by Bill Suba
Packed my backpack the night before. My largest pack, ski boots on the bottom, a pair of slip-on nylon pants, a thin pair of wool gloves, a small compass, a small flashlight, a small first aid kit (just in case), and a bag of food. I forgot my bottle of wine. I brought crackers, smoked oysters, maple cookies, a can of crabmeat, a small jar of mayo, and a bag of finger rolls.
I showered the night before to allow a speedy departure in the morning. I was up at 5:00 with the birds, had a quick cup of coffee on the porch, and watched the sunrise. It was a magnificent morning. Packed the car with my skis, poles, and backpack and met the gang at L.L. Beans in 'Grape Town' (Concord). Bean's doesn't seem to mind if you park at their store for days at a time, so it is a regular meet, right off the highway. After the girls got coffee we were off. I had printed out about 10 pages of Tuckerman articles, maps, pictures, and several hair raising stories, and we all read them on the way.
About a 2-hour drive up 93 to the Kancamagus highway, New Hampshire's most famous scenic route. You wind thru the Mountain valleys, around s-curves, switchbacks, up and down the hills with dramatic views. We get to 'Pinkham Notch Visitor Center', and met up with four more members of our group. We got all our stuff on, and made the last pit stop at the visitor center.
One of the girls probably weighed 100 lbs. and her pack weighed at least 50 lbs., with her skis strapped to the sides of her pack. I really did not think a few of us would be able to do it, but we all did. So we're off around 9:00, gung ho, this is great, I can do this.
An hour later we're huffing and puffing up a dry riverbed, constant stair case for about a mile, direct sunlight, it's about 75 degrees. We stop to rest I take both my shirts off and rap them around my shoulder straps. One of the girls yells "He's getting Naked, we're skiing Naked today", We all laugh.
Their packs are so heavy I have to help each one 'off and on' with their packs. Everyone brought water except me, I prefer ice-cold river water, so I had to wait. At 11:00, we pass the 'Hermit Cabin' near 'Hermit Lake', probably a story there. Two girls from Wisconsin pass us and say, "wow one of you guys smells great." We get to 'HoJo's around 11:30. It's a cabin with a huge deck and a visitor center. We all unload and take a brake. I finally get to the ice-cold river water and bury my face into it, crystal clear, bluish green tint of perfect PH, and a slight mineral taste of granite.
From the deck we can see climbers in the Mountains a mile away and skiers occasionally zipping down in a few seconds. I was able to get a 'Tuckerman's' patch there, it's wicked cool. We packed up and headed up the slushy rock river bed on the final mountain climb to the base of the snow bowl. Now the Mountain views all around are dramatic, WildCat's slopes are all still white.
It's a crystal clear day, visibility around 50 miles. Now were trudging up the slushy slopes to 'Lunch Rocks'. A section of rocks on the North side of the bowl where people hang out, drop off their packs, eat, and drink. We meet up with three or four more in our group. Seven guys and six girls, We are in 'Awe' at the sight of the 'Headwall'. A 50' jagged rock cliff at the top of the Ravine. Luckily it was all melted off and the trail was closed. I woulda been the guy that goes off it backwards, like one of the articles. Luckily the crew we were with has brought around 10 bottles of wine, and two six packs.
We rest and watch the ski show going on. Snow boarders, skiers, butt sliders, yes that's right, butt sliders. The two girls from Wisconsin are there with adult red rubber pants with ribs on the butt for straight sliding. Their sliding down on their butts fast enough to butt slide over the jump and then do a somersault.
We're all hootin and hollering scoring their performance. There were a few kids with plastic sleds, one guy with his dog that looked like a wolf, and a big jump for the fast skiers. They went about 8' in the air for about 30' in length. There are two paths up the slushy snow cliff, and a line of skiers in each, one step at a time in the steps of others.
We're having lunch, tossing down drinks, and getting a sunburn. I forgot my can opener, so I'm having cookies and crackers, and some fruit that's getting passed around. The fruit was the best anyway, and I'm not really hungry.
Well, we finally get our courage up and put our ski stuff on, like troopers going into battle, and start our final assault. We get to the top after about 20 minutes, and I am dying of thirst by now. I climb over to the base off the headwall and start drinking from the melting snow off the rocks.
It's so cold it hurts my teeth and I can't get enough of it. Now my stomach feels cold. We snap our skis on and get ready for the plunge. I'm ready but three skiers back from the front but I can't wait. "I'm going, I'm going, I'm gone." I try to make a long zig zag going cross wise and on my first turn, my ski pops off from plowing heavy slush.
I should have cranked my bindings as tight as I could get them. Luckily I recover quickly and use my ski to climb back up to get my other ski. I'm back up and zigzag down a couple of turns and stop to check on my group. One of the girls has slipped on the climb and is plummeting down on her back head first right in front off me. I could have swooped in front of her, but I was afraid I might brake her neck trying to stop her, so I had to let her go. She was fine but lost all that climbing energy.
My legs were cramping up and I went back to 'Lunch Rocks' to save my energy for the decent. Some of our gang climbed and skied three times . . . very impressive. A little while later another one of our girls slips on the climb and slides down. We gave her a "10" for butt sliding in shorts.
Mary had a digital camera that also took video and sound, I hope she got some good shots. Dick and Jodi skied down together like ballet dancers in sync, and then they both crashed at the same time on Que. Many great skiers, about 500 people up there that day. Although skiing 'Naked' is tolerated there, we didn't see any brave exhibitionists.
We decided we had enough fun for one day, and finally finished the last bottle of wine. We packed up and skied down as far as we could and then switched boots for the long down hill climb with our heavy soled/lugged-hiking boots. Going down was not any easier. It was slippery at first, and we are all exhausted. I'm trying to keep up with the older group, and they are like in a race or something. I decide to wait for the rest of our group to make sure we all get down safely together.
We got back to the parking lot and their all waiting for us. We unload and break into the last cooler with the spares. Kinda like what the St. Bernard's carry for desperate skiers. It's 6:30 and I finally put my shirt back on. We are like walking zombies. One of the girls called me Dick, and I said "I'm Bill." She says "Oh you're all 'Dick' to us." We all burst out laughing. It was wicked funny, "your all Dick' to us." Someone starts giving someone a shoulder rub.
Before you know it, we have a boy/girl/boy/girl back rubbing 'Conga Line' formed. People are walking by shaking their heads laughing at us, and the guy's are saying "OH Baby," the girls are saying "I'm taking you straight home with me tonight." This went on for about 20 minutes, it was wicked funny.
Hank invites us back to his house in Conway. He has a house with a hot tub. We decide we have to hit the road and grab a bite to eat on the way. We stop at 'HorseFeathers' in North Conway for a 'Tuckerman's Pale Ale' and very nice dinner. I had the Haddock cheese melt with pasta salad, it was fantastic. We took the central route back by 'Winnipesaukee', got my car at Beans, and got home around 11:15. I dreamed about stepping over rocks all night, and could barely walk the next day.