Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ski the New England Back Country

Trails? Where we're going we don't need trails!

Good thing, too, because there sure aren't any.
Looking for an alternate route to the higher or farther slopes that have not been logged, I slithered through sapling hell along a contour that used to offer easy passage to beech glades and a drainage system full of short but interesting lines. I am in no shape to ski them, especially on such thin snow that sudden stops are likely, but I wanted to see what people had been up to over there. People are the major destructive force obliterating natural playgrounds.

You can't let your heart be broken by what happens on land other people control. Human destructiveness races against human enlightenment to see what sort of future our species will have. Timber harvesting is a temporary inconvenience that can shut down a fun zone for months, reopen it in a new form for a couple of years, and then really shut it down for more than a decade. Some of the thickets I was pushing through today are almost 20 years old. So much was cut that the new growth is all the same age and all vigorously competing for sunlight.

The oldest cuts offer a few looser passageways. I don't know how much has to do with sapling attrition and how much is because the soil and slope did not favor the kind of dense growth that makes bushwhacking laughable. I crossed the stream at a lower point than I did yesterday, nearly face-planting into a pool as I did so. It would not have been worth it without someone to take video of me doing it, so y'all didn't miss anything. I was just as happy to stay dry.

The new growth favors small animals. I saw lots of snowshoe bunny tracks, as well as small rodents -- field mice, squirrels. Deer have made their paths as well. These are not always passable by humans or aimed where humans feel like going at the moment.
At this junction we see the tracks of deer, snowshoe bunny and some cat named Bob. Farther up I saw Bob's tracks and the bunny's accelerating on converging courses. No sign indicated that Bob had scored.

There was also this beech tree with a clump of grass growing out of it about 10 feet up.

With the leaves off, I could see the islands of old growth above the tops of the small stuff blocking me. Thus I could connect the gaps and thinner bits to wend my way to where surviving tall trees retained the open understory we used to enjoy across the entire mountain.

These islands are very small. But eventually I made it to uncut beech.
I have a lot of patience with trivia. This mountain used to reward me with so many lines that I would have trouble picking one when I went out for a quickie. Now it draws on my other interest, bushwhacking uphill and finding a way down that won't dislocate my knee when I snag the undergrowth.

Approaching the drainage I remembered from years back, I crossed a skidder road aiming pretty straight up the hill. I scanned anxiously for signs that there had been more than just logging. The snow was undisturbed. Good. No ATVs or snow machines. No truck tracks. No new structures.

We called the drainage The Bowl, but it wasn't really a bowl. It is a system of converging ravines. You can cut shallow lines down the sides of them or aim deeper and steeper. Today I did not even go to the edge. I still had to make my way back through the defenses to get back to my own woods.

The skidder road invited a few turns. I traversed out into the open woods to keep the speed down. I can't afford to get injured, even if I did call for help. Still, I can't resist a little twisting where there's room.

Yesterday I had established a route down. Today I wanted to get back over to it, so I had stayed close to that contour as I explored. Reversing course, I got back to the escape route and worked my way down along a similar route as yesterday's. I skipped the slash patch where I'd gone down abruptly. It was only funny once.

Now on with the day's routine chores before the work week resumes.


JeffOYB said...

Hi! How nice to discover your blog. Finally, someone who cares about Ski Touring! It seems that touring is usually considered a 'beginner' or 'duffer' activity. Many seem to assume that it's naturally mellow and that such skiers all kind of shuffle along. Jeezzz... How often do we read about advanced touring skills? How often is touring gear properly reviewed and compared for the different kinds of performance we need from it? HA HA and HA! ...Never! You're the first I've come across. Well, I've also done this kind of typing, too. I have a website called OutYourBackdoor.com. Lots of articles on advanced ski touring in lower Michigan. We have quite a scene here! I also have quite a few YouTube videos on XC and how-to. I note that most (all?) XC how-to videos are taught by those wearing lycra and teaching race type skills. Racing and groomed skiing are subtle and cool but monochromatic nowadays. And monotonous in its domination of XC. Thanks for supporting the FUN side!

cafiend said...

Always glad to pick up another reader, Jeff!

Wild snow seldom offers much chance to lay down the repetitive, laboratory-perfect stride developed on the groomies. Not to say it doesn't happen. In some years, especially in late winter and spring, conditions actually allow for bushwhack skiing on skating skis. This is best on easy terrain, because I don't feel like shooting tight gaps at high speed with ridiculously long poles, but in open hardwood forests and on flood plains you can fly. For the most part, though, exploring skills draw more from hiking and mountaineering than from ski racing. The more they improve the equipment for racing the more they need to improve the grooming. Then they refine the equipment some more, to take advantage of the exquisite grooming. It's like a zooty-zoot carbon fiber road bike, a creature of pure smooth pavement, evolved from a light but sturdy steel steed you could ride on a wide variety of road surfaces at an acceptably fast speed.

XC skiing in general, and exploratory skiing in particular, has suffered from unreliable winter conditions and a generally unathletic public. The industry has fallen prey to the kind of gimmicky engineering that has made bicycles such expensive, tweaky machines. Solid, simple equipment is hard to find. You can't really blame the ski companies too much, since hardly anyone seems to be buying any of their stuff. They place their bets on stuff that looks "high tech" and modern, in hope that someone will want it. They might be surprised what would happen if they reintroduced a lot of 75mm stuff, though.