Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tuckerman Ravine

Over the weekend we made a return trip to Mount Washington to enjoy spring backcountry skiing at its finest. Skies were a brilliant blue, the sun was shining, and the snow was soft on the steep slopes of Tuckerman Ravine. This adventure was the first overnight trip in the Vanagon since our fall journey through Portland, Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park, and a first Westy experience for the friends who joined me.

My Yakima ski racks fit perfectly on the roof rack system I recently added to the van, and there was no shortage of interior space for our hiking, skiing, and camping gear.

We left Cambridge on Saturday afternoon in pursuit of the tasty beers, burgers, and BBQ served up at Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Co. in North Conway, NH. Moat never disappoints. The 20 oz. drafts were flowing freely and the food--particularly the Texas-style beef brisket and andouille sausage chili--was delicious and just the type of meal we needed prior to the long, calorie-burning day ahead of us.

I was also quite pleased with the fuel economy of the van, offering a respectable (for a 20-year old monster) 19 MPG.

From Moat we headed to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at the base of Mount Washington to camp for the night. We popped the top, flipped up the table, and enjoyed some more beers while discussing our hiking and skiing plans for the next day.  And following a fierce game of Scrabble, we finally turned in. I enjoyed the top bunk for the very first time and found it spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room for two.  Only when I saw other guys rolling out of hard, cold truck beds and cramped Subaru Outbacks in the early morning hours at Pinkham did I truly appreciated the luxuries of VW camping.

We geared up and headed out on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, making excellent time to HoJo's and the floor of the bowl. This was our second trip up to Tuckerman Ravine in as many weeks, and we were eager to follow up our successful (but cold and icy) Inferno Pentathlon race weekend in these much improved weather conditions.

Waterfalls, crevasses, and falling ice ruled out a number of routes in the middle of the bowl, so we opted to first tackle Right Gully. This was one of two new runs for me at Tuckerman, and without a doubt, it was a great choice. Right Gully was the least crowded area in the ravine that day, with perhaps the best conditions. It is narrowest and steepest at the top, widening throughout the descent above Lunch Rocks before cutting right into the open bowl-proper.

After Right Gully, we enjoyed lunch in the floor of the bowl before heading back up, this time via Left Gully. John, Tim, and I hiked up together but I opted to ski that run--another new one for me--while they continued along the open ridge to Hillman's Highway.  That's also a favorite of mine, but one that I've skied many times. Left Gully was the most popular route of the day, turning it into a very steep course of soft moguls. I love steeps and I love bumps, so on that particular afternoon, Left Gully was my tele-skiing dream run.

We reunited at HoJo's and skied the Sherburne Trail until the snow melted away completely, revealing the soft mud and grass of a new season.

It was a fantastic weekend at Mount Washington, marking the start of a long and happy road trip season.