Friday, February 20, 2015

Lincoln Gap and the Last Truffula Tree

I speak for your trees? 
I spend a lot of time contemplating my legacy while bottle feeding my four month old daughter. The enthusiasm with which she takes nourishment and rewards the world with giggles and poop is refreshing, and inspiring. To kill time between feedings, we read a lot of Zen buddhist literature taught by a giant panda bear. When I'm feeling particularly leftist-philosophical, I crack open The Lorax. She's learning a lot about social responsibility, and I've been thinking a lot all the bad things I did to Lincoln Gap.

When we originally explored Lincoln Gap in December, 2012, NEBC was still pretty green in terms of understanding the full immensity of backcountry skiing's personality cult of deadly secrecy. In general we had been poking around the periphery of well known David Goodman tours, and figuring out how to get our skins on without freezing our weenusus off. Satellite imagery had become a handy way of hypothesizing the location of decent skiing, and Lincoln Gap was high on our list to explore.

Long story short, we sweated our assess off, cleared a million bottomless stream crossings (our usual nod to Goodmanophiles everywhere), posted a few maps, and thought... GREAT SKIING... but way too much work. There had to be an easier way to get to the route we had taken. I thought on it, posted a few more maps, and low and behold the response we received was nothing short of inadvertently dropkicking somebody's killer beehive of powder skiing.

Long nights lie ahead, and endless hours in a war of words with the faceless trolls of the internet. The owner of a well-known small scale custom ski manufacturer (and also a neighbor of mine) offered to slash my tires if they ever found me poking around his powder hives again. Feeling bullied and confused, I decided to sign off of backcountry skiing for a while and contemplate the horrible things I had done to the peace and tranquility of a sport I had grown to passionately love.

Had that post really been the figurative first Truffula Tree felled in a tragic mass extinction of good backcountry skiing everywhere by out-of-towners, degenerates, and other outdoor enthusiast low-lifes?

This past Sunday, with high temps hovering below zero and 30-50 mph wind in the forecast, my wife proclaimed that she would be staying inside all day. ALL DAY. So, I decided to strike out for Lincoln Gap and scratch the itch that had been growing since I became a Buddhist. I had to know if I'd turned the gorgeous gladed runs of Lincoln Gap into a barren wasteland of frozen schlop and empty Red Bull cans.

When I originally scouted Lincoln Gap, I imagined spectacular skiing on at least three aspects of the shallow bowl accessible from the forest service road just south of Lincoln Gap road. My good friend Kirk and I set off to explore the most southeasterly of those spots, and what we found and skied was, as Goodman would say, "particularly delightful."

This year, instead of breaking from Forest Service Road 66 at the first southerly overgrown logging path, I planned to ski the road out to it's zenith and scout the western most skiing outlined in the map at right.

Pulling in to the dead end on Lincoln Gap Road, and expecting Johnny Mosely narrates Warren Miller's Flatland Ski Ballet 2015, I instead found lesser bad news. There was a skin track. Pole marks. Other people who owned skis had been here. Even worse news. They were heading out on FS Rd 66 too.

Somewhere a crying local sheds a tiny tear thinking
about all the abuse his snow has endured.
Sometimes backcountry skiing and animal tracking feel like very similar pursuits. We've all followed a well marked trail of parallel lines through the woods, wondering where they might lead. As you skin you count the pole plants ahead of you and attempt a guess at how many skiers had already been had the goods, ruining your tranquility. Generally, I don't wonder weather the tracks go up or town from a parking lot. I assume they do both. But this year, at Lincoln Gap, I was surprised to find that they only came downhill. It was a holiday weekend and there had been fresh snow in the forecast. My assumption was that the woods would be hard hit, yet I only crossed two or three downhill tracks where skiers had descended excellent, yet heavily manicured and gladed chutes that funnel in to the hard left hand turn in FS Rd 66. But, I was following a skin track. Surely it must lead the way to the easiest natural ascent of the chutes I had seen.

Quickly the skin track faded away, windblown snow filling in the helpful grooves that had been our guide. I was now breaking trail and wondering how on earth anyone came down chutes that were clearly too steep to ascend...

You can practically hear
your fire fizzling out.
At the larger stream crossing that marks entry into the Breadloaf Wilderness, and main drainage for the Gap's southerly bowls, John and I decided to strike off-road and west to explore the marked area above, at the end of the yellow dot road. This was John's first tour and his excitement was hard to bear. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet???" "That looks good, should we drop in now. Or now? Or maybe there??" No John, the skiing, it's UP THERE. I couldn't blame his puppy like enthusiasm to see so much good snow. Also, it was pretty damned cold and we were both itching to start skiing and get back to the car.

A foreboding tree straight out of To Build a Fire told tale of this winter's heavy recent snowfall. Open spaces on the shallows of the bowl tightened up as we climbed past pillowy rockfall that would be the delight of our eventual descent.

Personally, my favorite part of exploring the backcountry is the rabbit hole effect that comes at the top of every gladed pitch. Things get too thick to move. The trees have reversed your judo hold on them, and now hold you. You duck left, and right, and spot a point of light. A clearing. The slog goes on.

We climbed to the height of reason and earned a small avalanche chute guarded by the glistening, greenish teeth of a Joker-esque icefall. A few hard drives to the right would not yield a clear path to the top of this chute, a shame as it would have made for a phenomenal blind drop into 100 yards of willy-wackers and grundlefloss. We were well outside of avy-controlled Sugarbush terrain and the risk was too great. Skins off, it was time for the descent.

The skiing on the western aspect of the southern bowl is not as extensive as that found on the southeasterly run we explored in 2012. The terrain is similar, with the added bonus of having numerous large boulders to target on your way down the drainage and back to the wilderness boundary we departed from. Knowing what we know now, and having a few more inches of mercury and hours in the day I'd suggest doing a three part and full day version that combines both tours, starting first with the southeasterly skiing, then trekking westward across the shallow bowl to add on this new descent. If you feel inclined, you could also tag on the sinfully low hanging fruit we encountered on your way in. But for the love of backcountry skiing, earn your turns the hard way. It just breaks my heart to think that I wrote up a perfectly good backcountry tour for all the world to follow, and people are still skinning up the auto road, hopping over the top of the gap on the Long Trail, and enjoying the sloppy handiwork of some amateur forester and low class backcountry enthusiast.

At first it was only one tree...
Thanks to my wife for begging me to get out of the house, mother nature for the magical self-filling etch-o-sketch that is snowfall in the backcountry, and John for joining me on this tour of redemption (congrats to him on cutting his teeth on some kick turns as well). And to Andy, for not revoking my NEBC privileges after I pissed in everyone's cheerios and ruined Lincoln Gap, Big Jay, and the world. GOOD GRIEF. There's just so much delightful skiing that no one skis!

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