Friday, November 30, 2012

Mangy, Mangy Moose

The crowning moose.
Little known fact. Moosilauke is an ancient Abenaki word for babyheads. Moose-hillock literally means "crowning fetal moose." A horrible image to describe an even more horrible early ski season phenomenon that I've never before encountered. Until this morning, my first ski tour of the season.

I'd been talked into a solo dawn patrol of Moosilauke late last night by Andy, who made a number of excellent points about the importance of getting a 2012 NEBC tour of The Moose on the books as soon as conditions allowed.

That conversation went something like this:

Andy: "We need a photo of Moosilauke and we haven't put up any new material since that little sh#tbag of a dawn patrol I did in Weston. And you haven't done a real tour since you turned tri-sexual on us. And it's in your backyard. And I'm up to my armpits in dirty diapers and will probably never ski again. The future of NoreasterBC is in YOUR hands Gered."

Gered: "Its your own damned fault you know. If you'd just ride your bike more you wouldn't have your little baby problem. I haven't had a stiffy in... years now... But you make other valid points. Despite the fact that I have personally seen Moosihauke from a distance and know that in fact it has ABSOLUTELY NO SNOWPACK ON IT YET, I'll do it."

It wasn't a hard sell really. I'd just been to a great BC Ski slideshow (Off-Piste in the Northeast) by founders Brian and Emily Mohr. Brian is a standup guy. His wife is real nice too. And most importantly, these two are the zenith of professional ski photography. After the show we had a round of King-Kong-Kan Sapporos and discussed the merits of the ski-or-die lifestyle. After the hour long show filled with pictures of Brian and Emily skiing every plausible surface and condition New England has to offer, I was absolutely convinced that The Moose would be 100% skiable with 2 inches of freshly fallen snow.

So, I rose at 4:45 am for my first ever solo dawn patrol of The Moose. Dawn patrolling, or DPing as I've taken to calling them (yes, Double Penetration), is a horrible way to start your day. The main problem with a good DP is that it must, by definition, occur before dawn. Before-dawn is a time when normal people are sleeping. Normal people like coffee shop proprietors. Plowmen. And most wiser skiers than me. Many other problems result from this primary problem, and in the end you are pretty much always f#cked. Multiple times.

An important part of DPing is taking pics of the time
to prove you actually did it.
It was immediately clear that, despite my best efforts to make and eat an awesome 1000 calorie breakfast, find all my ski schwag and stuff it, along with my stunning ever-faithful ski buddy and Bassett Hound Milton into the back of the the Honda in time to meet a strict 5:30 departure, something had to give. First to give was my departure time. Second, while supposedly making a strong cup of "Extra Bold!" Vermont Artisan Coffee Co. java, I most definitely made a huge cup of stinking decaf dishwater.

No problem here. I'll just stop and get myself a cup of Joe at the Whistlestop Cafe in Fairlee VT, on my way over to Rt-25A(or C?). What, the Whistlestop is closed? Because its still before FREAKING dawn?? F#ck me #1.

By the time I got on Rt-25A (or C?), my eyelids were getting heavy and my motivation was waning. Good thing there was plenty of freshly fallen snow to help me stoke my skiboner (the only kind I get these days). Wait? Why is the road so slippery? How come no one has plowed this Class IV POS yet? Because the plowman is still SLEEPING moron. Because it's still before FREAKING dawn!!!! F#ck me #2.

Three and a half hours later, and a mere 20 miles of windy, icy, poorly paved New Hampshire state highway behind me, and I arrived at The Moose. Let the intended DPing begin!
Technically the Hound got first tracks.
I am pretty excited to say that, and I'd bet my impossible first born on this, I got first tracks on The Moose for 2012.

How could I possibly know... well, lets just say, with 2 inches of freshness, zero to no horfrost, and most of the rocks on Stinger Trail and Carriage Rd still unfrozen in the ground, yeah, I got the first possible tracks of the year.

And that 2 inches of snow was not enough. Despite Brian's enthusiastic display of pasture skiing and CCC forest schushing with a poor 2011 snowpack underfoot, 2 inches is not enough snow to ski 5 miles of BABYHEADS. F#ck me #3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

If you knew this was an AT-ST
Walker give yourself
a wedgie.
Interesting phenomena, babyheads. When the ground is cold enough, they tend to freeze in place. Frozen ground also leads to icing, frost and eventually a surface you can bootpack. Or at least kick a crampon into. None of these conditions exist on The Moose as of November 30th. But, after all the flailing and missteps I had on my way to the South Summit, I'm pretty sure the next guy will have something to kick a toe into. A little more snow... any more snow for that matter... and the approach to The Moose is an entirely different hike.

Turns out tele boots, while graceful and warm, have a little too much plastic on the shin to allow for effective babyhead bootpacking. You see, the ankle wants to articulate when the foot meets an uneven surface. Tele boots have a square toe. Most rocks are kind of round. If not the ankle, something has to bend. Something like your anterior cruciate ligament.

Traction did not come easy today. I started out on Stinger Trail with an agressive pace and a hound in pursuit. After a few micro-ACL tears early on, I decided to give the crampons a whirl. This functionally moved me from an aging streetwalker in 6 inch heels kind of balance, to an AT-ST Walker with its legs tied up kind of balance. The crampons put me up a few more inches, which just exaggerated my wobbling knees and Elane Benes-like dance moves up the ascent to Carriage Road.

After deploying poles I found a little relief. I was hoping for 4-legged Walker like traction, but ended up with South Park Jimmy like balance. Better than the alternatives. And I wont lie. I was seriously considering turning back after only a few hundred yards on the trail.

But, as any thrifty ski-owning Yankee will tell you, you don't burn dead dinosaur and waste 3 hours of your life to not try to ski from the top.

So, Milton and I plodded on.

Snack time. Milton loves them apples.
And on.

And on.

Funny thing about a day in the backcountry. There are always special moments (often when it feels like an invisible man is pounding on your kneecaps with a ball peen hammer and you're praying for death) where you look up and something takes your breath away. These are the kind of moment I don't often appreciate, but give guys like Brian and Andy their own tiny skiboners.

Who's the pro ski photographer now??
For me, it wasn't necessarily looking up, but rather, looking back. I'm often so singularly focused on beating everyone on the trail (including myself) to the top that I never even bother to look back and consider where I've been. There's no shortage of breathtaking views from Moosilauke's Carriage Road, so dont forget to stop now and then and take it all in. I didn't discover these views until the way down.

Boinnggg. 10 incher.
And FINALLY, here's what all you diehard NEBC fans were waiting for. The ski intel from today's longwinded epic DPing. Now, I couldn't validate this first hand since it would be hard to consider any of the time I spent on my skis today actual SKIING. But I'd guess there are some great runs to be had from the Carriage Road below the south summit that lead back into Stinger Trail through some newish Irene-looking wash outs. Most of the prime real estate on The Moose is either off the north/northwest side of the north summit, or down through some of the wider drainages, which are not in short supply. From above, the mountain kind of looks like a giant rocky sphincter, with dozens of outcroppings and veins that run down to the valleys below.

You didn't think he'd make it, did you? How do you like
them apples??
There are some particularly tempting slides on the western slope that face even more delicious looking slides on the northeast side of a smaller peak across a small boggy area. Don't be deceived though. While one could access these slides from the Moosilauke ridgeline, cross the bog, and ski four or five good lines on the smaller peak, this would leave you with one long ugly slog out, even if you parked a car in Glencliff.

I want them though. I want them real bad. And I'm gonna get them, someday. But not when I'm out on a solo DP in two inches of snow.

Thanks to Andy for encouraging me to take undo risk at a time in my life when the risk is most worth taking. No babies. No real job or career to consider making or breaking. Nothing but one lovely wife and a stunning hound with an epic beardcicle.

I like your beard Goat.


  1. Congrats on another suffer-fest worthy of the NEBC Hall of Pain. Moosilauke hates you.

  2. Definitely a great way to welcome in the season (i.e. reading this whilst inside, warm, with beer in hand). Well done, Gered. I am raising my glass to you (and Milton).