Monday, March 7, 2011

-Trip Report- North Twin: I Don't Want To Be Right (March 2011)

This is not a slide.  That's okay though. 

Sometimes things have to go wrong for them to go right.  I set out to ski the North Twin Slide.  Instead I discovered a hidden gem, and set the foundation for a successful second attempt.

Ever since I began fidgeting with the Google Earth "How Steep Is It" tool , I began planning a trip to North Twin Mountain in northern New Hampshire to ski the lengthy slide down the north side of the mountain.

After reviewing my map, as well as spending a few hours on Google Earth, it was clear that there is no direct route into the North Twin Slide, and instead several bushwhacks are required.

Although the North Twin Trail leads you to the top of the mountain, it takes its time by winding around the eastern shoulder to the top.  While the distance it adds is a nuisance, the real problem is that you drop in on the top of the slide, without any opportunity to assess the conditions below.

The plan
Instead I focused on a logging trail that runs below the northern side of the mountain. Once the logging trail was located, the trick was to find the drainage that eventually becomes the slide.  My late model GPS device lacks map capability, and I don't have an altimeter, so finding the right route was heavily dependent upon my ability to "feel" my way with a map and compass.  A dangerous proposition at best.

Luckily there are a number of trails, brooks, and cliff faces that give clear parameters on where to operate.  While I was worried about finding the right route, I never really felt like I could get lost.  Of course, these are famous last words.

Aside from my strategic concern of how to find the right gully leading up to the slide, I was also worried with the snow conditions that I was facing.  In the previous week a copious amount of rain had fallen and then frozen into a hard crust.   I knew there was  a serious crust when the night before in North Conway, I caught a glimpse of it and thought "Oh that's a strange place for a skating rink." and then realized that I was just looking at a field with an icy lens.  My hope was that warmer air would loosen this up, without becoming so warm that the slide would become unstable.
Me and the Goat.

The morning of my tour, a light rain was falling in North Conway with the temperature in the mid-twenties.  But when I arrived north of Crawford Notch, the conditions were dramatically different.  Although it had rained earlier, the cloud ceiling was much higher and the temperature was above forty degrees.  Sure enough, the crust had disintegrated.

I parked my car at Seven Dwarfs in Twin Mountain, and set out on the snowmobile trail to Haystack Road. Once on Haystack, I easily located the logging trail and was well on my way to the slide.  I trudged along until shortly after my third stream crossing where a small logging road headed up the mountain.  Thinking that I had reached the right drainage, I decided to follow the path upward.

As I worked my way through some recently clear-cut areas, I suddenly found myself in a gigantic birch glade. No, it was an EPIC birch glade the likes of which I had never seen either in the backcountry or at the resorts.  This was the kind of birch glade that almost makes you feel okay about not finding the slide. Almost.

I pushed higher, hoping to find the entrance of the slide, or at least catch a glimpse of it, but the glade topped out at a set of cliffs.  Having boxed myself in, I decided to ski the glade below.

Epic Birch Glade is epic.
Unfortunately, the warm weather was a little too warm.  The snow had the consistency of quickcrete as I jumped into my first turn.  I labored down the mountain, winding my way through the wide open glades. Frankly, it was torture.  I had found a nearly perfect glade on a terrible day for skiing.  I couldn't help picturing the glade during a fresh powder day.

As I reviewed the GPS data on Google Earth back in Boston, I realized that I had turned too early and topped out on the eastern shoulder of the North Twin cirque. I should have waited for the trail to descend slightly, crossing over the drainage for the slide, before starting my climb upward.  A second hint should have been the steepness of the grade.  The route I chose was much steeper than the slide's drainage.

With a plan ready for my next trip, the only question that remains is whether I'll be able to resist spending a powder day in that unbelievable birch glade or actually make it to the slide next time.

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