A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Pemigewasset ski through

March 8, 2009
Emilie Phillips

The adventures for this weekend started Thursday evening with lots of cooking. The sea kayaker magazine has been doing a bunch of articles on nutrition recently, so, using those as a guide, I put together dinners for that night, Friday, and Saturday. For Thursday, I figured something with protein would be good, so I did chicken cashew. For Friday, lots of carbs, and something which could be re-heated since we wouldn’t be coming back by home after work, so I did vegetarian lasagna (‘s recipe). For Saturday morning, I figured easy to process sugars would be good, so I made coffee cake with lots of fruit. For Saturday evening, I went with chili just because that sounded like it would be tasty late on a ski trip and could be kept warm in a thermos. I wasn’t quite sure what rule to apply to that dinner.

Friday we went to work with the car packed, and that evening drove up to Plymouth for a hotel so we’d only have a half hour to drive in the morning.

The group meet up time was 6:15 AM at the Lincoln Woods on the Kancamagus. There were eight of us. We divided up group gear, crammed into two cars, and headed north to the Zealand Rd parking area on 302.

The snow wasn’t great. There had been fresh snow on Monday, but the snow underneath of that had been temperature cycled and rained on. It had been cold most of the week, but Friday had been warm and stuff had started to melt, and Saturday morning at 7:30 in the parking lot it was already in the mid thirties. Tyson had this idea that for the ski through he would use hot wax to fill in his scales so he could glide better. In light of the snow conditions we ended up with, that probably wasn’t the best decision. And I probably should have switched to my scaled skis. But we ended up with Bill, Tyson, and I all on waxables. Everybody (except Bill being stubborn) hiked the first bit of the road since it was an icy mess. Once I put my skis on, I determined that my warmest wax wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily Bill has some wax that, looking at the manufacturer’s web site, goes up to 41F. That ended up working reasonably for Tyson and I. Bill kept rubbing his wax off, and I haven’t figured out yet if that’s because he has single camber skis or because he has never applied a base wax.

There were plenty of tracks headed up to the Zealand Hut. We met two families totaling 12 who apparently do a yearly ski in to the hut. For a ski trip, it was blazingly hot. Even I was down to my t-shirt. We saw a fisher cat in the middle of the trail. We did not see the moose that had been causing trouble in the area, although we sure saw a lot of poop in the trail. Unfortunately, we got slowed down by some gear issues. A cable on Bill’s binding snapped near the beginning. Tyson was carrying a spare cable for our bindings which was interchangeable with Bill’s, so that didn’t take too long. We could have also used Scott’s cables that he was using because they aren’t necessary to his binding. Then almost at the height of land near Zealand Pond, Mike snapped a pole. Mike had a repair kit (sheet metal and hose clamps), so we were able to put it back together and continue, but that took a bit longer.

Even after we passed the hut, there were still plenty of tracks to follow. We even ran into a number of people doing day trips from the hut. Going through the notch between Whitewall Mountain and Zealand Mountain was quite scenic. It’s this huge gash in the ridge line. Normally it is quite windy through there, but this time it was warm enough that we could take a bunch of photos. Unfortunately I fell slightly before there, so all my photos have water splotches in them. Then we came out to the junction with Thoreau Falls Trail where we stopped for a first lunch. That wasn’t the optimal spot for lunch, but some people were in need a food.

From there we continued to Shoal Pond where there’s a nicer spot for lunch. We did run in to some people coming the other way who gave us good news on the snow bridges on one of our crossings ahead. Unfortunately, Mike’s pole repair broke. He ended up doing a half mile or so to Shoal Pond on one pole so we could combine the pole repair stop and a second lunch. This time Scott supervised the repair. The key difference was to include a bit of wood on the inside of the splice for support along with the sheet metal on the outside. That fix held for the rest of the day. We spotted some canada jays at the Shoal Pond stop. Apparently they are quite docile because Tyson was able to get them to come eat crackers out of his hand.

We were still following a track, but it fell off the trail a bit more, and the trail got brushier and brushier. This part of the trip was supposed to have been easy skiing, but the snow was just too thick and didn’t glide well. We also had plenty of gullies made by water crossings that we had to get into and back out of. It was at one of these just shy of the Carrigan Notch Trail that Dan broke his pole. Mike’s had snapped cleanly in a metal section. Dan’s failed at one of the adjustment points. This was a bit harder to fix. We ended up wrapping duct tape around the inner segment to try to create friction so it wouldn’t pull out, and then putting a hose clamp on it to prevent it from pushing in, and hoped that worked.

At the turn off to the Wilderness trail we met our first untracked snow. The theory was that we would rotate who was breaking trail, but somehow there ended up being a couple of overly energetic people at the front who just kept going. (There’s some suspicion that one of them might have given a bit more than a fair amount of weight to her fiance.) We lost the trail at one point. The White Mountain National Forest has a policy of not blazing in wilderness areas, which makes it hard in the winter. With a little guessing and prior knowledge we found it again without too much trouble, just a little scramble down a steep hill. A little bit after that we stopped for dinner. The chili was delicious. Back in the morning when we were climbing up the hill, I’d done the gymnastics to take my long underwear bottoms off because I was way too hot. I could tell it was starting to get colder, so while we were stopped for dinner, I put them back on. While putting them on, I figured out that my feet were sopping wet. I wasn’t sure whether it was from sweat or the mushy snow, but, due to a variety of reasons including my toes being toasty warm, I decided to stay in the wet socks rather than pull out my warmer thicker spare socks. I later learned that at least Bill and Tyson also had drenched feet.

From there on out we had no problems following the trail. We did have one more gear failure. Scott had just refilled his water bladder from water bottles at dinner, and why trying to grab the hose as we were going along, he yanked off the bite valve and lost it in the snow. None of us could find it. Since I had emptied my bladder and was on to a bottle of electrolyte filled water that I wasn’t going to be pouring into my bladder, I flipped off my shutoff valve and gave Scott my bite valve. He did loose a bit of water in the process, but I don’t think it ended up being a big issue in the end.

At this point, I can’t remember exactly where stuff happened anymore. We were still on the Wilderness Trail on the south side of the Pemigewasset when dark fell. The trail still had plenty of water crossings, but was generally easier. We also had broken tracks come in from the Thoreau Falls Trail. The group did spread out more as the energetic people went faster and the tired people went slower. I wasn’t nearly energetic enough to stay with the front, and what with having constant battles all day with finding the correct layers to not sweat too much, I averaged closer to the back end pace. Some where along there it started to sprinkle. I was afraid it was going to do more, so I rushed to put my rain gear on, but then it slowed down again.

We stopped for another half dinner at the far side of the suspension bridge. My left knee was really hurting at that point, so I got myself some ibuprofen. Apparently I should have offered it to Tyson too. At this point we were on the heavily tracked Pemi loop and had 6 miles to get back to the cars. This last bit is mostly a long blurry slog. We got spread out even more. At one place where Tyson, Bill, and I stopped to futz with something in my pack, we noticed another headlamp behind us. Some guy, who actually knew Scott, had skied from Lincoln Woods, up Thoreau Falls Trail, and back down our tracks. He skied on ahead and eventually caught up with Scott in the front of the group, and then continued with us for the rest of the way. At some point we caught up with Mike. And then the group reassembled at the intersection with Franconia Brook Trail. For a while after that we stayed together, and then it ended up being Bill, Tyson, and I in the back, and eventually Bill, Mike, Tyson, and I in the back. Talking with Mike later, it sounds like he was having packing issues, so he’d start with the front group, get too tired, and fall back with us. Somewhere on that last leg it started raining for real.

We finally got back to the parking lot at 9:50PM — 22 miles and 14.5 hours from our start up north. My new pack did well for me the entire trip. The last thing we had to do before we could break was the car run around.. We stuck the skis in the snow bank. I covered up the packs with pack covers, and then Tyson, Dan, Andrea, and Scott all piled into his car to go recover the 2 cars up north. Mike and Larry warmed up their cars and Bill and I jumped in to get out of the rain. Bill and Larry ended up driving in to town to find some reception to tell their wives they had arrived, and then when they came back I think they went to sleep since they had the lights off. Mike and I talked for a bit, but when Mike finally decided to go change into dry clothes in the (heated) bathrooms, I fell asleep before he made it back.

Eventually Tyson and Scott made it back. Andrea and Dan drove north with their car. Somehow Tyson decided he had enough energy to drive all the way home. We stopped at a gas station in Lincoln for some snacks and headed out. We got back home a bit before 2AM — just in time to set the clocks forward.

Photos from the trip.