Friday, October 8, 2010

-Trip Report- Welch-Dickey: Combat Skiing (Jan. 2009)

Welch without the Dickey

Combat Skiing: (noun) survival skiing in tight glades, often involving near death collisions with rocks, trees and Sasquatch.

I learned the meaning of this term on a ski tour to the gatekeepers of Waterville Valley: Welch and Dickey Mountains.

Ironically, Welch-Dickey, as it is commonly known, is famous for wide open ledges and gorgeous views.  Visible from I-93, and just over two hours from the Boston metro area, it is a popular place for Fall hikers.

A relatively short loop trail runs up and over the two mountains and back to the parking lot.  Heading clockwise sends you up to Dickey, while going counter-clockwise out of the lot sends you up Welch.

Gered and I arrived late in the afternoon on a Saturday in January, just as an AMC group was congregating in the parking lot after a snowshoe trip up the mountain.  Under the incredulous glares of the AMC group we packed our bags and headed up Welch Mountain in the fading light, intent on setting up our campsite before dark.

Not more than a mile up the trail we located a flat area next to a stream and got to work setting up camp. 

Dinner consisted of a heaping bowl of easy mac, which is perhaps my favorite camping meal:  It can be found at almost any gas station or supermarket, it is high in calories, and it brings back childhood memories while you're curled in the fetal position freezing to death.  It does however, pose one problem.  As easy mac cools it leaves a layer of gooey cheese on whatever it has been served in.  Water is so difficult to make during the winter (unless there is a stream nearby),  it pains me to waste it cleaning a container.  My solution to this problem has been to clean the container with hot water, then use that water to make hot chocolate or tea.  Nothing like a cup of herbal cheesy tea to warm you up for the night.

When we were finished, it was too early to sleep.  Luckily a full moon provided the incentive we needed to check out Welch.  So with headlamps on our heads, we skinned up the trail to the open saddle just below the Welch summit.  We could see the road leading into Waterville Valley, and the Sandwich Range across the valley.  We took some cautious turns in the dim light, and made our way back to camp below.  We climbed into Charlie Brown's Anus for the night just as the wind started to pick up and clouds rolled in.

The next morning, we opened the tent door to a welcome surprise.  During the night more than six inches of fresh snow had fallen.  As we quickly packed up camp, anxious to get to the ledges up high, two snowshoers ran by us up the trail toward Welch.   We headed back down, toward the parking lot and after dropping our bags back at the car, we tested the conveniently located (and thankfully open) outhouses.  Refreshed, and unburdened we took the trail from the parking lot in the opposite direction, toward Dickey.
Snowfield near the top

Young maple glens gave way to spruce glades as we trudged up the trail toward Dickey's open ledges.  We skinned up the trail, narrow and rocky in places, and only needed to remove our skis once for a particularly steep section.

Amazingly, the snowshoers that had passed us their way up Welch, passed us as they headed down Dickey.

We reached the first ledges, and caught a glimpse of Welch, on the other side of the cirque.  The ledges opened up, and headed into some evergreen glens toward the peak.  We reached the top of Dickey, and looked over the relatively flat saddle toward Welch.  The trail in between didn't appear to be interesting, so we decided to ski the ledges on Dickey instead.
Toward Dickey

Several laps on the freshly powdered upper snowfields, and we were ready to ski the trail back down to the parking lot.

Our descent through the tight glades was pure combat skiing.  Low hanging trees grabbed our bags, saplings tripped up our legs, and rocks sat quietly buried in powder, ready to trap a ski and ruin a knee.

I know I'm combat skiing when I am trying to make as many quick turns as I can before finding a runout zone where I can carve a momentum stopper.  As the glades get tighter, the margin for error gets smaller- and the runouts get fewer and further between.

At the steepest point on the trail  I was forced to string together four or five turns, all the while gaining speed, and ultimately bailed out into an open spot among some maple saplings.  I was combat skiing. This continued all the way down the mountain.

Ledges on Dickey
Poor Gered who was on tele skis had the worst of it.  Unable to jump-turn, he was constantly making runouts into small saplings and hidden rocks.

How our knees survived the ordeal, I'm still not sure, but we managed to make it back to the car without losing a ligament.

Ultimately, despite the combat skiing, the open ledges near the summit make Welch-Dickey worth the trip.

It's a great destination for a Friday night, given its proximity to I-93, its luxurious outhouses, and tenting areas nearby.

I'll definitely be making another trip.

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