Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trip Report: Lincoln Gap 12.28.12

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
We've been to Lincoln Gap before, in poor snow years when MN didn't seem to want to follow the golden rule of bitching. Thankfully this year is a different story. It's still December and there's already 30 inches in the woods of the Mad River Valley. If you too have been waiting for the right time to explore the hardwoods of Lincoln Gap, this is your year.

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
Map point #1 (see below): It's hard to rationalize taking the moose tracks away from known skiing and out of sight across an unknown number of wooly bully stream crossings, but maybe I did have a little gut feeling that everything would work out wonderfully. And why shouldn't it? It almost always does.

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:

Tour topo
To be slightly more specific, this was our view from #2, across the third major river wash in the drainage. Like moths to a bug zapper, Kirk and I fluttered across and up into the first circle on the topo.

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
The downhill leg can seem a poor reward for all the work that's done to earn it, but you may find the high glades in Lincoln Gap especially fast. The lap we took on this highest glade was amongst the deepest and fastest I've ever schussed. Not because it was short, but rather because even the thickest thicket was thin enough to dodge oncoming broom handles at high speed, unhindered by the usual snow snakes and grundlefloss.

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.


  1. Love your report and descriptions.
    You're a great writer story teller. A compelling story to get there, 'cept I'm too lazy. I'll leave the good stuff to you. Enjoy! (Do I really have to say that?) :)

  2. Is it really necessary to post maps of others' BC stashes? I have been exploring and piecing together routes in this area for may years, and have noticed more joey traffic thanks to technodorks like you posting TRs on the web. I have no issue with folks exploring and finding their own stashes, but perhaps you could consider the fact that others came before you and may not appreciate maps and detailed directions being posted online. All we need are more out of state morons post holing through the BC.

    1. Ding, Ding, Ding! Congratulations! Two years of trip reports and you're our first Negative Nancy! Thanks for posting! Folks, this attitude is illustrative of what I think is all too familiar in the backcountry ski community. The "need" for secrecy. Despite the fact that hiking trails are named and traveled by many others, and climbing routes are similarly tagged by climbers you don't hear those communities complaining about how their "secret stashes" have been ruined, or how their sports have been robbed by out of state adventurers. It's especially ridiculous given that the backcountry lines are virtually limitless and the tracks of others are wiped out by the next snowstorm. We hear your point of view and we reject it. Thanks for the comments, now go sell country club somewhere else.

    2. As soon as this blog starts generating tens of dollars of revenue I'm quitting my day job...

      I think I speak for all of us when I say that, far from trying to make any money, we write this blog to share our passion for the outdoors and, hopefully, to encourage others to discover a similar passion. In my mind nurturing a culture of backcountry recreation only ensures that we will have a stronger network of advocates to protect and represent our ability to enjoy the outdoors over the long term.

      I'll admit that it's not always fun to see that someone snaked your line, but as Andy mentioned we're fortunate that backcountry stashes are a renewable resource. We obviously don't want to see anyone's backyard stash overrun with traffic--and I think we'd be kidding ourselves if we expected our blog to have this effect. I'm more concerned about how many inches of snow the next storm will bring and which of the countless places I'll choose to enjoy it.

      Thanks for reading the blog and for your thoughts.


    3. So, Brad, if you write this blog to "to encourage others to discover a similar passion," why not let them *discover* it? You don't have to serve it up on a silver platter. Sure, talk all day about LG (personally, I wouldn't and won't, but I know I'm not going to change your mind), but don't post the specific details and maps! Show people, don't tell them.

      And I'm going to have to agree with the earlier Anonymous, many others have come before you. Sure, many of these woods are naturally thin, but think about it - it's just possible that someone may have put some serious time and effort in to make them a bit more amazing. Pushing the morality of that subject aside (a debate for an entirely separate time), respect those folks who put the effort in by not just telling the whole world about such special places. Show people, don't tell them.

      No one goes into the backcountry to ski bumps, and many who go there seek solitude. LG used to be one of my favorite places to ski, but I'm not sure if I'm going to head back there this winter. :-/

    4. Thanks for the respectful and well-reasoned explanation of what I'm sure is the point of view of a number of backcountry skiers out there. As explained above, however, we don't share the opinion that backcountry spots are so limited, and skiers so numerous that any of these places will become mogul fields. Yes, you were taking it to the extreme, but even to suggest that these places would become overrun is hyperbole. I'm sorry you feel that others knowing about LG will somehow diminish your experience there. As we indicated above: hikers, climbers, rafters, kayakers, and surfers don't seem to suffer the same lack of discovery despite the fact their trails, routes, rivers, lakes and break points have all been blogged, mapped, discussed and named. Why should backcountry skiers be so sensitive and insular?

      Furthermore, pointing out the irrationality of those who illegally maintain and expect to hold private stashes on public land is not a moral judgment, but rather one based in logic. Deciding whether their choice is worthy of our respect, is however a moral one.

      Again, I appreciate you taking the time to read our article and post your thoughts. We welcome thoughtful, respectful debate on this and other subjects that affect the backcountry. Maybe someday we can discuss it in person over a few beers.

      Now, if your catchy phrase is going to be "Show don't tell", ours is "Share the love."

  3. Sweet, thanks for the intel, your trip reports have saved me many a bushwacks and have been much appreciated, 2 thumbs up, keep up the good work..hopefully I can get up in the gap in the next week before the warm up

  4. I love it when you serve it up like this, but I would never post this detailed info about something I found for the hated WHITEPLATERS and FLATLANDERS. Glean much beta from your site, hold my own finds close and hope i never see any joeys there!

    1. Judge a man not by the color of his plate, but by the content of his beer cooler.

    2. Someone with a White plate (Arlington, MA) would say that... Someone from the 603/802/207 would say "BEAT IT"

    3. I thought Michael Jackson was from Indiana.

  5. These maps are awesome. I'm totally bringing my knobby tired dirt bike up this weekend to plow through some deep snow gnar brah!!! :)

  6. A local has brought to our attention that the glades to the north of Lincoln Gap below the Catamount trail end on private property where there are sugaring lines, and idiots have been messing up the lines. It is probably a good idea to avoid the area and for goodness sake, tread lightly when on public or non-posted private property.