March 5-6, 2010
After much in class deliberation, as a class we decided to nix our hopes of camping at the base of Carrigain with a summit attempt on Saturday. Even though the place had 70+ inches of snow on the ground from last weeks Snowicane, it was the lack of ice bridges and rising air temps (flood potential) that changed our minds. So.. we went for plan 2. An over night trip below the shadows of East Osecola, just north of Greely Ponds. It sounded lovely and we were sure to have an amazing time. So we drove up from UNH in a 3 car caravan where I got to ride along with my fearless professor Laurie. We all met back up at the Greely Ponds Trailhead along the Kancamaugus Highway. From here we unloaded our gear from the vehicles, situated what needed to be situated onto our sleds and the rest on our backs. I looked tiny compared to my massive haul. My cook partner and tent mate for the night, Alison, has severe asthma. So.. I took 3/4 of her gear as well as my own. With 50 pounds on my back and maybe 35 on the sled, I was earning my nickname for sure.
We headed out onto the Greeley ponds trail on what turned out to be a journey through hell. The snowicane left quite a few blowdowns across the trail. As we followed the path blazed out by hikers before us, it was easy to see that Big Earl and his gang had a hard time finding a trail they'd been on a half million times. Their tracks led us into the woods... and a dead end... which we swiftly whacked off of and found the trail about 60 yards to our left. We pulled our loads, many of us while on nordic ski's as we tried to negotiate tight turns down the messy trail. I was having a tough time, falling often yet laughing each time. However, you can only laugh so often before it gets rather old. So... I torn off the ski's and quickly switched over to snowshoes. Alison made the switch as well and soon both of our ski's were also placed upon the sled. For some reason this threw the sleds weight off and we were constantly having to stop and right the sled so I could pull it. The entire class was frustrated and a hike of about .8 miles took us 3 and a half hours.
We finally made it to a spot on the trail just outside the Scenic Area boundaries of the pond and off in a hardwood forest where we saw fit to set up camp for the weekend. We scouted the hill side out for open areas that were not encumbered by large trees waiting to also make their final fall to earth (ie: Widow makers). As folks began to look for "flat areas" I was quick to remind them that there was about 6-7" of snow beneath us.. and we could make our own flat areas with a shovel. Tired heads grew snippy and we finally agreed on a location. We spread out and set up our respective camps. Alison and I dug a 4 foot hole in the snow to place my tent into. The walls were great in sheltering us from the wind and providing our home with a bit of insulation for the weekend. From here.. we headed to the common area, where we built our snow kitchen. Our lovely dinette ended up being enough for us to stand in while keeping the stoves at chest level. We stood up as if cooking on the stove at home, and made many a wonderful meal here. On night one... it was egg noodles with garlic, onion hamburger, seasoned with a whole stick of butter. It went down good and kept us warm through the night.
After dinner we gathered together while we watched the flame from the buddy burners flicker on. We checked-in on how we thought the day went, and I offered up a Sherpa Flag activity for the night cap. We all reflected on our journeys through OE thus far, what lie ahead and drew likeness' of our totem animals for the journey we were currently on. Once over, we all headed to our frosty beds. Most of the class in trenches covered by tarps, bivvy sacks or a tent. Temps dropped to near 15 degrees that night... however I stayed pretty warm in the tent. I woke up once, a shivering mess, trying to throw myself out of the tent to pee.. though to chicken to do it. Amazing how much energy is wasted in holding it in.. energy that could have been spent keeping me warm.
Woke up rather early on Saturday Morning and enjoyed a warm hot oatmeal breakfast. Apple cinnamon and maple brown sugar to top it off. After breakfast, the class gathered around to participate in Mikey's snow shelter lesson. We broke up into groups, each got handed a diagram of the shelter to build and got right to work. Mikey asked us to make mini-versions of our shelters.. not my group.. we were going all out. We had to make a dugloo, Andy started digging down from above and I dug a tunnel in from the side. After a brief tour of everyone's work, we got ready for the day, pacling our bags for a day of skiing and a lunch abroad.
We headed off through the woods, all of us on skis and eventually met back up with the trail. From here, we headed south towards Waterville. We negotiated another malestrom of blow downs and deep snows. As we got to Greeley Ponds, we had a short meeting in the warm sun about what to do if we fell through the ice. I went out onto the pond and started digging. I know these ponds are really shallow... aside from the knee deep mud that makes up the base of the pond. Either way, I was confident in our crossing.. even though 5" down I found water. We crossed the windswept pond enjoying the suns rays warming us up after a chilly night. The snow on the ponds was all ready turning to sticky slush yet we glided along quite nicely. The views were spectaular and everyone had a smile.
We crashed and banged our way down a spot along the banks of the Mad River it was hard not to crash into each other. At one point I followed behind Will much too closely. He hit a blowdown and then I ran him over. Thankfully he laughed and all was well. The river babbled along and eventually we found a great place for lunch. While trying to heat up the stove, my pump broke. Thankfully Nick is great at backcountry fixes and we had the stove working enough to heat up our chili. The rest of the class had a cold lunch while walking around avoiding sicking waist deep into spruce traps and post holes.
After lunch, Alyssa gave an extravagant lesson on Avalanches and safety procedures. Alison and I had to explain travelling on ridges as opposed to gullies and run outs. Practical information but important none the less. After lunch, Katie and I assumed leadership for the class and we began heading back towards camp.. up hill, out of waterville and back onto the ponds. As we made it to the 2nd pond we stopped while Andy set up his lesson on tracking. We used the time for free skiing and goofing around. Me? I tried my luck at ski jumping.. and my classmates tried their luck at helping me with the illusion.
Finally back at camp, the class got 2 hours of downtime to use at their leisure with dinner and rest. A group of us built a bench and staging area for the nights activities. Alison and I enjoyed a hearty beef stew I made in a slowcooker for 8 hours the day before the trip. It was delicious and filling. Together we polished off 2 pounds of beef and maybe 3 of potatoes, carrots and celery/onions. Whose Line Is It Anyway was the source of the evenning entertainment and the folks in the class did great. We were all rolling on the floor, peeing our pants laughing. Finished the night with a debrief and we headed off to bed.
Woke up early on Sunday, ate our oatmeal and broke down camp. Trying to cave in the kitchens, the bench and the tent area was tough work. The worst part was that most of everything had frozen from the melting of the day before and the refreeze at night. We had to chizel through it all to get things back to a "leave no trace" level of acceptance. While some of the class had one last lesson to go through in terms of skiing, the rest of us headed off down the trail.
We left early to go do some trail work on the way out. We knew it was going to be rather time consuming with one saw and all that snow, but we felt it was necesary as a way to give back to the forest. Alyssa and I took the lead and after a few short arguments, we figured out a system to move smoothly. About an hour in, the rest fo the class caught us and we slogged out.. another 3.5 hours for a little ole mile to the cars. We cleared about 30 blowdowns, unloaded our gear, packed it up and headed for town. We made it to Lincoln, ate lunch at Elvios, and participated in a final debrief.
I was worried at first, not that it was particularly cold.. but I survived winter backpacking without issue. I had an amazing time and I am now a Level 1 Nordic Ski Instructor. :)