Sunday, April 10, 2011

-Trip Report- Osceola Slide: Bushwhacked (April 2011)

Osceola slide (first slide on the left)
I don't think anybody has ever been gang raped by an evergreen thicket, but after my bushwhack to the Osceola Slide I have an idea of what it might be like.

A glorious Saturday was in the forecast this past weekend and I was going skiing.  The only question was where to go.  The forecast was for a classic spring skiing day with warm temps and plenty of sunshine after an overnight freeze.   I had debated all week and by Friday narrowed it down to two choices.  My first option was to join what was bound to be a boisterous crowd on Mt. Washington for turns in the Gulf of Slides.  Option two was the Osceola Slide off of the Kancamagus Highway near Lincoln, New Hampshire.

I was alone, so the Gulf of Slides made more sense from a safety perspective.  However, I had been to the Gulf of Slides before, and I was already planning on going to Mt. Washington later in April.

My mind was made up when I drove by Osceola on Friday night. In the fading light I could see that there were rocks starting to poke through, but there seemed to be enough snow for it to be skiable.  It was clear that if I didn't ski it that weekend, it would have to wait another year.  Plus, I was in the mood for an adventure.

I had already charted a course on Google Earth and set the necessary waypoints in my GPS.  Having studied the maps, I found that there is no direct trail to the slide.  Any trip would involve a lengthy bushwhack.  My plan was to start from the Greeley Ponds parking area, follow the well-traveled ski trail for about a half mile and then cut across the first drainage to the larger drainage under the main Osceola Slide.

The plan.
The key was to avoid getting drawn up into the slideless first drainage.  As I learned on my first attempt at North Twin  I was prone to turning too early.  To combat this, I kept telling myself to trust the GPS waypoints and follow my compass.  This is harder than it sounds, though, when your compass is leading you straight through a bramble.

This was one of the easier parts of the bushwhack.
After crossing two trails and a number of streams that were not on my map, I started climbing the small hill between the first and second drainage.  As I moved higher, the brambles grew thicker.  Unlike the saplings I had sparred with on my third trip to North Twin, these evergreen thickets had low branches that liked to claw, scrape, poke, scratch and generally harass me as I passed through.  Given that it was close to 60 degrees, I was in my t-shirt which left me with exposed forearms. I also wasn't quite sure where I was going and so I was constantly stopping to check my GPS and compass bearing.  This led to slow going.

Climbing up.
Doubt began to slowly creep in when I crossed a particularly large brook, but my GPS told me that I was still a half mile to the East of the bottom of the slide.  Where North Twin had been one large drainage, Osceola had four.  Was I sure I marked the right drainage?  Did the brook snake around and I was simply going to have to pass by this spot again?  Was my compass working correctly?

In the end, I remembered my marching orders to trust the GPS and I cut straight West.  Just as the brambles were getting unbearable and I was getting dangerously close to my turnaround time, I crested a small hill and could see a ribbon of white down below: I had found the slide.

Out of the woods!
Relieved that I was no longer fighting the evergreen bushes, I headed up the slide to check out the view.  As I moved higher, I had some help from a lone coyote in picking my line to climb.

Just follow the line.
After climbing above an 10 foot ice shelf, I could see the slide above was covered in ice with another 15-20 foot impassible ice fall not far above.  I climbed another 20 yards, found a rock shelf to sit on, and soaked in the view.

The view above.

The view below.
Refreshed, I pulled the skins off my skis, and started down the slide on the sun baked snow.  It was probably a little too late in the day (and in the season) for ideal conditions, but I managed some decent turns nonetheless.  I continued down the slide, past where I had climbed down onto it, and followed it until it became an unskiable brook.

I cut back into the woods, this time heading due North to try and run into the Kancamagus or the East Pond trail.   Tired from my ordeal in getting to the slide, I was growing weary of fighting the evergreen brush.    I pushed through two large drainages, and endless evergreen bramble until I happened upon an old set of ski tracks.  They were barely noticeable, as they had probably been set weeks earlier.  Just as soon as I found them, I lost them and I was struggling, yet again, through an evergreen bramble.

Tired, thirsty, and still nearly a mile from my parking waypoint I was frustrated and in a bad mood.  To make matters worse, the glue on my skins stopped working, and I had long since lost the metal clips that hold them to the back of the skis.  This led to the skins constantly  falling off: usually at the least opportune moments.

There's a reason man builds roads.
So I sat down in the snow, broke out the medical tape and improvised a skin attachment system.  I munched on half a snickers, drank some water and took a deep breath.  I set out with renewed energy and in only minutes I happened upon a trail that I guessed was the East Pond trail.  Unsure of my precise location (my GPS was no longer receiving a signal), I continued to trust my compass which told me that I was headed in the right direction.  Sure enough, after a mile or so of humming along the trail I could hear the road close to my left and I was at the East Pond parking area.

Road hiking with skis.
I packed up my skis, threw them on my back and hiked the road back up to the Greeley Ponds parking to the curious gazes of the Saturday night Kancamagus traffic.

Here's the video:


  1. I love your brutally honest trip reports. We all have these days, especially when searching out the unknown.

    Here's to a great season that's not done yet!

  2. Sounds like a nice Saturday adventure. Thanks for the good read.

  3. Thanks Drew & lurker. I mentioned elsewhere that I would probably bushwhack off of the East Pond trail if I had to do it again.

    And you're right. There's still plenty of spring skiing to be had!

  4. Solid effort! Osceola was on my hit list this year, but alas it just never worked out.
    Hopefully I'll get a chance to get after it next year.

  5. You gotta jump that ice fall!
    Strong work fatman. And in a cotton bosox shirt to boot

  6. If only I had practiced on the Park City retaining wall..... Get your BoSox polyester stretch shirt 4.99 at TJ Max! Cotton kills.

  7. Way to get on it! Come mid-summer, you'll be wishing you were back there battling evergreens in search of a ribbon of snow.

  8. Looked like fun one of these days I will get off the chairlift!

  9. You're right Woods Hippie! For all my complaining, I was actually thinking about how much I enjoy hiking with skis, and how much I'll miss it over the next few months.

    And as for all you anonymous-es thinking of getting a taste of the backcountry: Now is the perfect time! Go to your local resort, do some hiking and ski your favorite trail- traffic free!

  10. I like your writing style and the fact that you got the stuff to take on back country ski descents like this! My ski adventures are still limited to lift served areas but this might inspire me to venture off the lift served path next season!

  11. Why wait! Tuckerman's will be open for business for another month or so. It's a great place for a bc skier to get baptized. (Not literally if you avoid the little headwall) The best part is that you can bite off as much or as little as you feel comfortable with up there. Thanks for the kind words.

  12. Your description of Tucks makes it sounds pretty rockin...the only reason I need to wait is that I just turned in my skis; I lease them for the season.