Rolling with La Nina
In so many ways we have been incrediblylucky here on the East Side of the Green Mountains this winter. Thismorning was just one of those times and one of my favorite kinds ofskis. The temperature rose last night in the Valleys into thefifties and many ski areas with groomed tracks were forced to shutdown at least grooming if not skiing for the day. The rain saturatedthe snow to such an effect at these places that skier traffic wouldruin the precious remaining snow. It’s days like this that you needto think outside the box.
A lot of that is knowing where youmight go. One of my favorite spots just to the south of Waitsfieldand Warren is on a Forest Service Road. The drive is a welcomechance to talk about geography, as we are leaving our home watershed,the Mad River, which flows north eventually to the Saint Lawrence,and dipping into the top of the White River which takes a southerlyjourney through the Connecticut. All this transition takes placeas we drive South on Route 100 through an area known as GranvilleGulf.
As we head over the watershed gap andinto the Gulf proper, winter seems to shut in around us, thethermometer in the van dips into the mid-thirties, and ice flowscreep over the bedrock lining the small canyon. The pavement isfrozen with water that has been cooled from the frosted roadbed andone always needs to use care on this section of road. There is stillevidence of the Flood that followed Irene, complete with a newlystraightened wayside stream. As the walls of the Gulf widen and weenter into the Granville Valley the stream is littered with piles ofdebris and erosional deposits where the small stream used to meander.
Our destination is a just a mile belowhere where we will take a right up West Hill Road, and eventually aForrest Service road leading into the back of the BreadloafWilderness. The road along this stretch reminds one of a hobbitland, as it is carefully carved into the hillside, Patterson Brook(one of the highest reaches of the White, draining water from the topof the Green Mountain Ridge) is to your left and it’s hard not topeer over the edge to catch a glimpse of the clear waters runningover and through ice and snow. The road is slick today and my eyesstay towards the right side of the road where groundwater ice flowsgrace the mossy road bank.
I had scouted the trail earlier in themorning and the VAST Trail Groomers had done a top notch job, with afull double pass with their drag. With an average width of 30 feet,nearly FIS legal, we set foot into our own manicured-personalwilderness. Our ski takes us gradually upwards, following the banksof the river and winding through a set of old cabins, beyond theClark Brook trailhead, before looping onto the southern flanks of thePatterson Valley.
After nearly an hour of skiing we reacha height of land and discuss our options; we can simply turn aroundand wind down to the van, or we can press on a little further and tryour luck at a steeper and perhaps more adventurous descent that wouldplace us at the bottom of the Valley. Several of us chose the latterand stepped of off the groomed surface onto a day old skin track. The trail descended into a swamp, moosey country, with ample hoofprints to trick your mind into thinking that any of the upturnedstumps littered around the swamp might actually be one of thesemegafauna.
We slipped around the swamp on a quitegraceful trail, with light rises and swooping turns, hoping that ourintuitive compasses were bearing in the right direction and that wemight arrive back at the van in a timely fashion for lunch! Soon wewere greeted by a series of steep descents that were only manageablebecause of boot-deep sticky snow. We hooted and hollered, andoccasionally face-planted on our way through hardwood and hemlockgroves and to our surprise emerged from the woods at the base of WestHill Road, hardly a ten minute walk back to the van.
We skated through another warm patch inthis La Nina winter – the cold Valleys and the snow-shadow of theGreens making our experiences as skiers in this new era possible. Our desires for skiing and our love for exploration and adventurekeep us coming back and as we head back to do a track workout atTrapps our minds our open and our bodies are crazing speed!