Thor and I, and six participants skied up two miles from the Kancamagus highway to Greeley Ponds to see the views and catch a few turns on the way back down. We delayed our start until 10AM because the morning low was -1F and the forecast high 15F. This route is somewhat steep for cross country skiing, but doable with a few herring bones and side steps. The bigger challenge, for me as a leader, was the wide range of group equipment and expectations.
Some people were on a light back country setup – skis only a little wider than a track ski, but with metal edges and a tougher back country binding. Other folks were hoping for turns and had plastic boots and wide skis. Everyone had either scales or skis suitable for grip wax. Some people intended to use skins for the climb.
The folks on light gear sped ahead on the shallow grade. I stopped the group to rest often so the folks on skins could catch up. Then, whenever we climbed a steep spot, the folks with skins walked right up and the rest of us had to side step. Despite our pace, the trail is so short, we were up to the saddle before noon.
The saddle is visible from the Kancamagus highway. It’s the only low point in a ridge that stretches from Loon on the west to somewhere out of view, east over the Kancamagus pass. From the two Greeley ponds in the saddle, you get views of Mt Kancamagus and East Osceola. Both have beautiful cliffs, though I captured neither in my photos this trip.
Once over the saddle, the trail follows a stream down to the first pond. A week and a half ago, all the streams flooded during a massive rain storm. Small streams that were bridged with snow turned into chasms. We managed the first few stream crossings, but we got stuck at a larger stream between the upper and lower pond. Ski tracks ahead of us went every which way. Thor proposed heading straight onto the pond rather than trying to find a way back to the trail.
The open area we had thought was the lower pond, turned out to be a marsh. Little streams meandered through this marsh. Some of them were open. Thor tried, for a while, to find a path between the streams, but eventually he doubled back. At that point we broke for where we guessed the trail was. Back on the trail, we inventoried everyone’s skis.
Almost everyone had ice on their skis. The least experienced skier admitted he hadn’t known why to avoid getting his skis wet. Now, he said, he does. We scraped off enough ice to ski to the pond proper.
We felt the breeze on the open pond, but in exchange we had a good view of East Osceola.
After lunch, either the wind had picked up, or we hadn’t noticed it to our backs in the morning. We hurried across the upper pond and saddle. Shortly down the other side, the wind dissipated again.
To the side of the broken track, I found silky powder. The folks on Telemark gear reported that the powder to trail slope ratio was too high to do turns.
I first stopped to gather the us together above a little water gully. There, a group from MIT was trying to back down the trail. They hadn’t made it to the ponds and were giving up for the day. Their trip leader talked to us for 10 minutes while his participants minced their way down.
I regrouped us for the second time at the bottom of the steeper pitches. Then we zipped out along the last easy stretch to the parking lot. Or at least six of us did. The two folks on waxable skis got way behind. They had apparently not brought wax, thinking it was steep enough to only need skins. On the shallow angle, they were floundering without grip.
Had I known their predicament, I could have skied back with my wax kit. I wasn’t actually on waxable skis, but I had brought my kit because it had my scraper. Thor made the opposite choice and left both his wax and scrapper at home. Conclusion of the day: always bring at least one grip wax and a scraper.
5 miles for the trip and back to the cars at 2pm. Tyson and Isaac were skiing at Loon, so I stopped off at Lincoln Woods for another 4 miles to finish the day.
For another description of the trail, see Tyson’s and my 2010 trip when we explored all the north side trails.