One of the great things about backcountry skiing is the unpredictability of it. For me, this unpredictability is enhanced by living a minimum two-hour drive south of many of the northeast’s backcountry ski spots. Living so far away provides the additional challenge of trying to guess at both the weather and snow conditions. Following multiple weather reports, keeping a history of prior conditions, and using good judgement is how my partners and I determine what the objective for the day will be. Often we head north with both a Plan A and a Plan B, giving us a bailout option if conditions do not look promising.
This weekend, we found ourselves once again at Mount Hale. Having done this trip twice within the last six weeks, I thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect. But to risk being cliche, “if you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.” Early in our trip, everything was to be expected: the parking lot that was beyond capacity two weeks ago had only one other car in it, the snow cover on the trail leading from the parking lot was thin, and the higher in elevation we climbed the more everything began to look like winter.
The main difference from this trip to prior ones was the weather. The wind was gusting, but within the protection of the trees we barely felt it. In spite of the wind, temperatures hovered near fifty and the sky was cloudless, allowing for comfortable skinning and softening the snow for our descent. As we broke above tree line, we were surprised by the incredible view offered to us of Mount Washington and the entire Presidential Range. We had not been able to break above tree line on our first trip, getting stopped by thick scrub after going the wrong direction on our quest for the summit. On our second trip, the wind and snow kept visibility low, obscuring views of the person in front of you, much less the mountains in the distance.
One of the great things about repeat trips is discovering some of the stuff you may have missed the first time. In combination with the ever-changing conditions, the familiarity that comes with repeating a trip allows us to open our eyes to things we may have missed previously. Not having to worry about route finding, or being blinded by the excitement of being in a new place, allow us to pay more attention to our surroundings and find something we may have been missing.