Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tuckerman Ravine 2016

We made it to Tuckerman Ravine this year!

That's all I could think about as we hiked up the work road style trail with all our backcountry ski and camping gear strapped to our backs.  It's a long slog up the first part of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, but made even longer when the rubber on the YakTracks that I found lying on the trail out to Pico Pond several years ago finally decide they were going to snap.  So after hobbling up the icy sections for a while, the Boyfriend rigged the first, then the second and finally a third snap back together with the binding force of the universe: duct tape.  Our oaks weighed less than 50 pounds, but after virtually no skinning this past winter, my body felt completely out of shape.  Did this feel like the worst ascent ever?  Yes.  Did the boyfriend break his ascent record?  Yes.  And I say yes with a huge smile, after more than six years leaving with a traumatic brain injury, having him lead the ascent was a ginormous success!
A much less snowy Left Gully & Center of Tuckerman Ravine

But the real excitement, especially in this dirth of a snowfall year, was that there was enough natural snow for us to try and ski the ravine in the first place.  Since our own resort of Killington relied so heavily on snowmaking after receiving less than half of their worst snowfall record ever, we were extremely worried.  But - low and behold - we would not have to miss a ski season at Tuckerman Ravine.  Even if the entire right side was closed due to the dangers of falling ice and undermined snow, we would still get to experience the White Mountains and the mecca that is Tux.

So how much snow was there, really?  Well, I like to judge by the amount of snow surrounding the water pump at Hermit Lake.  Growing up playing with the pump at my camp, I find a strange peacefulness in having to pump the water through iron pipes and into my Nalgene.  Most years, the pump sits at the bottom of a 3-4 foot dug out hole.  This year: nothing.  There was a base, but instead of feet it was mere inches.  I could have filled an entire roll of film just comparing snow depths.  The cairn leading to the shelter was completely exposed, yet there was still frozen water on Hermit Lake itself.  While the summit had been free of snow for weeks before we arrived, we awoke our first morning to snow at the Chocolate Factory (our nickname for the summit towers).  As we ascended up the practically snowless entrance to Hillmans Highway, it was a lovely contrast to see the snow covered summit.

The Boyfriend arriving at the base of Hillmans Highway.  Mount Washington is the snowy mound in the distance.

But we were there, not to gawk at the snow, but to ski it.  And so we did.  Extremely carefully.  With so much undermined and rotting snow, it was essential to hike up the trail you were going to ski down in order to study what was around you.  And so, our ascent up Hillmans was filled with comments back and forth about this waterfall peeking through and that waterfall not quite showing yet, so lets not try and go that way on the descent kind of thing.  Luckily for us, one of the caretakers also decided to ski Hilllmans that morning, so we chose the safest descent route: hers.  It was definitely not one smooth run filled with whoops and hollers.  It was a pick your way, stay close but not too close, manipulative ascent.  The only goal was to ski safely.  It was an exhausting, mental exercise, but a successful one.  I was grateful for all the mountaineering we have done and the knowledge we have gained, but it also made us aware of how small we are in the real world.  The east coast might be small, but it packs a mighty punch.

I know this, because I forgot my big puffy jacket.  And I was freezing both nights.  Like hypothermic freezing.  Each night, as I was practically in tears from the cold, we discussed going down to the car and giving up on our Tuckerman Ravine experience this year.  It was a conversation we needed to have, but I would have stayed up all night doing jumping jacks and burpees if it meant we could stay.  Wonderfully, the boyfriend loaned me his extra warm puffy coat for the night and we snuggled to stay warm. There are indeed advantages of winter camping with your spouse.  It was yet another reminder to me that it is the simple act of consciousness in our activities and lives that make the small differences.  If we had paid close attention on Hillmans, we could have ended up downstream under the snow.  And I can bet you that I will never again forget my big puffy coat.  Watch me be extra cautious now and pack that coat for 50 degree nights canoe camping this summer.  Especially in the life and death situations of winter camping, attentiveness to the small details will have the biggest effect on the success of your mission.

We spent the remainder of the trip enjoying the mountains, spending our first nights - of what will hopefully be at least 31 - outside for the year and playing in the bowl partially filled with snow.  There is something to be said for just taking some time to sit in the ravine and soak in the entire experience.  We watched the ski-mo crew run laps around the young boy without crampons struggling to make his first ascent ever up Left Gully, while the mom tried to avoid the creepy guys while she waited for her husband and daughter to make a second run without her.  Killington Mountain School showed up with the entire school.  And then there was us, quietly ascending and descending, just celebrating another wonderful ski season spent in the mountains.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Three Saranac Lakes: Canoe Tripping Early Season in the Adirondacks

The off-season in any resort town is wonderful.  The pace of business slows down and residents have more energy to spend on their own adventures.  For the boyfriend and I, this means ski trips to Tuckerman Ravine and canoe tripping in the Adirondacks.  While the trips to Tux are exciting and exhausting, they are certainly not as relaxing as camping on an island in the middle of a lake in the middle of nowhere.

With temps last week scheduled to be in the 70s, we packed up our dry bags and set off to paddle the big water of the Adirondacks.  For us, the "big water" is the trio of Saranac Lakes, where motorboats and jet skis rule the waters during the summer.  But off-season, before the trees have filled in and the kids are out of school, the Saranac Lakes are more of a quiet backcountry adventure than a constant Fourth of July celebration.  The waters are calm and you can hear the various bird calls, see the bald eagles fly overhead and watch the frogs playing frogger as you paddle the Saranac River.
For this trip, we decided to set up camp on one of our favorite island on Middle Saranac, a quick 3 hour paddle upstream and through the Upper Locks.  This would give us the opportunity to make a huge day trip on Wednesday with almost 3 miles of portaging.  Weight makes a difference - and the last time we had done these portages we definitely had the wrong boats!  The boyfriend ended up with bruises on his biceps from carrying his 60 pound kayak, while I had a massive headache from my solo canoe bouncing on the top of my head for miles.  I remember feeling that no one must ever do these carry routes because our first experience was so horrible.  Not this time.  This time, with our 38 pound Northstar Northwind 16, these two seemingly long portages were so easy it was laughable.  Don't get me wrong, 1.5 miles portages are nothing to laugh about - especially when one is up and over an Adirondack hill - but the experience was so exponentially better it was amazing!  It just goes to show how far our canoe tripping skills have come ... and how much we still have to learn!
The Northwind seems to be a great canoe for us - finally!  The short length gives us maneuverability in the tight portages of the Adirondacks while the shape of the hull gives us increased stability in the often white capped waters.This time, with our 38 pound Northstar Northwind 16, these two seemingly long portages were so easy it was laughable.  Don't get me wrong, 1.5 miles portages are nothing to laugh about - especially when one is up and over an Adirondack hill - but the experience was so exponentially better it was amazing!  It just goes to show how much we still have to learn!  But the Northwind 16 seems to be a great canoe for us - finally!
The short length gives us excellent
maneuverability in the tight portages of the Adirondacks while the shape of the hull gives us increased stability in the often white capped waters.  The view from our island was simply stunning.  One of the few islands in the Adirodacks that is simply a tall mound.  The kind of mound that your bear cache will simply roll down from the top straight into the water if you don't figure out a flat enough space.  I am pretty sure this is the campsite where I sorrowfully watched one of my dry bags full of dry clothes roll down the island into the water.  I was NOT making that mistake again!  That damned slippery Bear Cache was not going anywhere!
While paddling a marathon over three days is always a great excitement, our favorite part is always just sitting on the shoreline at our campsite, staring out at the water while we relax and recover from life and paddling.  It is the many colors of the slowly sinking sunset that we watch as we sip on hot toddies and chocolate, nibbling on whatever weird concoction we were eating that night.  My favorite is still the couscous with coconut flakes, dried pineapple pieces, a little dried milk, nuts and lots of curry!

May You Find 
the Spirit of the Mountains 
Within You 

One must take time to listen 
or one will never hear 
what the mountain has to say.