My partner in ski-crime, Marquis de Richmond, and I tackled a mid-winter ascent of Vermont’s Mt.
Ascutney on Saturday amid challenging conditions that would be best described as “skill building”. The following is strictly a written narrative of our adventure since, in an oversight unbecoming of a blogger, I forgot my camera.
The original plan was to skin up the east side of the mountain via the Windsor Trail, traverse to the ski area trails to scope out the conditions, then bag the summit. The Windsor Trail follows the north side of a steep drainage, and we immediately encountered icy conditions that we suspected was a nasty sun crust, seeing as how the north side of the drainage has a southern aspect. After 500 yards, we realized that the icy ascent of the narrow snowshoe path would amount to little more than a death-defying luge run on the descent, so we retreated to the car and decided to evaluate conditions on the northeast side of the mountain via the Brownsville Trail.
We jumped on
by and, to our great dismay, discovered that the thick crust was evident on the northeasterly aspects and was probably the result last weekend’s rain. We pushed through the traverse to Norcross Quarry and reached the ski slopes on the northwest side of the mountain. The ski slopes were our ace in the hole, our last hope for a shady powder stash but alas, the crust was even more evil here. Dispirited, we discussed and dismissed the option of summiting via Brownsville for the same reasons we bailed on Brownsville . With the clock pushing , we made the ultimate decision to ascend via the Toll Road, which had been tracked by snow machines based on an early morning reconnaissance. First, though, we patronized the local general store to procure a can or two of celebratory brew in anticipation of a successful summit bid. Windsor
The ubiquitous crust did not relent on the Toll Road, but the snow machine tracks eased our upward passage and the wide road eased our minds for the ski down. The 3.7 miles to the upper parking lot in the col between the mountain’s two summits passed relatively quickly, but our stamina waned in the last miles as our morning forays began to exact their revenge. Tired, we skinned to the parking lot kiosk and groaned inwardly at the trail sign that indicated an additional 0.7 miles to the true summit. Having come too far to turn back now, we pushed on and made the summit via the Slot route. Marquis was fortunate to have full climbing skins and dispatched the Slot, a narrow snow-choked gap in the granite ledges circling the summit, with relative ease, but I was sporting kicker skins and was forced to sidestep with the aid of handholds on the rock. With our legs thoroughly shelled at this point, we donned layers of clothing, climbed the observation tower, and savored the view of the
Connecticut River valley to our east and the rolling tableau of farm and forest to the north, west, and south. The views further west towards Okemo and the spine of the Green Mountains were obscured by a rapidly advancing snow squall.
Cooled off by the brisk summit winds and bitter temperatures, we retreated to the cover of the conifer forest beneath the observation tower and cracked our celebratory beers and shared some pepperoni and cheese. Yeah, yeah, I know, cold beers don’t help much in cold conditions, but we earned them. Invigorated, we skied off the summit just as the squall struck Ascutney. The effect was surreal; snow pounded down with vigor and the visibility dropped to nil as we stripped skins and battened hatches for the descent on the Toll Road. The ride down was fairly enjoyable once we learned to keep both skis evenly weighted; any bias towards one side would result in that ski breaking through the crust and a spectacular crash was nearly always the result. The squall added enough fluff to the surface so that we enjoyed a few good telemark turns here and there during the 40 minutes or so it took to descend the mountain. Arriving at the car, we collapsed in a heap of skis and sweaty polypropylene, cranked some Yonder Mountain String Band, and began the migration home.
The day was a prime example of what we jokingly call the Dynamic Decision Matrix (DDM). The lesson, as always, is that any plan, no matter how well laid, is subject to change based on conditions, and the outdoorsman is wise to heed those conditions. Though we didn’t get to ski the closed trails at the resort, we did stand atop the summit and gathered valuable beta on gladed lines all over the mountain, the locations of which I will not reveal here. Go out and recon them yourself…I guarantee you'll find the goods and have a blast in the process.