Tim Jones: Perfect Pinkham Notch
Wow, is there a lot of snow in Tuckerman Ravine right now! If you ever thought about coming up to enjoy some fabulous late-season skiing or snowshoeing, this is the year.
Marilyn and I are spending one night in Pinkham Notch at the AMC's Joe Dodge Lodge (www.outdoors.org/lodging). I wish we were here for a week. For good or ill (or both), we tuckered out our legs this morning on perfect soft mid-winter corduroy snow at Wildcat, about five minutes away. Seven or eight non-stop, top-to-bottom runs were all we could handle on our fourth long day of skiing in a row.
So, we didn't have a lot of snap left to do much in the afternoon. In fact, my sweetheart, Marilyn, sensibly refused my every effort to cajole her to accompany me on any adventure at all, preferring instead, a comfortable couch in front of the fireplace in the lodge.
But I'd been looking out at Mount Washington and Tuckerman Ravine all morning from Wildcat and decided to hike up to the Ho-Jo's (as old timers call the Hermit Lake ranger cabin) just to "check things out." I'd have loved to continue on up into the bowl at Tucks, but I realistically conceded that the 2.4 miles of all up hill to Hermit Lake was all my toasted thighs could handle. I would have loved to skin up and ski down as I saw a number of other people doing, but it just wasn't in the cards.
I did talk to a number of skiers and boarders who had just come down the Sherburne Ski Trail from Tucks, and they told me conditions were "awesome," or some variant of that concept. Some people call the Sherburne "Sherbie," but I don't feel I know it well enough to be on a first-name basis yet. I'll have to ski it more.
I'd checked and registered at the front desk of the AMC and they'd said the trail was probably firm enough that I wouldn't need snowshoes, but I had them strapped to the pack anyway, just in case. As it was, boots and trail crampons worked fine and I probably would have done about as well without the crampons. There wasn't any ice on the trail yet, as there will be in a couple of weeks.
It wasn't exactly warm as I set out from the lodge, but it wasn't cold either, so I dressed in just a light-weight wool zip-neck long underwear top with light fleece gloves, and carried a puffy jacket and windbreaker, hat and mittens in my pack. By the time I was a quarter-mile up the trail, I had already rolled up my sleeves. You don't want to overdress when hiking.
It took me just a bit over two hours to reach Hermit Lake. I could say I stopped and talked to some people on the trail, but the truth is, if the people hadn't been there, I'd have had to stop anyway. By the time I reached the cabin, clouds had rolled in, the breeze had picked up, and it was spitting snow, so I lingered just long enough to snap a family photo for a group from Philadelphia, and then tuned for home. What had taken over two hours coming up took less than 40 minutes going down on snow that was just firm enough to hold you up, just soft enough to cushion each step. Perfect conditions and much better than spending the afternoon in front of the fireplace. Or, so I told Marilyn. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
If you've never stayed at Joe Dodge Lodge, you've missed out. It's at the base of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and if you check in with them, they'll send a search party out looking for you if you don't return. All the fabulous alpine skiing at Wildcat is five minutes away. And Great Glen Trails, one of the most beautiful cross-country ski areas in New England is five minutes past that. (Incidentally, they still had plenty of snow, but it's going fast out in the open areas. If you want another shot at XC, better make it this weekend or next).
When you stay at Joe Dodge they'll also give you a clean, comfortable room, a memorable dinner and a breakfast you can hike or ski all day on. Lunch is available to, if you want it, either eat-in or packed to take on the trail. Dinner is served family-style and you always seem to meet some great folks to talk to.
One of the perks of staying at Joe Dodge is the "Demo Center," where you can try out Lowa boots, Hillsound Trail Crampons, Leki trekking poles and some snowshoes and dayspacks if you didn't come equipped for a late-winter season mountain ramble. I had my own gear, so I didn't need to borrow theirs.
Actually, it was pretty funny -- I had Lowa boots, Hillsound Trail Crampons -- but instead of Leki trekking poles I was using Black Diamond poles) I also had MSR snowshoes and an REI pack. This hike was partly a warmup for a re-try at Mount Marcy in New York, so I wanted everything to be exactly as I'd have it for that hike.
I know, I know, you've heard that Tuckerman Ravine is really steep and only for true expert skiers and snowboarders. It's also a seriously long hike from the road. All of that is true, sort of.
Actually Tuckerman is a really nice day hike that almost anyone in reasonable shape can do. Hint: Just don't ski a bunch of runs at Wildcat before you start hiking.
If you feel like bringing your skis or snowboard, by all means do. The lower part of the bowl is perfect terrain for intermediates -- and it gets more challenging as you go higher. Pay attention, stay within your skill level and you'll have a great time.
Some people (myself among them) hike up just to watch the fun. Some people bring little roll-up sleds and make a sledding party of it (just watch out where you slide and be sure you can stop when you want to). In any case, Tuckerman Ravine is one of the places in New England that everyone should visit when the snow is deep and the sun is shining.
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