Saturday, November 13, 2010

-Trip Report- Mt. Cardigan: A Backcountry Mountain with Training Wheels (March 2008)

I dare you to paint a picture with those shades of blue.  You'll be laughed at.
At some point in my life I'm going to be diagnosed with skin cancer.  I've resigned myself to this fate due to my Casper-esque complexion combined with an uncanny ability to forget sunscreen on the worst possible occasions. Someday they'll be burning a lesion off of my face, and I'll be dreaming of one such occasion: my first backcountry ski trip to Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire.

Looking toward Firescrew from the Alexandria trail.
Mt. Cardigan gets its share of attention.  It's in Goodman's backcountry ski bible, it's relatively close to Boston, and it hosts yearly ski workshops for the AMC. Along with its sister mountain, Firescrew, it provides a playground of wide skier friendly trails, open ledges, and large snowfields.

Gered and I decided to check out all the fuss on a warm late March day in 2008.

After getting bad directions from the Goodman book, and checking out the local roads (it's a left at the stone church and not a right, damn it!)  we eventually found the road to the base of the mountain where the AMC's Cardigan Lodge is located. 

Gered telemarking the upper snowfields.
Much like Welch-Dickey, a series of trails provides a loop over the top of the two mountains: Firescrew and Cardigan.   We decided to go clockwise up the mountain, which sent us past the large fields next to the AMC lodge that form the end of the Dukes trail and continued onto the Alexandria trail.  Measuring twenty feet wide in most places, the Alexandria trail winds up the mountain.  There's a bridge crossing at the very beginning and another sizeable brook crossing at the bottom of a large hill- a crossing which is sometimes hidden for those coming down the Alexandria.  Recorded in the snow was ample evidence of folks who had attempted to jump the crossing- and failed.

Looking West.
Eventually the trail narrows as you enter evergreen scrub brush, but then opens up into wide snowfields below Cardigan's summit.  There's also a cabin conveniently located right at treeline which is reserveable through the AMC.

Surprisingly, on this morning we were the first skiers to hit the top and carved new turns into the steep snowfields below the summit.  Although the very top of the mountain was unskiable due to wind scoured ice and rock, all the pilfered snow was gracefully deposited by the prevailing winds onto the snowfields nearby.

The air was bone dry, which allowed us to see Killington to the West, Moosilauke and the Presidentials to the North, as well as Monadnock to the South-West.  However it also allowed the sun's UV rays to cook my delicate skin like a microwave pizza.

Alpine turns on the snowfields.
After a few runs down the snowfields we headed down the Alexandria trail to the lodge.  The wide open trail allowed ample room for turns, and the mid-morning snow hadn't turned to slop, yet.

Back at the lodge we couldn't resist another run, and so we headed up the Dukes trail toward the top of Firescrew.  The snow was starting to get warm and mushy in the spring sun by the time we made our way back down Dukes.  Another wide trail, Dukes opens up into a large field at the end.  We skied back to the car and headed home: happy but frighteningly sunburned.

Cardigan is a must-ski for any New England skier.  It's easy to see with its large open snowfields, relatively short hike to the top, and wide trails why its a first backcountry trip for many.  With the AMC base lodge and the high-cabin, it doesn't feel like a full-on wilderness experience, but is the perfect place to earn your first turns and get a taste of the backcountry. 

Just remember to bring your sunscreen.

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