Wednesday, January 26, 2011

-Trip Report- Mt. Monadnock: Chasing My Shadow

Ice coated trees = a crust..... somewhere.

There is a distinct disadvantage to starting off the weekend by attending Crotched Mountain's Midnight Madness.  It totally messes with your internal clock so that you're not exactly jumping out of bed for an alpine start on Saturday.  Or Sunday for that matter.

So when 11:00 am rolls around and you're still organizing your gear for the trip out to the closest mountain, you know you're behind the eight ball for your solo tour.

In setting out so late- and on my own- I was breaking one (and a half) of the cardinal rules of alpine touring.

First, you should always give yourself extra time before darkness when planning a winter tour.  That way if something goes wrong (equipment failure, lost trail, etc.) then you have enough time to recover before you're stuck in the dark.  I was giving myself zero margin for error on this particular day.  Any delay, and I was skiing in the dark back to the car.  Not that I hadn't done that before.

The second rule, which I only partially violated, was the one which mandates that you must backcountry ski with a partner.  I only give myself half a demerit for this one because Monadnock park, even in winter, is a busy place.  Plus I made sure to let the ranger know where I was headed, and saw plenty of people on the way up.  (And for some reason they were all headed down really quickly).  I was also sporting one of my new Christmas gadgets: A Spot Messenger System.  I don't believe that technology should defeat common sense, but it was nice to have added insurance.

In the end, when you  factor in that the penalty for failure (i.e not getting back to my vehicle and getting stuck on the mountain) was possibly a night out in the coldest weather in two years.... I figure I was due at least a half a demerit.

I wasn't taking my late afternoon tour lightly.  The added risk that New Hampshire makes you pay for your rescue when you do stupid things like break two of the cardinal rules of backcountry skiing had me thinking. I balanced this, however, with the thought of wasting a prime winter weekend without doing some exploring:  without finding some adventure.

So this was my thought process as I packed the car, and second guessed my decision all the way to Monadnock.

Red = Lush snow cover
The Ranger didn't lighten my mood on arrival when he informed me that the snowpack "wasn't too great for skiing".

How could this be?  I had skied Crotched two nights before, and even though there was a light crust, the six inches of powder that arrived on Friday had made it bearable.  According to the Snow Accumulation Map, this was the best snowpack that Southern New Hampshire had seen in years.

Well, my apprehensive mood melted away when I caught the first glimpse of my dark companion.  A shadowy challenger raced ahead of me up the mountain, pushed in front by the sinking sun, and driving me upward toward my ski tour.

Relax, my dark companion isn't the same as Dexter's.
The shadow knew there was adventure to be had.  I just needed a kick in the pants to go get it.

I made it up to the White Dot Trail and took the traditional backcountry route described by David Goodman in his book across the Ski Link trail and down the Red Spot.

Sure enough, the thin crust kept me busy pushing hard to make turns, and the brush kept me ducking and dodging.  It was a stark contrast to the well maintained Thunderbolt I had skied just a week earlier.

I spotted some nice lines just off the trails that appear to be in-bounds for skiing on future trips.  However, be warned that the ice storm of two years ago has left a virtual minefield of snow snakes and strainers for the unsuspecting backcountry skier.

Here's a video of my tour.  Enjoy the combat skiing.

Chasing My Shadow Up Mt. Monadnock from Nor'Easter Backcountry on Vimeo.

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