hoped for something good to be in shape off this ridge. Most of the time, some veggies need be negotiated to gain the ridge rollover. Instead, a large cornice was covering them. Hmmm, this was different. I perused around the ridge looking for the best line. Right gully was good, and to the East the largest part of the cornice dangled off a section of the ridge I’d never skied. In between these features was a normally lean, forked gully named Lobster Claw. The rocks and bushes that usually line this route were now under feet of snow and the claw was just a huge terrain park of steep turns followed by an incredible half pipe to the ravine floor. The first person I saw that day was my friend Pete. I gave him a hoot on the way by, ripped down and waited for him. His wicked smooth flowy style was fun to watch.
It was hotter than hell in the ravine. Pete had a normal Tuck’s day with the approach from Pinkham Notch and had already quaffed a can of Foster’s. Unfortunately for me this is all he had to drink thanks to his camel back leaking on the way up. We decided to go check out the gully where the largest part of the cornice loomed over the connection first aid cash. It turned out to be a sweet line that I had never seen, or even considered before. Normally, I would have booted right back up to the ridge to score a line like that, but my body and its lack of water rejected the idea. I skied over to a big rock below the chute and leaned against the cool North side in the shade. Pete would head back up and attempt the “new” gully. After negotiating the cornice, Pete again noodled his way down with grace and fluidity. What a killer run! He saw me and my crusty lips and we headed down to the aforementioned pump at Hermit Lakes to hydrate. Holy shit, did that hit the spot.
Pete snowboarding the upper part of the connection gully.
After a session of recuperation and a celebration of the date, we tore down the Sherbie ski trail to the notch. As we drove back to Appalachia to get my truck, we realized what this storm had done and quickly made plans to get back out. The next few weeks of skiing that year were unreal, as the people who explored the West side know. Of all the times on skis I’ve had in this mountain range, this day and the weeks following are at the top of the list.