Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Return to North Twin Slide (March 2012)

I think it’s safe to say that running into a machete wielding stranger deep in the wilderness is probably high on most people's list of nightmare scenarios.  Sometimes, however, it can be the answer to your prayers.

Ever since my successful trip to North Twin slide in New Hampshire last March, I’ve been biding my time to make a return.  So when Gered and Brad were looking to do a backcountry tour, I suggested we make a trip up to Twin Mountain so I could show them what I learned from last year.

When we pulled into the parking lot there was good news and there was bad news.  The good news was that there were three inches of freshly fallen powder.  The bad news was that those were the only three inches on the ground.  The base had completely disappeared.  I was surprised given that I had recently skied to Hancock slide, miles to the south and found there to be plenty of base in the woods. 

Snow sticking to the trees = good sign for skiing slides.
While we were hopeful that the thousand feet in elevation gain to get to the slide would help the snowpack, we all knew that skiing the surrounding birch glades would be unlikely.  We were totally dependant on the slide being skiable to get some decent turns, which was a risky proposition in such a crappy snow year.

So we set out on the four mile skin up to the slide.  The temperature was nearly perfect in the mid twenties: cool enough to keep the snow powdery, and warm enough to strip down to our baselayers and enjoy the sun.

As we climbed the snow became thicker, and it was clear that the storm the night before had fallen right side up.  That is to say, heavy wet snow had fallen first, with lighter more powdery snow on top.  This was perfect for skiing the slide, as wet snow binds to icy surfaces making them edgeable, and holds the lighter powder in place when the temperature falls.

Crossing the brook.
The key to this type of snow, however, is that it can’t get too much sun or the powder gets mushy, or worse: the lower layer turns to watery slush and slides easily off the ice.  For that reason we were actually thankful that it wasn’t a bluebird day, and instead the sun was darting in and out of the clouds.  As long as we didn’t get to the slide too late in the afternoon we had a good chance of skiing it.

So we trudged along the logging road I had used the year before, and despite the lower snowpack, navigated the first few stream crossings with ease.  As we approached the large brook in the bottom of the slide drainage we could hear it in the distance.  It was definitely higher than it had been the previous year.

We tossed our skis across the brook, and picked our way across the rocks.  Gered, who prides himself on never having to remove his skis, was crestfallen.

Irony: posting a poem to a tree about how man ruins nature.
Shortly after the brook crossing I suggested we head up into a dry gully toward the bottom of the slide.  I remembered the battle I had fought the previous year through a young sapling thicket that guards the epic birch glade on the southern side of the gully. I thought the drainage might provide an easier route.  Boy, was I wrong.

Instead of having to contend with a thicket of young saplings we found ourselves in an evergreen brush nightmare.  The three of us spanned out to try and find any clear path up the mountain, and we all were brought nearly to a standstill.  Barely minutes after I yelled over to Gered to add a machete to the gear list, I could hear Brad talking.  At first I thought he was talking to himself, but as I listened I could hear another voice.

Finally on the slide.
As we finally emerged into the very bottom of the epic birch glade, a machete wielding stranger on snowshoes appeared behind Brad.  Far from fleeing for our lives, we welcomed our new companion on our journey up to the slide.  Our new companion was a local who hadn’t yet been up to the slide and had hoped to scope out a route.  He had stumbled across our tracks and followed us hoping that we knew a clear route. 

So we skirted the hillside up toward the slide, navigating around thick brush and glacial erratics that were scattered through the forest.  Because of the abundance of rockfall in the bottom of the gully this route was slower than the one I had chosen the previous year: one which took us higher onto the ridge.

Eventually, however, we spotted open air through the trees and popped out onto the bottom of the slide.  It looked fantastic.  Although some rocks poked through, the coverage was still excellent.  We skinned the lower half of the slide up to the point at which it splits into a left and right variation.
Climbing with the crampons on.

After some discussion we decided to don the crampons and climb the left variation to check out the conditions.  Our machete wielding companion continued up and to the right to check out the conditions on the main slide.

The lower part of the left variation is steep but was filled with powder.  It is topped by a small icefall on the left side with room to ski around it on the right.  Above this small icefall, it levels off for a short bit then climbs another set of larger and steeper icefalls before ending in another powdery section above.  On this flat section we looked downward to discover another powder filled chute to the climber’s left of the main gully we had just climbed.  Separated by a thin row of trees, this left-LEFT variation ends just above the first small icefall.

Brad looking down the left-LEFT variation.
Having used our poles to reach the flat section before the main icefall we all broke out the ice axes and kicked careful steps toward the powdery chute above.  As we climbed we confirmed the conditions were perfect for skiing the whole slide- and this icy section in particular.  The snow had bonded well with the ice, making it possible to scratch out turns even on the steepest sections.  There was some moisture below the snow- from the occasional appearance of the sun- but nothing that needed our urgent attention.

As we reached the end of the powdery chute, Gered climbed up into the woods above to get a run at a small icefall at the very top. 

We whooped and hollered our way down to the icefall where our joy was tempered by the unnerving sound of scrapping ski edges.  Each of us carefully worked a line through the icy bumps, with Gered chosing a double waterfall jump to the climber’s right as his escape. I found my way to the untouched powder of the left-Left variation, but not before witnessing some of the finest tele turns ever thrown down by Gered and Brad in the deep powder of the right side of the slide.
Gered throwing turns in soft powder.
I emerged from the thin row of trees and crossed above the small icefall ready to make my run on the powdery chute below.   I threw down turn after turn before reaching the bottom, exhausted and thoroughly exhilarated. 

All three of us grinned from ear to ear as we skied the lower portion of the slide back into the woods, following the trail we had used to enter.
Gered and Brad tele-turning down the lower chute.
When we got to the epic birch glade we followed Mr. Machete’s tracks through a conveniently trimmed keyhole in the sapling thicket.  The discovery of this trail had saved us at least a half an hour on our exit time. 
Gered doing what he loves: jumping off stuff with skis on. 
The last few miles were a blur as we cruised along the mostly downhill logging and snowmobile trails, but not before we came across our machete wielding companion.  We told him of what we had found on the left side of the chute and he excitedly pledged to come back the next day: but this time with skis.


  1. Nice story! Combats on your success! Sounds much better than the route we took on the second attempt.

  2. Nice write up, Andy. Great day out there.

  3. Thanks guys. Yes, Justin.. much better on the other side of the brook, although I still can't say that we've found an easy way to get up there.

  4. Cool read and vid.

    1. Thanks for the story pics and video. Brings back memories. I am the machete wielding locals father. I have skied North Twin 3 times. All 3 were prior to 1995 witch is when the big upper slide on hikers right slid. So what we were after at the time was the long narrow line in the middle. We skied from the summit each time. 1st time we bush wacked up about the same way you did. The other 2 times we hiked the trail the the top, then just dropped down the north side. skiing back and forth in the thick trees until we found the line. Great stuff

    2. Welcome and thanks for the comments. Machete Junior mentioned that you had climbed and skied the slide back in the day. The evergreen guard at the top looked pretty thick, so kudos for finding your way to the slide from the hiking trail!

  5. So, you're using a machete on your own private property only, right?

    1. Yes. Unless of course I'm using it to chop down redwoods, kill baby seals or open cans of motor oil that I'm liberating from their aluminum prisons and pouring into streams so they can run free.

  6. Thanks for the inspiration and information, went up there yesterday, nice snow but poor visibility, did not go too far up. As of yesterday you can still make that last stream crossing with skis on...

    1. Those are better approach conditions than we had last year. Which variation did you climb (main or left)?

      Did you get a chance to check out any of the glades?

      I hear that Sandy changed some of the landscape up there so it is nice to hear that there's still some good skiing on the slide.

    2. I did the same climbers left version, but probably went around half way up as far as you all went (I was solo, had already been up and skied the Hale glades, and it was getting late).

      I think I got to those same glades on North Twin as well (seemed to be around the half way mark from logging road to slide), but was unable to find the "machete made" path.

      Looks like that area will be picking up more fresh snow this week as well, I'm planning on returning within the next couple of weeks.