Sunday, January 26, 2014

a few days in Buenos Aires

A trip to Patagonia had been on my to-do list for a very long time: pictures of Fitz Roy and Torres del Paine have amazed me for years. Jill and I, along with our friends Karla and Darrell, booked a Patagonia tour through REI Adventures. The organized tour started with a day in Buenos Aires. We decided to arrive a few days early, allowing some margin for travel delays but also to spend more time in this city that I'd heard so much about. (Click on photos for a larger version)
We arrived at our hotel in Buenos Aires (the Hotel Reconquista Luxor) after about 24 hours travel door-to-door. Arriving at 10:00am, we had no expectation that our room would be ready, and of course it wasn't. We stored our bags in the locker at the hotel; though we had the option of sightseeing for a few hours, a nap in the hotel lounge area was more appealing. After a nap and moving into our hotel room, we revived with a light lunch (a sandwich at Subway!) and started on a walking tour from the hotel.
The hotel was in the center of the city, just two blocks from the Obelisco (like the Washington Monument) at Plaza de la Republica. Here's the view from the rooftop patio at the hotel...
The obelisk was a handy landmark for finding our way back to the hotel: head for Avenida 9 de Julio (the "widest street in the world", 16 lanes wide), go to the obelisk, and we're almost home. Speaking of Av 9 de Julio, check out this video of street entertainers at a traffic light; quite a welcome improvement over squeegee guys and flower vendors, we saw jugglers and other similar entertainers at several places in Buenos Aires and later in Santiago.
We arrived on a Friday morning, and the streets in the area were bustling. After hours, and on the weekend, the area was much quieter. We enjoyed walking around the "microcentro" and Puerto Madero neighborhoods. The Italian influence in Buenos Aires is very strong, most noticeably in the number of good Italian restaurants; Argentine grills (meat and seafood) seemed to be the most popular (no big surprise) but Italian trattorias came in a close second, at least in the areas we saw.
On Saturday we did the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus tour of the city so that we could see more areas that weren't quite within walking distance, and also get some narration about what we were seeing. The bus tour was great, although it would have been better if all of the headphone jacks had worked (!) so we could both hear the English-language version. 
Our tour was marred by our experience in one neighborhood where we got off the bus to walk around a bit. Walking through one small park, both Jill and I were splattered with some foul-smelling bird poop. Maybe it was the real thing: hey, the guy sitting on the bench pointed up into the trees. But more likely, it was something he squirted from his backpack when we were turned away from him, and he was all too insistent to help us clean up afterward. The "pigeon poop" ploy is a common pickpocket trick, and I recognized it immediately; we emphatically declined his assistance. I kept looking for an accomplice, but apparently he was working solo. We left the park rapidly, with all our belongings intact. Unfortunately, the stench from the "pigeon poop" was so strong I couldn't stand it; we headed back to the hotel, took showers and washed out our clothes. Thus refreshed, we resumed our bus tour (tickets were good all day long) and noticed that our helpful "friend" was still on the same bench in the same park, several hours later. Just saying...
Our friends Karla and Darrell arrived on Sunday, two days after we did. In spite of their bleariness from the same red-eye flight schedule we'd had, the four of us enjoyed walking all over the centro, Puerto Madero, Retiro, and Palermo neighborhoods. The parks were full of Buenos Aires residents enjoying the gorgeous summer Sunday afternoon. Darrell and I took a short ride on the subway system (I think a subway ride is an essential part of getting to know any large city), and walked around the National Congress building.

We closed out the day with a nice dinner in the Puerto Madero area; the old warehouses along the original wharves have been reclaimed to house numerous good restaurants, making for a busy area in the long summer evenings. After dinner, we headed for the Obelisco and then our hotel... 
On Monday morning, we met the rest of our tour group to begin the "official" part of our tour. Fifteen of us total, all from the US (no surprise for an REI tour) and all were veteran travelers. We had a dedicated van and tour guide for the day, and saw some of the same areas that we'd seen the last couple of days, but this time in more detail and with better explanations.
The Caminito neighborhood is a popular tourist destination. Down by the docks, it is a relatively poor area with small houses constructed from whatever could be scrounged from the docks, and painted with odds and ends of whatever paint could be found.

The current Pope of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, is Argentine and was previously the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. No surprise, he seemed to be very popular, pictures of him appeared all over the city. Most were more dignified than this one.
The Cementerio de la Recoleta is another high-priority checkbox on the Buenos Aires tourist route. According to CNN, it is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, and the final resting place of many famous Argentines including Evita Peron. I don't know about the "most beautiful" part, but it is an interesting rabbit warren of mausoleums, some of them quite ornate and others more quietly dignified.
However, I was a little bit surprised to see a warning sign in the cemetery about how to prevent the spread of dengue fever! I wouldn't think that the residents would care...
I knew beforehand that Buenos Aires was a modern city, considered to be the "most European" of the cities in South America. But I wasn't expecting just how European it was, and in particular how much Italian influence was there. I enjoyed Buenos Aires a great deal. 
Our organized tour of Buenos Aires concluded that evening with a dinner and tango show. The tango originated in the lower-class parts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and is an important part of the area's cultural heritage. There are several nightclubs that present formal tango shows for the tourist trade, and many more other opportunities to see (and dance!) tango in a more native setting. I am not a dance aficionado, but I will say that the dancers were very talented. However, we didn't stay for the entire performance; we had an early departure for the airport in the morning.
The next morning we flew to El Calafate, getting into position for several days of hiking in Argentine Patagonia.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Most of a Tour du Mont Blanc

Just want to see the pictures?  They're in this Google+ album

Tour du Mont Blanc -- September 2013

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 105-mile (170 km) hiking circuit around the Mont Blanc massif in France, Switzerland, and Italy. It is a very popular trail, well-marked, with plenty of lodging options ranging from camping to dormitories in mountain refuge huts to hotels in the small towns along the way.  There are 10 mountain passes to cross, and the total elevation gained and lost is about 33,000 feet (10,000 m). Some 10,000 hikers embark on the circuit every year; most take 10-12 days to do the circuit.

The TMB is a circle route, and can be done in either direction. The traditional, and most popular, direction is counter-clockwise. We decided to hike it clockwise: rather than hiking in a conga line with the same people every day, we would instead face a flurry of oncoming traffic for a while and then less congestion for the remainder of the day.

We started our TMB hike on September 9. This is relatively late in the season; by mid-September, some of the mountain huts are closing for the season and the weather can be hit-or-miss. We made a few adjustments to the “standard” clockwise tour in order to reach some huts before they closed. Notably, we decided to start in Chamonix (France) rather than Champex (Switzerland), and rode the cable car up to 2000m rather than slogging 1500m uphill from the Chamonix valley up to the summit of Le Brévent.

Day 1 – Sept  9 2013: Chamonix to Lac Blanc
From our hotel next to the Chamonix train station, we walked across town to the Plan Praz cable car, paid 12.50 Euros each, and hopped aboard.  Ten minutes later we were at Plan Praz (2036m). The summit of Le Brévent (2526m) was clouded over, so we didn’t see any need to ride the next tram or hike up to there. From Plan Praz we had two hours of relatively level walking to La Flégère (1875m), which is the usual stop for this stage of the tour. The skies cleared across the valley, and we had spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the rest of the massif. 
La Flégère is the usual stop on this leg of the clockwise route. But since we’d had the luxury of a cable car ride rather than a 1500m climb from the valley floor, we detoured from the main TMB for two hours to Lac Blanc (2352m) where we had reservations for the night at Refuge Lac Blanc. The Refuge is a comfortable place: lockers, toilets, and showers on the ground level, kitchen and dining area on the first floor, and dormitory sleeping on the second floor. The dormitory beds were arranged in pods of five. A second building contained additional dorm space. Half board (dinner, bed, and breakfast) cost 51 € each, and for an extra 9 € they packed us a lunch (or as they said it, a “pic-nic”) for the next day.
Distance:   12.2 km Door-to-door:    5:40

Day 2 – Sept 10: Lac Blanc to Trient 
Part of the standard route for this section includes the steepest section of the whole TMB. The Cicerone guidebook says
 “extremely steep, and has a series of near-vertical  ladders, rungs, platforms, and steps … and is not recommended for anyone with a tendency towards vertigo.”  
That was enough warning for me, and we took the somewhat longer alternative route.
While we were finishing breakfast and packing up, clouds and light sprinkles moved in at Lac Blanc. We hiked in rain gear for the first hour or so. The “easier” alternative route did have some steps and ladders, but none were particularly exposed or intimidating. It took us three hours from Lac Blanc to rejoin the main TMB route above the village of Tré-le-Champ; this was a descent of 900m, some of it was quite steep at times.
The guidebook recommended staying in Tré-le-Champ if the day’s route had been from La Flégère to Lac Blanc. When I was making reservations before the trip, lodging in Tré-le-Champ was booked full. Since we would be starting at Lac Blanc, 500m above La Flégère, I figured that we would  be okay going all the way to Trient; I had paid a deposit at a hotel in Trient. What I didn’t realize was how much vertical was actually going to be involved for the day, and how steep much of it was. In retrospect, splitting this section with an overnight in Montroc or Argentière would have been the winning answer, even at the expense of an extra few kilometers of level walking and an extra night’s lodging.
The first half hour of ascent from Tré-le-Champ at 1460m was very steep; maybe not as bad as the GPS profile suggests, but very steep nonetheless. The main TMB route here goes up to Aiguillette des Posettes (2201m), with a view that is supposed to be one of the highlights of the TMB. We looked at the low cloud ceiling, the extra 200m of ascent and descent, and the distance we had yet to cover, and decided to take a bypass going directly to Col des Posettes (1997m). The Aiguillette was mostly in the clouds when we hiked below it, so we wouldn’t have seen anything anyway…
From Col des Posettes, the trail climbed steadily to Col de Balme (2191m) on the border between France and Switzerland.  The descent from Col de Balme was on a rough rocky road that was approximately a 20% grade for five kilometers; it seemed unrelenting. 
Too much downhill! After a nine-hour day with over 3000’ of ascent and 6000’ of descent, we were tired puppies when we reached our hotel. Just as we got inside the hotel, it started raining hard; one more reason we were glad to be done. 
We had reserved dormitory space at the Auberge du Mont Blanc for 68.00 CHF each, half board. The Auberge had recently been purchased by a Brit named Chris Longbottom; he used to own a tour company that ran bicycle tours in Europe, and in years past we had done three bike tours in Italy through his company. We didn’t meet him, but his hotel didn’t seem to be run as well as his bicycle tours were; with a full hotel including a busload of Oriental tourists, meals were a bit of a circus. The Auberge is right next to a highway, there was intermittent traffic noise all night. There is another hotel just next door (name?) that I would be tempted to try next time, looked like a similar kind of place.
Distance:   20.5 km Door-to-door:    9:20

Day 3 – Trient to Champex
We decided to stick with the standard route for today, going all the way to Champex. From the Auberge, Jill called ahead to reserve rooms for us. 
From Trient (1279m) it was 7km of steady steep uphill to Collet Portallo (2040m). While we ate lunch at the Collet, the clouds parted long enough to give us some brief views of Mont Blanc. The weather was chilly and damp, and we stopped for hot chocolate at a remote buvette (snack shop) not far below the Collet. It was a steep descent on trails down to 1575m, then easy road walking the rest of the way. We encountered a British mountain biker wearing a Jackson Hole t-shirt, a bit of a surprise for us.
When we came to Champex, I was responsible for some minor confusion over where we had reservations; I led us to the wrong place (with a similar name). That detour added 20 minutes or so, but fortunately no extra uphill. Perhaps we were all still worn out from Day 2, but we were definitely glad to finally arrive at the Au Club Alpin in Champex. We had the luxury of twin bed rooms with sinks and heat, hot showers down the hall, and an excellent meal in the dining room. Half board was 82.00 CHF each. Champex is a cute little resort town by a lake, and it was very quiet in mid-September. The rooms on the street-side were a bit noisier, it is on the main road in Champex.
Distance:   18.9 km Door-to-door:    8:20

Day 4 – Champex to La Fouly
This was a fairly easy day. We took our time and stretched a nominal five hours of walking into almost an 8-hour day. It started with a somewhat steep downhill to Issert at 1055m. The trail ran through a mushroom preserve area, with lots of signs about different types of mushrooms, and also a couple dozen interesting wood carvings on tree stumps along the trail. 
The villages of Issert and Praz de Fort were interesting with some great examples of very old (ca. 1700) barn construction. From Issert to La Fouly the trail was one long gradual uphill on a mix of paved and gravel roads with a few sections of walking trail. Nearing La Fouly there were some very nice cascade waterfalls coming down from glaciers that were up out of our sight. There was a interpretive nature trail for kids with the mascot “Charlotte la Marmotte”. At La Fouly we stayed at the Hotel l’Edelweiss, 61.50 CHF each for half board in the dorm. It seemed like a nice hotel, rooms were quite a bit more expensive though (100 CHF each). The showers were hot, the restaurant was nice.
Distance:    18.5 km Door-to-door:    7:50

Day 5 – La Fouly to Rifugio Elena
The standard guidebook route suggests going all the way to Rifugio Bonatti, another 2½ hours of walking. We decided that we liked to move at a slower pace than that given in the guidebook, so we reserved space at the Rifugio Elena instead. It was a steady, generally easy grade all the way from La Fouly to Grand Col Ferret (2537). The skies were mostly clear, and the views were spectacular. It was noticeably cooler today, and at the Col it was windy and cold. Views from the Col looking down Val Ferret on the Italian side were amazing, with glaciers on the south-facing at a remarkably low elevation. Doug picked out the prominent peak as the Grandes Jorasses, although I wasn’t convinced at the time.
The descent from the Grand Col Ferret down to Rifugio Elena is a 500m descent in 2.5km, it’s steep but  consistent, not quite as brutal as we were expecting. Rifugio Elena was a score, our favorite for the trip! We booked rooms for 57.50 € each, half board; the rooms are nice modern hotel rooms, small but comfortable with en suite facilities and plenty of hot water. It was breezy on the deck (killer views!), but we found a sheltered spot around the corner of the building to enjoy a beer in the sunshine. The Rifugio was not very busy, they were closing for the season in two more days on the 15th. 
Distance:    13.7 km Door-to-door:    6:30
Day 6 – Rifugio Elena to Rifugio Bertone
The hiking times in the guidebook suggested that we could go all the way to Courmayeur in about 6½ hours of walking. We decided on a shorter day, staying at Rifugio Bertone. That would leave us a very short day to get into Courmayeur, have time to find a hotel, do laundry if needed, sightsee, and make phone calls to figure out whether Rifugio  Elisabetta was still open and how to plan the next stages from Courmayeur. The manager at Elena called ahead to Bertone for us, reserving rooms rather than dorms.
The skies were clear early in the day, and we had spectacular views of Val Ferret,  the glaciers, the Grandes Jorasses (reminded us of the Grand Teton!) and Mont Blanc. Later in the afternoon it clouded over, and started to rain after we reached Bertone.
We had a leisurely lunch on the deck at Rifugio Bonatti. There was a lot of activity there associated with the Tor des Geants, a 330 km endurance race that had been going on all week and was ending in Courmayeur that day. Bonatti has spectacular views, a large modern (and busy) restaurant, and lots of day traffic; the refuge is just a 30-minute hike up from the road at the valley floor.
When we reached Rifugio Bertone, the weather was cool and damp and on the verge of showers. At check-in, I didn’t comprehend enough Italian to understand it all but apparently there were no rooms ever, or no rooms available because they were double-booked, and the main dorm was full so we had to wait while they unlock and mop and clean a second dortoir room. The manager seemed a bit unfriendly to me, a bit annoyed that we were there or something. To reach the toilets you had to walk outside, there seemed to be only one working toilet for all of the guests (perhaps 25). There was a long wait for showers so I didn’t bother, knowing there would be one in Courmayeur tomorrow. Fortunately we had the second dortoir room all to ourselves. Half board in the dorm costs 40.00 € each, certainly cheap enough; it was our least favorite accommodations but was actually closest to what we were expecting from the huts. It rained lightly for most of the night…
Distance:    16.5 km Door-to-door:    7:30
Day 7 – Rifugio Bertone to Courmayeur
We left Bertone in the fog and some light sprinkles. The trail is a steady descent all the way to Courmayeur, where the rain was getting steadier. After a stop for expresso (and the best hot chocolate ever, for Jill), we went to the tourist office and booked a hotel, the two-star Hotel Edelweiss. Rooms are 80.00 €, bed and breakfast for two people; the rooms were comfortable enough and very reasonably priced.
Distance:    6.0 km Door-to-door:    2:15
Declaring Victory in Courmayeur
The weather forecast for the next few days was discouraging: rain today, heavier rain tomorrow with snow line well below 2000m, rain possible the day after tomorrow. We all readily decided to declare victory in Courmayeur; there didn’t seem to be any point in hiking the next couple of days (which will be long, due to some huts closed for the season) in rain and clouds and snow.  We booked hotel rooms back in Chamonix for the next night, and reserved seats on the late afternoon bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel  from Courmayeur to Chamonix.  Doug and Sue made plans for a trip to Torino, Jill and I made plans for a rental car and the French Riviera. In Chamonix the next evening, it was raining hard most of the evening; in the morning the snow line was down to about 1500m. We were quite pleased with our decision!
Total distance from GPS log : 106 km

Some Random Thoughts on the TMB

  • The daily stages in the Kev Reynolds book were longer than we wanted. Doable, but generally longer than enjoyable. We liked it better when we took shorter stages and took plenty of time for pictures, lunches, scenery gazing, etc. Most sections we could hike at the nominal pace indicated in the book and on trail signs, but we preferred a more leisurely pace. Better to break it up into shorter chunks, take a couple extra days as needed.
  • The trail conditions are not as good as we are accustomed to in National Parks and good National Forest trails, with steeper gradients, very little tread maintenance, etc. The sections that we thought of as steep were at least as steep as Snow King, and at times more like the trail in Hanging Canyon. This made for slower hiking than I expected just looking at distances and elevations
  • Maps: the 1:50,000 IGN map Pays du Mont-Blanc was adequate, but I bought the 1:25,000 IGN maps instead and they were money well spent. Every bookstore in Chamonix and Courmayeur has them by the dozen, they are available in a water-resistant version as well. 
  • Weight: Jill and I were each carrying 30-31 pounds including water. Too much, I had one extra change of clothes for the hut that I didn’t need. “Wear one, wash one” is fine but note that the drying conditions were often less than ideal. I was glad to have a third set of socks.
  • Reservations: After the first two nights, we just called ahead each day (or the evening before) for the next lodging. This worked fine, and I strongly recommend having flexibility rather than having reservations on a fixed itinerary that would be costly to cancel. Of course it could be more of a problem in peak season, but we were always able to reserve at our first choice of lodging.
  • Hiking clockwise worked well. When we encountered larger groups (sometimes 10-15 or more) it was easy enough to step aside and let them pass; much easier than dealing with trying to pass them going in the same direction (or them passing us).
  • Starting in Chamonix by riding the cable car up to Plan Praz was great, we didn’t feel any need to do the 1500m slog uphill from Les Houches to Le Brevent and then 500m down to Plan Praz. Had we been going counter-clockwise, we would have gladly spent the money to ride the cable car down from Le Brevent rather than doing a 1500m downhill!  Getting to Chamonix or Courmayeur is easier than getting to Champex for a clockwise start.
  • Season: we started hiking on 9 September. A week earlier would have been better. In 2013, some huts started closing on 14th or 15th of September, Rifugio Elisabetta (a key stopover) was scheduled to close (or at least be unstaffed) September 18th . Also, the cable cars at Plan Praz and La Flegere closed on September 15th as well; after that, you’d be committed to at least 1000m up or down between Chamonix and the La Flegere / Plan Praz terrace.  Going before 1 September would mean dealing with August crowds and/or the huge mobs associated with the Ultra-TMB race that is usually held around September 1st , definitely want to check those dates.
  • Courmayeur would also be a nice place to start, though uphill either direction. Going clockwise, Courmayeur to Rifugio Elisabetta (5 hrs, 1560m gained) would be a brutal first day but could be broken up into a short day to Maison Vielle for starters.
  • Lodging:  Excellent information and online booking options at , also see the hut listings (and closing dates!) online at   Next time, I would also use or to explore a wider range of hotel options, though possibly at a higher price.
  • Weather: best weather info I  found was at  but there might be some better. It would be worth researching this beforehand if you have smartphone with data plan along; some lodgings had WiFi but sometimes at a cost. Cell/data coverage was available most places though sometimes marginal; Rifugio Elena was the exception.
  • Chamonix lodging: We stayed at the Mercure Chamonix Centre before the trip, and the Langley Hotel Gustavia after the trip. Both were adequate, the Mercure claims 5 stars vs the Langley 2 or 3 but it is more expensive. Both are very convenient, right next to the train station and bus stop. Both had luggage storage rooms that we could use without charge if we had been hotel guests. 
  • Courmayeur lodging: the Hotel Edelweiss was fine. It is 10 minutes walk from the bus station, uphill, would not be fun if you had a lot of luggage. The Courmayeur visitor center, at the bus station, had lots of good information and was very helpful; an essential stop if you haven’t booked ahead.
  • Hut stuff: Our friend Janet had recommended bringing your own pillowcase, in addition to a sleeping bag liner (mandatory). A good idea, and also very handy for carrying your stuff in places like Refuge Lac Blanc, where the packs stay on the ground floor and the dorm is on the second floor.  Most huts had slippers or Crocs for guest use, but Jill and I were glad to have our own along, much easier than trying to find a pair that fits, etc. Most places had bins to store hiking boots out of the sleeping areas. Jill was glad to have her air mattress along, I did okay without.
  • Picnic lunches from the hut/hotel were expensive (though good), do these only when you won’t have access to a grocery to make your own or a patisserie to buy pre-made sandwiches.
  • Laundry: Chamonix has one self-service laundry, across the street from the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Courmayeur does not have one, as best we could determine.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A week in the Selkirks

(Click on any of the pictures to enlarge...)
Jill and I spent last week at Selkirk Lodge, a backcountry ski hut in British Columbia. The hut is at 7200', a little bit below timberline, twenty miles east of Revelstoke in the Selkirk range. The only access to the hut is by helicopter, about a 7-minute ride from the heli pad at Albert Canyon on  the Trans-Canada Highway. Our group consisted of eleven skiers (our group of nine from Jackson, plus two new faces), two guides, and two cooks. 
I had been to Selkirk Lodge once before, in March 2000. That trip was the most spectacular ski trip I had ever been on, and I was hoping that this year's trip would at least not suffer too badly by comparison. I wasn't disappointed!
Getting there was an adventure in itself: while we were driving north, there was a big storm going on in the area. The Trans-Canada Highway over Rogers Pass was closed due to avalanches -- the BC highway report said the Pass would be closed for at least 8 hours. Rather than waiting out the closure and possibly missing our helicopter ride in on Saturday morning, we decided to backtrack and take the long way around. After an extra six hours of driving, we finally reached Revelstoke (where it was raining steadily) at 10:30pm. Sue and Guy also took the long way around (from Calgary!). Steve, Marc, and Jim had made it over the pass just before it closed. Bev and Dave sat in Golden until 10:30pm when the pass finally re-opened, and they got in to Revelstoke about 1:00am. Whew, we all made it in time for our 7:00am van departure from Revelstoke.
On Saturday morning, it was still raining in Revelstoke. It was raining at the heli-pad. The good news is that it was snowing up high! The total storm snow (Thursday-Friday-Saturday) was about 110cm, and it was nice and light up at the hut. The conditions weren't conducive to skiing on Saturday -- very windy, poor visibility, and potentially dangerous avalanche conditions -- so we did our avalanche beacon training and then retired to the hut for the afternoon.
The rest of the week was great skiing. I averaged 5000' per day in the remaining six days, which is a lot more than I typically do at home in the Tetons. Some of our group did even more skiing; I took one afternoon off, and took the "early bus home" option on a couple of other afternoons. We had one day of bluebird weather, and the rest of the week varied from mixed clouds and sun to totally overcast. On the sunny bluebird day, we went up on Justice Peak for some spectacular glacier skiing...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

An afternoon on Wimpy's

Eric came down from Bozeman for a 4-day weekend. On Friday we headed into Teton Park for a ski tour up Wimpy's Knob. I've gone part of the way up to the top on several occasions, but had never been all the way up. On previous tours I had always turned around due to poor snow conditions. This time the weather and snow conditions were much more suitable.
The storm cycle of the past week or so had created avalanche hazards in some areas of the Teton range. We dug two snow pits (umm, okay, Eric dug two pits) to have a look at the snowpack. We found very stable snow.
The weather was sunny and warm, I was climbing in just my baselayer until we got to the bottom of the upper bowl where the winds picked up. As you can see in this view of Albright Peak, the snow was swirling in the wind.
It was windy on top of the Knob; I'd estimate 25 mph gusting to 40. Not very pleasant, so we didn't linger there at all. The snow in the upper bowl was good, not great, but good as long as you stayed on the north side of the ridge where there had been less sun exposure. 
Maybe because I haven't been out skiing enough lately, but I didn't really have the energy for a second lap in the upper bowl. I offered to hunker down and wait in the sun, out of the wind, while Eric did another lap; he decided that the conditions weren't good enough that he absolutely had to do another. So we skied on out. The ski conditions on the lower third of the mountain were definitely not enjoyable -- heavy sun-affected, please-don't-let-me-blow-a-knee kind of snow. Yuck. But we made it to the bottom, and came to the second-best part of Wimpy's - two miles to the car, all downhill!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pharming* on Phillips Ridge

I went for a solo tour on Phillips Ridge, the conditions were great: 35-40" base, stable and well-consolidated with boot-top whipped cream on top. I did a half-dozen laps and never crossed a track that wasn't my own. I'd say ski season is officially here!

*Not a drug reference; I just couldn't resist the visual alliteration. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hedge clippers in the park

Although the mountain snowpack is the deepest in 15 years for early December, the valley floor isn't doing so well. Yesterday morning was the first time we've had snow in our yard this winter, about 6" worth.

I went to the Taggart Lake trailhead for a quick fishscale tour on a cold afternoon (11F, winds 5-10 mph). There wasn't any more snow there (6800') than there was at my house, which surprised me a little; only about 6-8" total, and less than that in some spots. The good news is that the bottom 3-4" was old snow that had turned almost bulletproof after last week's rain. That made for a good firm base to ski on.

There was a NY Times article a few days ago about how some nordic ski areas in New England have started snowmaking. "The number of days with snow on the ground in a typical year shrank by more than a month between 1965 and 2005, according to a study by University of New Hampshire researchers that appeared in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 2008."