Monday, January 31, 2011

-Trip Report- Mt. Ascutney: It's a (Terrain) Trap!

It's 4:30.  You've got about a half-hour of daylight left and one headlamp between you and your two friends.  You ran out of water about an hour ago.  You're staring at a 50 degree colouir to the bottom of a drainage that may or may not get you back to your vehicle.  Above you is a steep slope of rock, ice and occasional evergreen bramble.  Somewhere beyond that climb is a trail.  Maybe. You have a decision to make.  Do you climb up and risk running into an un-climbable rock face, or do you slide into the unknown facing a similar un-descendible face?  You've been terrain trapped.

Despite the fact that Ascutney resort is closed for business, the mountain above it continues to lure skiers from afar.  There was even a recent article in Powder Magazine featuring skiers on the closed resort trails.  Rumors abound as to the legality of venturing onto the resort terrain, but there is plenty of mountain located in Mt. Ascutney State Park, which is clearly open for winter recreation.

Gered, Brad and I were all skiing Ascutney for the first time, however my companions had mountain biked the trails around Ascutney during the summer and gaped at the open glades on the state park side of the mountain.  As we approached the mountain, the siren song of a bald outcropping called to us from above.  We were all eyeing the eminently skiable patch even before we had parked the jeep and started up the tracked out path.  As we ascended we continued to ogle the open face and promised ourselves to find it on the way back down.

Gered playing "evergreen chess".
A hearty crust slowly dissolved as we climbed higher onto the mountain, and it was replaced with deeper powder.  As with Camel’s Hump and Mt. Hunger, hardwood forest transformed to evergreen scrub, and then back again to hardwood.  This second band of hardwoods was where the best skiing was found on both Camel’s Hump and especially Mt. Hunger.  Ascutney was no exception.  At the very top, another band of evergreen scrub appeared, guarding the forested summit and its observation tower from everything but the foot path.

Enjoying some breathing room.
As we began our descent, the evergreen thickets abused us while we ventured off trail looking for deeper powder and wider turns.  We skied into the top band of hardwoods and the glades opened up around us.  We began linking turns instead of dancing through tight thickets.

As we entered the second band of evergreens we made an important and almost costly decision.  Our trail veered to the left as we headed out onto what we thought was the ridge where the bald outcropping was located.  Slowly we were lured into another drainage until we finally realized that we were separated from the path by a nearly impossibly steep set of ledges and evergreen brush to our left with another ridiculously steep set of ledges below us.  Admiral Ackbar was loudly sounding the alarm.

Can you see the bottom?  Neither can I.
We ultimately decided to up-climb over the ridge on our left and back to the path.  The risk of climbing down onto an ice buldge or getting into the drainage below us with no exit path prodded us upward.  Despite several hairy sections of steep ice, we all managed to weave a path through the ledges and trees and back to the top of the ridge.  With no bald face to be found, and with light fading quickly, we skied down the other side of the ridge and back onto the path.   We beat a hasty retreat to the jeep, but before we left we looked back at the bald outcropping that had lured us into the terrain trap.  We realized that we had been on the wrong ridge all along and had entirely missed our mark.

As the last light faded, we headed to the Harpoon brewery in Windsor to celebrate our narrow escape and recover with fresh beer and warm food.  We had avoided a night on the mountain, and learned a lesson about reading the map a little more closely before venturing off the trail to chase an open glade.

Mt. Ascutney: Terrain Trapped from Nor'Easter Backcountry on Vimeo.


  1. Nice work on the video. Make sure to get plenty of footage out west!

  2. sweet trip report, way to get it done! I'm heading there tomorrow and just happened upon your blog. good info...we'll pay extra close attention to the map!

  3. Good luck! Try not to take the abuse from the evergreen scrub personally.

  4. whew, word of the day was CRUST. attempted Brownsville Trail>ski area trails but retreated because even the north facing stuff was burnt, then we summitted via Toll Road.

  5. Yeah. I think you'll find a hearty crust on pretty much everything in S. New England right now.

    I'm pretty sure we took the Windsor Trail to the top. How open was Brownsville?