If you're anything like me you'll spend most of your workday this Friday pawing through satellite images, psychoanalyzing canopy density, speculating on tree species and forest age, tracing shadow length and slope grade, and generally looking for the perfect backcountry tour. But before you do, burn this image into your mind. This is what the world's most perfectly spaced hardwood glade looks like. From the ground up.
If, by some stroke of luck, you can actually learn to read the signs and find yourself guessing right and standing some place that looks a little like this, there's a very good chance you will be somewhere in central Vermont, just south of Lincoln Gap Road.
From what I can tell about child rearing, the best explanation for bad behavior is the likelihood that eventually every snot-nosed little brat will be rewarded for their whining with a piece of candy, Dolly, or new Ninjago to get them to shut the hell up. Mother Nature is no better than average, and must have heard all our bitching last week when she showered us in buckets of cold fluffy glorious snow.
I've had a certain desperation in my step since the snow started to fly, knowing how much good skiing I had to catch up on after years of passing up powder days for mindless hours on a stationary trainer. While White River Junction is blessed with a terrific location, vibrant railroad culture, and hipsters that would make any block in Brooklyn look a little under-accessorized, we are not exactly in heart of New England's snow belt. So I've been doing a lot of speculating on when and where the snow is might be deep enough to bag a few good early season tours.
Lincoln Gap has been on my mind for a few years now. If you're unfamiliar with the area, Lincoln is the leg-cramping highlight of an infamous six gap ride that covers over 120 miles of Vermont roads, with over 12,000 feet of climbing along the way. If you've driven the gap, you may have noted more than a few sections where the road was just too steep for paving equipment and has been left almost unchanged since Abenaki ruled the East.
You may not have noted, while white knuckling your brakes or your steering wheel, that just over edge of Lincoln Gap Road lies one of New England's most unadulterated hardwood forests. And with ample old growth, minimal secondary foliage, and more than a few game tracks to lead you off the beaten path, an ambitious backcountry skier will find some of the most jaw dropping glades in all of ski-country.
|South basin tour route|
Our tour starts, as all good tours must, on the Warren side where the plow track ends. Any uphill path will take you towards one of two basins below the eastern slopes of the ridge between Mount Abraham and Mount Grant. The first basin lies to the north of Lincoln Gap Road, and is one I've always eyed while grinding out the climb on my 10 speed. When it comes to choosing good backcountry lines, I'm beginning to learn not trust my gut, so this time we went with the unknown and headed off the Gap road towards the southern basin.
Google Maps shows a shallow-grade forest service road leading into this basin and up to some very steep slopes just below the Long Trail. This is probably the easiest access to good skiing in the Gap (from what the locals tell me), but, since this year is all about not going with my gut, we instead found ourselves following moose tracks out to the left of the logging road and across the trident of the southern drainage.
|Teaser look uphill from #2|
And, as the moose schwak getts thicker, and you beat ice off your frozen ski tails for the 12th time, you start to bitch. And bitch. And bitch. And just when you think you can't suffer one more reacharound from a birch sappling, or beat your skis off one more time, you crack MN's soul and she sends you one of these:
This is a shallow but skiable section of hardwoods that tops out and seems to pen you in with pine and ledge. If you find yourself here, keep pressing onward and upward. The pine at point #3 gives way to a teaser glade that's worth a lap or two (circle between 3 and 4), which also tops out in pine and dense secondary growth.
It was obvious, from the quality of our find, that there must be more to ski just around the corner. That corner, figuratively and literally, is a rock ledge at point #5 that we had, before our first ascent of the glade, dubbed our point of last resort to return to the glade between #2 and #3.
Traverse below these ledges towards the south and you'll find the forest opens again to multiple uphill drainages (bounded on each side by more of the same rock ledges) that will run all the way up to the shoulder of the main Gap drainage. We chose to climb the second such stream bed (from #6 to #7) and found the climb steep but skin-able, reaching the apex of the wash at a thick The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe-esque spruce wood that's worth exploring before you head down and do it all again.
|The other side of the wardrobe|
But, time is always in short supply and our first run up high had to be our lap back to the car. It was my sincere intention to head back towards point #3 for a shot our original sin, but the skiing was just too good and before we knew it spacious glades had given way to schwacky stream bed and icy ski tails and bitching. And more bitching.
Thanks again MN for getting us back to the car just before my totally submerged boots, victims of our very last stream crossing (point #8), could freeze up into concrete mafia boots and take my toes to a shallow frostbitten grave. I think I'd have gladly paid the price if asked. A toe or two is well worth the powder stash we earned, and more than a few good turns taken over the course of the day.
|A full three second stop is advisable, unless you want |
to see how quickly some dbag with a
piston-bully can make sausage out of you
In retrospect, there are a few ways this tour could have been accomplished with less tree judo and angry ski beatings. I was surprised to find, when reviewing the route on detailed topographic map, that the forest service road Google Maps outlines is in fact much, much longer than advertised. I painted a yellow brick road that you could follow most of the way up to what would likely be very similar hardwood glades. I've taken a long hard look at the tree canopy (circled in red maple leaves) and believe it would be as good or better than what we found. Second, before we ducked off towards point #2 we were following a narrow logging track (lined in black) that would also gain you the aforementioned glades.
If you feel like ripping off our mindblowingly good ski tour and getting sloppy seconds on the glades we bagged, go for it. If you're a real Noreaster BC skier, you'll start to think for yourself and then do what you're told and follow the goddamned yellow brick road. Tell me what you find up there. I'd love to be right, and you probably won't mind if I'm wrong. Glades or no glades, either way it's going to be your own mindblowingly good backcountry tour.
|Quit living through my views from the top. Go get some for yourself.|