Sunday, March 26, 2017

Is New England a Gateway Drug to Colorado?

This bipolar winter has been dishing out diversity in spades. It seems every weekend there were sweet conditions for one activity or another. Some weekends it is hard to chose what to do outside, because it is all good! This past weekend was a prime example.

Waterville Valley Skate Ski, Friday, March 24

Skogs and I had planned to ski on our off-Friday (we work for the same company) before potential rain and warmer temps screwed things up. Checking Waterville's grooming report first thing in the morning, they didn't groom, saying "expect glazed (FAST!) conditions". Well, that sucked. We contemplated hitting Jackson, which did groom, but snow/rain was moving in midday and I didn't really want to drive back in that.

Conditions were glazed alright. More like rock hard frozen corduroy with liberal garnish of hemlock debris to gum your skate skis up right away. In between near face plants from hitting sticks and pine cones, I was trying to keep my skis under me.

Rock hard corduroy and stop your skis dead tree debris were not what I had in mind.
But then the snow started. Light at first, quickly becoming heavy. This vastly improved conditions. The hockey ice glide went away, which ironically Skogs was enjoying while skiing without poles due to shoulder injury, but control went up an order of magnitude. I could actually put power to the snow and control it at the same time. Sweet!

Ninety minutes later, that's more like it! Top of Tripoli Rd.
Totally froze my face off on the 10 minute Tripoli Rd descent!

Snow started piling up at the rate of 1-2" per hour. I managed to get a 40km skate in before the trails became a slog. What started as a dubious at best ski finished quite satisfying.

Arvid took this photo as I finished skiing 40km. My mom said now I know what I'll look like when (if!) my hair turns gray. Thanks mom!
White Mountains Hike, Saturday, March 25

I started my next day as I do many unstructured weekend days. I sit down in front of the computer with my morning cup of joe surveying weather and trail conditions. Often weekend activities are literally decided minutes before heading out the door. So what did the weather show? Rain. A long stream of it flowing through central New England. I wanted to ride, but there are better things to do than freeze your ass off riding in 35F rain. The north country looked to be escaping this soggy ribbon. A hike it would be!

First view upon reaching the ridge at Little Haystack Mtn, 4760ft elevation. Mt Flume and Mt Liberty on right.

On the flank of Mt Lincoln.
I hadn't hiked big peaks in a while. A trip, snowstorms and limited weekend time kind of got in the way. I settled on the classic Franconia Ridge loop. It was no longer calendar winter, so the winter 48 list chasers won't be out. Should be a quiet day in the Whites. Franconia Notch provides the most easily accessed hiking too.

I was a bit surprised to see the Lafayette campground parking lot overflowing. I was barely able to park off the highway. Friday's snowstorm left about 4-6" of sugar powder in the Notch. Temp was right around freezing. Several people headed up the Falling Waters trail before me, none wearing snowshoes. I started in microspikes.

Mt Lafayette. People barely visible on summit

Mt Washington beyond the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

I passed 15 people heading up to Little Haystack, a nearly monotonic 3000ft climb. The snow got progressively deeper as I climbed, and the more people I passed, the last packed the trail became. It was still much easier and faster to stay in microspikes though, to the exasperation of snowshoe purists I'm sure. No risk in getting called out today though, as snowshoes stayed on people's packs.

No bluebird skies up top, but the views were arguably more stimulating. There was high overcast and much patchy undercast. Many 4000 footers can be seen from the Franconia Ridge. Some were obscured, others poking through. Just across the Notch, most of the Kinsman Ridge was socked in. Glad I didn't opt to head up that side, as I'm sure many who parked there before me did.

Looking south along the Franconia Ridge from Mt Lafayette

Looking back up at the ridge from Greenleaf trail just before clouds socked it all in.

Only a handful of people had traversed the Franconia Ridge. The ridge was almost completely snow covered, some drifting here and there, bare rock at outcroppings. Was no problem leaving the spikes on the whole time. I think I interacted with only five people on the ridge, a couple I passed up there, a couple gals that I had earlier passed on Falling Waters (I stop too much for pictures!), and a solo guy doing big 30 mile loop. Had some solo time on Mt Lincoln and Lafayette. The wind was really howling on Lafayette. I suspect the windchill was down near 0F. Pretty raw, hurt to expose face to that.

Deep new powder on 3-5ft base on Greenleaf Trail nearing the hut

Much further down on Old Bridle Path and out of the wind.
The snow was very deep heading down Greenleaf Trail to the hut. Descending consisted of glissading bounds. So much easier than summer when the scree field is an ankle fracture waiting to happen. I just hoped I wouldn't bound into a spruce trap as I got into tree line! The snowpack was several feet deep at the Greenleaf Hut. As I approached the hut, clouds socked everything in. The open ridge views were gone just like that. Boy, did I get lucky today. The 8.7mi/4475ft hike was one of my better winter hikes even though it wasn't technically winter anymore. The experience certainly felt like mid winter.

Duxbury MTB, Sunday, March 26

So how do you top off two fantastic days of winter wonderland? You head a bit south to avoid snow entirely! Duxbury pokes out a bit into the ocean, kind of like Cape Cod does. It enjoys some of the same weather moderating benefits the Cape does. Duxbury shed the last of its snow several days ago, and the sandy soil drains really well. There is no shortage of singletrack and dirt road riding there to make the 75 minute drive more than worth while.

A stiff wind was coming off the Atlantic. It meant the temp was not going to change much during the ride. No shedding layers! It also meant the out-and-back to Saquish would be brutal, as it usually is. Dead flat, but you might as well be climbing a mountain with how hard you have to work into that wind. No beach ride this time. It was high tide. Riding this dirt track seven miles out onto a sandbar isn't for everybody, but I like it for the change of scenery and steady-state effort you can put into it. I think of our lost cycling comrade Alec Petro every time I go out here too. He must've ridden Saquish hundreds of times.

End of the line at Saquish. High tide meant no return on the beach.

The "road" out to Saquish
The terrain in Duxbury Conservation Land is a little mellower than Otis or Trail of Tears on the Cape. There are virtually no rocks here. It can be extremely rooty in spots though. There are many punchy climbs, but not as long as Otis or ToT climbs. A great workout can be had though. I throw in some cranberry bog loops with snippets of tasty singletrack to bring the mileage up to 40 miles in 3.3-3.5hrs moving time. Mud is rarely found in Duxbury. Bike goes back home as clean as it left.

Returning from Saquish. Pretty sandy in spots. Such contrast from last two days in the whites. Hard to believe same weekend, difference between 90 minutes north and 75 minutes south.
Should I be surprised to find mountains of cranberries adjacent to cranberry bogs???

My Duxbury loop entails a couple hours riding trails like this.
Driving home from Duxbury, the radar showed next band of precip moving into the area. I drove into the Big Dig tunnel dry, popped out on the other side in rain. Another perfectly (luckily) timed activity this weekend, three-for-three.

I hope to ski one more time this season. If I get a skate in next weekend, first weekend in April, I will have skied in six months this season, Nov-Apr. In 20 years, I think there was only one or maybe two other times I've been able to do that. The season started with copious cover on Thanksgiving weekend at Prospect Mountain in Vermont. It could finish there or hopefully much closer in the White Mountains.

I've posted many times now on Hill Junkie about how great it is to be able to bike dirt and ski snow on the same weekend living in central New England. Cathy and I plan to move to Colorado some day, maybe in the not too distant future. I was asking myself this weekend, will I be giving anything up by moving? Or is New England just a gateway drug to Colorado?

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