Oakes Gulf is is on the south face of Mt. Washington. Direct access from the bottom would be by way of about 8 miles of the Dry River trail. Therefore, preferred access is to hike up one of the other sides, over a ridge and then drop down in from the top of the gulf. The easiest route is the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to the Lakes of the Clouds hut, then over the saddle between the peaks of Washington and Monroe. The preferred return route is down a steep gully on the north side of Monroe that is cut by Monroe Brook.
We had a strong group of 8 people who made great time on the hike up, making the hut in less then 2 1/2 hours. After a short snack break, we headed over the saddle and down into Oakes. Though things had been rather crunchy on the way up from the night time cold, once we reached the south facing slopes, the snow was like butter.
Some of the group made the trek back up to the summit of Monroe for the long ride back down into the gulf. Others explored some of the steeper chutes that Oakes has to offer. Though none from our group headed over, we could see a steady flow of skiers enjoying the great conditions in Double Barrel, a pair of close, parallel, straight, steep and very narrow chutes on the west side of Oakes Gulf.
Later as we regrouped and headed back over the saddle past the hut, we found that wind was howling and the snow was getting rather crunchy again. This was not the forecast and was not desired. The Monroe Brook gully gets sun late and gets shaded by its south western ridge early. When icy, it can be a dicey descent. I wasn’t the only one pleased to find that a combination of wind shadows, elevation and slope angle verses the sun had worked out well and the gully had wonderful, soft snow for our final plunge.
Let me say here that Monroe Brook is a destination of its own and when the conditions are this good, makes for a fantastic finish to the day. However, looking down this long narrow gully can be more than a little intimidating. The approach to it is a long traverse that gradually steepens. Eventually you feel as though you are already on very steep terrain, and yet the gully still drops out of view. One of our friends wasn’t sure if she was up for it and decided to hike down. However, once over the precipice and able to get a good look at it, she strapped on her board and ran it out like a pro, much faster than I could go on my tired, desk jockey legs.