Monday, January 25, 2016

'Shwackin' out back

While the Middle Atlantic region tunnels its way out after the weekend's blizzard, up here in New Hampshire we're subsisting on a thin benediction preserved by cold -- but hardly frigid -- temperatures.

The sun rises higher every day, making beautiful, clear days an increasing threat to our livelihoods. Today I felt my skis clump and drag in sunny areas even though the sun has to reach from the southern hemisphere to do it. Our little layer of sufficiency won't stand up to much of that.

New England teaches you to live in the moment and grab whatever chance you get. With a day off and no new snow in the forecast, today was my first and best chance to go ski around the mountainside out back.

Deer winter in my yard. My yard is their yard. I laid my tracks over theirs.

Beyond my property line, saplings have grown into an impenetrable mass where loggers cleared the old growth beginning at the end of the 1990s. All the clearings are choked now, even the later ones. The route I used to follow is blocked. This forces me to swing over onto a neighbor's land, which has been a lot less fun since they built a big house on a plateau, replacing a small cabin in a hollow. They never minded letting locals play on their land, but I felt better when I knew no one would see my tracks, let alone catch sight of me from the windows of their chateau.

The house is admirably concealed, but awkwardly placed. It guards part of a stand of hemlock and hardwood that offered numerous descent lines.

I nipped a little clandestine path along the banks of the stream that enters my property, so I could ascend in cover. I did not want to hack it out wide enough to use for descending on skis, because I would not welcome anyone doing such a thing on the land under my protection. Part of my unwritten pact has been that I would only ever use existing natural lines when trespassing. I do my best to leave no trace, because I don't like finding other people's traces on my land. I don't close it off, but I do feel protective. Nipping the narrow trail allows me to climb relatively invisibly to get above the regrowth and into the mature forest at higher elevations. It is so minimally enhanced that I had trouble finding it as I got into the upper end of it.

Ascending takes a lot longer than it used to. Before the logging began, a skier had only to find a good climbing angle and then work it among fairly well grown trees. Sections of sapling growth were small and mostly avoidable. I could traverse shallowly up and left to a drainage offering many runs of turns. From the top of that drainage it was a fairly short zigzag to the summit of the ridge. From that summit I could come down so many different ways that it was hard to choose one. Now it's such a hassle to get past the regrowth that I hardly ever go to the summit anymore. And that's if I bother to go up very far at all.

Today I needed the exercise and the conditions were excellent, at least until the sun put the brakes on things in a few spots.

The nice thing about dense sapling growth like this is that only a weirdo would be out there trying to bushwhack through it. My chances of having of to share the playground are slim to none.
I have never broken the habit of using long, narrow skis. They can do a lot of tricks if you have the patience for it.
Leather boots, too. I got one of the last resole jobs Carl Limmer did before he had to quit. Maybe if I was a real hard-driving thrasher I would have destroyed my equipment long ago and gotten thrown onto the endless conveyor belt of modernization. The gear I have gets me where I want to go. My pleasure is exploring, not shopping.

After about 45 minutes of route-finding in the pecker poles, including crossing a small stream without getting my skis wet,  I looked across an old-growth section of glade, thinking about descent lines.
Old growth is a relative term. Around here, if the trees are more than four feet apart it's a spacious glade.

Little things enticed me higher in that glade. I came within sight of the neighbors' chateau and skinnied along the edge of the passable area to look up and decide whether I felt like going farther.

I don't go for summits, although I have nothing against them. Looking up at the blue-black sky, altitude enhanced by my polarized sunglasses, I listened to the wind, and two ravens croaking to each other. That seemed like enough for an old fart on his first ski outing of the season. I still had to get myself down on thin snow over rough ground. That did prove amusing.

Snow conditions ranged from crusty and fast under the hemlocks to powdery and swift, to sun-warmed and grabby. The best way to control speed is not to get it in the first place. But you can't steer a turn if you aren't moving fast enough to bend your skis.

I had one hilarious digger in an area with slash and stumps under the snow. I'd come around fine in the turn, but shanked some branch stub and got thrown into a somersault. These things are funny as long as you get up and everything still works. I actually lay there for a minute or two, enjoying the sun and the repose.

I was solidly on the neighbors' land, which made me a little uncomfortable, but on the other side of the rock wall -- a different neighbor's land -- saplings choked the passage. As soon as I got to my own property corner I zigged through a gap in the wall.

Back on home turf I skied the perimeter, down one property line and up along the stream just inside the other line.
The waterfall is glassed over.
The obligatory up-tree shot on a sunny winter day.

The sun hops over to the south and west a lot more slowly than it did in late December, but still pretty quickly. Winter seems long. Life seems short.

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