Wednesday, March 23, 2011

-Trip Report- North Twin II: Nubble Stubble Boogaloo (March 2011)

Skiing Through the Nubble Stubble
Failure can breed success.  It can also breed more failure.  My second attempt at the North Twin slide met a familiar end, but provided more invaluable lessons.

I've been trying to reach the promised land of the the North Twin Slide this March.  My fist attempt ended with a premature ascent and the discovery of a colossal birch glade.  So when Justin and I set out early on a gloriously sunny March morning, we were committed to avoiding the mistakes of my first attempt.

Despite being armed with the knowledge gained from the original debacle, we had several factors working against us.  Ultimately, those factors led to our undoing.

Issue #1: Ambitious Time-Table

Our primary concern, despite a reasonably early start, was old father time.  I had to be back to Boston in time for a late afternoon social event, and Justin had to be back in time to help his neighbor with some sugaring.  (After all, it was March in Vermont.)  This gave us a three hour window to make it to the slide, and an hour to get back.  It would be close, but doable if everything fell into place.  As it turns out this was simply too ambitious.  Even with spectacular weather, and ideal conditions for skinning (thick crust with a little powder on top), it was simply not enough time.

Our lack of any margin for error only compounded the trouble caused by our other problems.  This is an invaluable lesson to learn, internalize and remember for any backcountry trip: give yourself extra time.

While a failure to meet our time table on this trip only resulted in cutting things short, it could very easily result in a night on the mountain, or worse, where you must complete the entire route.  (Think: hut-to-hut trip)

This is what failing to bring coffee
 looks like coming back to bite you. 
I raised this issue on my Monadnock trip as well, where I had given myself no margin for error and lived to tell about it. This time it came back to bite us, although it was more of a nibble than a full fledged chomp.

Issue #2:  Not Listening to What the Map Is Trying To Tell You

There are all sorts of obvious things that a map tells you:  Which way is North.  How many stream crossings are there.  Where is the nearest road.    There is also some less obvious, but equally important information that can be gleaned from a map.  One of the soft spoken messages is where you should concentrate your efforts to reach a desired goal.

The plan that I developed for the second attempt at the slide involved a lengthy bushwhack from a logging trail  running below the slide.  The planned route involved hugging the north-western slope of the slide's runout.  Also known as the Nubble, this side of this hill eventually funnels up to the bottom of the slide.  By hugging the Nubble we could avoid crossing the brook at the bottom of the runout, and thus avoid the risk (and bother) of a sizeable brook crossing.
While the logic was sound, the map was screaming at me that this was a bad idea.   
Can you hear what that map is telling you?
As I reviewed the GPS track from my Spot Tracker, it was painfully obvious that we had chosen the wrong side of the wash to make our ascent.

We unfortunately discovered what the map was trying to tell us:  the slope on the Nubble is steep from the top of the ridge all the way down to the brook.  I mean seriously: look at those contour lines!!   This meant that the entire trip up to the slide we were constantly leaning into the hill, and occasionally sliding down toward the brook.  Where the brush or "Nubble Stubble" became thick we either had to sidestep up the slope or slide below it losing precious elevation to go around obstacles.  If we had been climbing straight up the fall line, this process would be a matter of going right or left and not up or down.

The far side of the brook, in contrast, gradually gains elevation, and has a much more gradual incline down to the brook below.  Whatever inconvenience would have been posed by crossing the brook would have paid off in a faster and easier ascent.

Unfortunately by the time we had realized our mistake, it was too late to simply cross over to the other side of the brook. 
Issue #3: Equipment

Equipment issues also played an important role in our defeat.  We may have overcome our first two mistakes had our equipment functioned perfectly, however the pressures of our adventure revealed some limitations with (gasp) The White Skis a.k.a Whitesnake.

While I was sporting my Black Diamond Guru skis, Justin had the White Skis which he had mounted with Silvretta Pure Performance bindings.

The Gurus at 75mm underfoot are a full 10mm wider than the White Skis underfoot, and even wider in the shovel.  This meant that I looked less like an 80's skiing icon, but also meant that I maintained a larger surface area in contact with the snow.  This is handy when you are tracking uphill using either wax or skins, as the larger surface area breeds more friction and faster speeds.  Despite the fact that Justin has legs about two feet longer than mine, and is in decent shape, I was constantly motoring ahead as he slipped and slid his way up the trail.  Had we both been on wider skis the first leg of our  trip may have progressed much more quickly.

I call this:
"White Ski in Straight Jacket"
In addition to the surface area issue, the skins on the White Skis attach with a series of straps that wrap around the ski.  These straps interfere with edge contact on a crust covered trail.  This is particularly bothersome (to the point of being dangerous) when you are precariously skirting the side of a steep hill with a brook waiting to stop you at the bottom.  Justin became so unnerved by the inability to keep an edge in the crust that he actually de-skied and started booting across the side of the hill.  While my Hobbit frame might have been able to get away with this, he plunged through the sun warmed crust up to his knees.

Where we had banged out the first mile and half in an hour, we were suddenly in a slow motion race through the woods.  We tried skirting down to the valley floor, however there was virtually no flat area, and this move only increased the possibility that a slip would send us into the brook.  Another hour and a half passed, and we were still battling our way toward the bottom of the slide, having failed to progress beyond another mile.

So close.

So somewhere in the Nubble Stubble, with a view of the the North Twin slide through the trees we pulled the plug and called the time of death on our attempt.

On our return the stubble gave way to more magestic birch glades which we picked our way through.  Upon reaching the clear cut fields we put on the jets and motored back toward the car.

The dust on crust made for good turns down the logging road, and we eventually hooked up with the snowmobile trail and arrived at the car right on time.

All told, I think that even though we didn't make it to the slide we finished ahead of the dealer.  We spent a gorgeous day in the mountains, learned some valuable lessons for future trips, and I got to eat a whole bag of gummy worms.  Not a bad day.


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