Monday, March 28, 2011

-Trip Report- North Twin III: Third Time Is the Charm (March 2011)

The music from my phone alarm pierced the morning air at 5:30am.  I had carefully prepared myself the night before for my "morning-self" and was armed with reasons that I wanted- no, needed to heed the call.  But there he was in my head at 5:30 telling me that I just wanted more sleep:  that today would be a good day to sit on the couch and watch some basketball; that I wouldn't be letting anyone down by not going.  He had a good point.  I mustered as much consciousness as I could gather and concentrated on a single thought:  It'll be worth it.

I still hadn't been to the North Twin Slide and I was quickly running out of March. I carefully watched the weather in New Hampshire previous week, and checked the avalanche forecast for the eastern bowls of Mt. Washington.  The news wasn't good:  It had snowed a half foot, but that half foot had turned into deep slabs of powder in the eastern bowls.  Given that there was no avalanche forecast for North Twin, I had to extrapolate.  Even though it faces North (and not East like Tuckerman's), a large ridge sits above the North Twin slide's western edge, which can create a wind shield and allow wind loading to occur.  However the AMC Hut reports indicated that there was about an inch to three inches of snow recently at nearby Zealand Hut, in contrast to the half of a foot which had fallen on Mt. Washington.  Plus, the ridge above North Twin is covered in trees, which could help to calm the wind loading effect.  Given that I was travelling by myself for this attempt, I had decided to play it very conservatively.

Rock hoping is easier with skis.
After winning my mental wrestling match, I set out on the road with a full cup of coffee and a Pop-Tart.  It was a gorgeous morning with crystal clear blue skies all the way from Boston into Northern New Hampshire.  As I neared Franconia Notch I caught a glimpse of the snow being blasted off of the western side, thrown hundreds of feet in the air, and creating a veil of snow falling over the eastern side.  It was beautiful, but not a good sign.  Apparently enough powder had fallen on the area to allow for significant wind loading. Furthermore, the temperature was much below where it had been on my last attempt.  This wouldn't be good in the event that the slide had been wind blasted.  So in essence, I was looking for a little bit of sticky powder on the slide- but not too much.  Anything else and I would be taking pictures from the woods.
Pain does not exist in this dojo. No sensei.

I arrived at the trailhead ahead of time and flew through the first part of the climb past where Justin and I had cut into the woods the week before.  This time I continued on, crossing a large brook, and then cutting up into the woods.  The roaring brook I had envisioned the week before turned out to be a gurgling rivulet, which I easily crossed by rock hopping.

After cutting into the woods, I faced an almost impenetrable wall of young hardwood saplings.  I engaged in a half-hour battle of sapling judo, as I twisted, turned and contorted my way through the young glade.

Okay.  I'll stop raving about the birch glades.
But seriously.  Just look at that
The reward for my hard work was another unbelievable birch glade. At this point I feel like I keep beating the same drum with North Twin, but you really have to see it to believe it.  This new glade was undoubtedly the best of all the birch glades I had seen.  Where the others had been occasionally peppered with low brush, this was a wide open moose-sized living room.

I marked the top of the glades on my GPS so that I could hit it on my way back and cut up toward the slide.  The trees stayed remarkably well spaced, which led for easy travel until just before the slide.  As I sidestepped across some of the steeper slopes I noticed that the snow slid easily down the hill.  Not good.

I caught a tantalizingly close glimpse of the slides before I was thrust into a tightly spaced evergreen glen. I pushed through the last of the fir trees and cut down onto the main slide just before it branches up to the left.

View from the bottom of the slide
As I stepped out onto the slide, I noticed that there was fresh powder, but it wasn't beyond ankle deep.  I decided to climb a little higher and assess the conditions.  I cut tracks back and forth up the slide until I reached close to the halfway point.  I decided, given that I could see the wind loading the slide above, not to push my luck and instead ski the lower angled portions below.

I followed the slide path down to the end, and then cut back into the trees and uphill toward the GPS mark for the glade.  I found some great turns in the fresh powder in the birch glades, before fighting through another session of sapling judo.

As I followed the logging trail out, I thought of all the areas I had become familiar with in the last few weeks, and wondered where my next adventure might take me.

I also left a little mental note for my morning self.  "I told you so, you lazy bastard."

The view across to last week's playground.

The Nubble
Heading home.
Here's the video....


  1. hey there.. i've been lurking here, following your exploits and am mighty impressed by your perseverance. i've particularly enjoyed the navigational aspect, i.e., trying to read the landscape, balancing on-map intel against what you saw and felt on foot. one question: in retrospect would it have been just as easy to continue up the north twin trail until the upper ridge and then turn toward the slide? I ask because I'm always trying to learn more about when to bushwack, when to stay on trail, etc.
    thanks and congrats again!

  2. Thanks for checking out the blog, Andrew. I'm not sure which is the easiest way, but I'll let you in on what I was thinking: I try to avoid brook and river crossings in the winter. If you follow the North Twin trail you'll notice that it crosses the river several times. I wasn't sure if there were bridges for these crossings. Also, any of the tributaries are going to be larger when they get to the bottom of that valley, so the quicker you can get high up, the better off you'll be for those crossings. The logging trail that shoots off the snowmobile trail provides a straight, open shot to the area just below the slide. I figured it had the least amount of brook crossings, avoided crossing the largest brook, and crossed the others higher up on the mountain where they would be smaller. You'll also note that the N Twin trail goes way beyond the slide and then cuts back, which adds a lot of distance. On the other hand, the N Twin trail gets some decent traffic in winter from those headed to Hale or up to the ridge. So it would probably be safer while travelling alone in the event something bad happens or make for better travel after a large storm.

    Ultimately, after the second trip I considered taking the N Twin trail instead of the logging road thinking that there might be less bushwhacking and the safety factor, but decided (because of the length and crossings) to stick with my original route. The next time I go (and there will definitely be a next time) I would wait to get past the sapling grove before cutting up the mountain to the slide. You can easily see the saplings on Google Earth as the coloring stands out from their surroundings. Be sure to make plenty of noise moving through there, though, as there were alot of moose tracks in the glades in that area. Best of luck, and let me know how it goes!

  3. What about approaching it from the east? Could spend the night at Zealand and come up the east flank.

  4. That's always a possibility. The trail up to the Zealand Hut, while pretty lengthy, is relatively low grade most of the way. In fact, Gered and I did most of that trail using wax only and didn't have to break out the skins. My only concern with that approach to ski the slide is that you have to climb back up and over N. Twin to get back to your starting point after you've skied the slide. You could always park two cars to avoid this, though. I'd be interested in hearing about the trail from Zealand over to N. Twin and whether or not it is a difficult ski. If you're just looking for places to ski near Zealand Hut, you don't have to look any further than Whitewall across the valley. Check out our Trip Report. I definitely want to try that one again.

  5. just catching back up with your response, andy. that logging road is indeed a terrific addition. was up on hale last weekend and even then some of those little brook crossings down low were starting to get a bit dodgy. nothing serious but a few of those can add unplanned time to the hike. thanks again for dishing out the thinking and keep up the reports. they motivate slugs like me!