Monday, May 15, 2023

Reframing Stupid: A “Summer” Ski Trip in the White Mountains.


Post by Eric 

My ski broke through the layer of snow into the shallow water below. I quickly scooted across the wet area. I couldn’t feel that any water seeped into my boot. Lucky me, I thought.  

Then it happened again just a little farther down the trail. Again, I didn’t get wet. My lucky day! 

My first little breakthrough

Then it happened again. And again. And again. My feet were getting damp. I didn’t feel so lucky. When I came to a wider crossing, I pondered for a moment. Get out the Wiggy’s waders and try to keep my semi-wet feet semi-dry? Screw it. I blasted across, water splashing up and over the tops of my boots. What the heck. It was all good. I just need to reframe things in my head. My feet might be wet, but they were still warm.

Screw it!

A Stupid Quest

I had been feeling a need for one last winter mini-adventure. It’s not so much that I can’t let go of winter. Heck, I love summer, too. It’s that I’m a trails geek. I hate this time of year when deteriorating snow and developing mud means the trails aren’t good for any kind of activity. Eventually, I am relegated to running and biking on the roads and paved paths, but I try to put that off for as long as possible.

In recent years, I have started to extend the winter season by using some unloved skis. A few years ago, Corrine bought some fish-scale skis for classic skiing in marginal conditions, but she hated them right away. I already thought they were kind of stupid. We almost got rid of them, then I began to wonder how long I could keep skiing on the trails by using the fishies. A little reframing of the mind and then those stupid skis became an asset! A couple of years ago I did a ski TRIP out to Moose Creek Cabin in late April. 

From my Moose Creek Cabin trip two years ago

Last year I pushed the season even FARTHER. I discovered I could ski the ridge trail near our house for another couple of weeks beyond what I used to think possible. I can ski even when short stretches of the trail are dirt because I don’t care about the bases of these skis. I just ski-walk across. I’ve even skied in the rain. Now I love those skis! 

This year I’ve been skiing the ridge trail again. Despite our cool spring, nighttime lows had recently climbed above freezing and stayed there. But I skied on Wednesday, May 10, and it went well. So, I planned a last-minute trip to Eleazar’s Cabin in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Was that stupid? (Unfortunately, Corrine wasn't able to join me. I'm sure she was disappointed.)

The day I left, BLM closed the trail to motorized use, declaring it “summer season.” The trip out to Eleazar’s has two creek crossings. With the warm temps, those would surely be flowing. The smarter stupid thing to do would be to go out to Moose Creek Cabin. It’s a bit further – 16 miles instead of 11 – but it has no creek crossings. But I had been to Moose Creek a couple of times this winter already. I was yearning for something new. And I’ve got some Wiggy’s waders that I’ve used only once. I could use them to cross the creeks. Stupid? Nah. Just a wild and crazy mini-adventure! 

The sign BLM put up the same day I started my trip

A Skiing Start

I planned for an 11am start on Saturday. I wanted to let the snow soften a bit in the sunshine. (The upper layer of snow is still freezing hard even when temps drop only to 40F or so.) But how soft would the trail be? The Wickersham Dome Trailhead parking lot was free of snow, but the surrounding area, including the trails, had plenty. However, when I hauled my gear to the trail, I sunk into the snow past my ski boot tops. I figured this might be a very short stupid adventure, but I soldiered on. 

While getting ready, I met Adam and his friend Robin. Adam and I had had a brief exchange on Facebook about Wiggy’s waders. I showed him my pair and told him my plans, including that I wasn’t positive I would make it to Eleazar’s. He said he had Lee’s Cabin rented, but that he and Robin had decided against trekking out to it. He told me to take it if I needed it. I agreed and thanked him. Then I finished getting ready.

For this trip, I took a sled gifted to me by friend Beat, who has hiked to Nome multiple times as part of the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The sled had been to Nome, but it was still in good shape. Sleds add a lot of drag, so skiers often prefer backpacks, especially when the snow is colder. But I chose the sled for a variety of reasons: 1) the snow wouldn’t be cold; 2) a sled would help distribute the weight making it less likely I would punch through in soft areas; and 3) I hadn’t used it before! Another advantage of sleds is that you can pack them with ALL KINDS OF STUFF! Have any doubts about whether to bring any gear? Toss it in! Considering a traditional fried chicken dinner on the trail? Throw in the chicken and the cast iron skillet! (OK, maybe that’s too stupid!)

So, yeah, I did bring too much stuff, but I wasn’t sure what the conditions would be. That’s my story, anyway. (Fun fact: for an unrelated reason I had a song stuck in my head all weekend: The Hollies’ ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.’”)

He ain't heavy...

The sled did drag quite a bit, but it wasn’t too bad, and the trail was in pretty good shape. As soon as I got past the soft stuff at the start, it was firm. The first half-mile had a few patches of dirt, but they were all easy to skirt around. Then it was all snow trails (well, until later, as you’ll see). 

In short order I was skiing in shorts and a T-shirt. I had remembered to slather on sunscreen, and I needed it. The day was gorgeous with lots of birdsong that I never hear while skiing in the Whites: varied thrushes, ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers. This trip was totally NOT stupid! 

I had a great time skiing, making it to the intersection of Trail Creek and Wickersham Creek trails with few problems. I did punch through in a couple of areas. Where snowmachiners can spread out they usually do. That makes it harder to find the main trail. It also means the main trail isn’t as well packed. But my punching through wasn’t too bad. (I seemed to be having more luck than a snowshoer who had gone to Lee’s Cabin the night before.)

A little punching through about 3 miles in, but doing better than the snowshoes

I started down Wickersham Wall, the hill on the Wickersham Creek Trail that leads to the first crossing of Wickersham Creek. But the sled got kind of pushy, and I had a hard time with my snowplow. But I had planned for that, so I switched to snowshoes (easy to carry in the sled!), and marched down to the base of the hill. 



There I was met with a wide swath of brown. The headwaters of Wickersham Creek were running strong, and the snow had melted off the overflow ice, which was nearly as a brown as the exposed grass and dirt. I checked the channel and decided I could easily handle the crossing. I put on my Wiggy’s and ferried everything across. Easy peasy! 

Looks bad, but it had only one small channel to cross

Wiggy's time! 

I geared up and started skiing again. This wasn’t stupid. This was a great adventure! 

Then I started breaking through the snow in the low, wet spots. I had planned on the major stream crossings, but I hadn’t considered all the low spots and minor stream crossings of the trail. There were many. Fortunately, I had planned for possible wet feet by wearing waterproof socks. Oh, the water eventually overtopped my boots so that my feet were wet, but they weren’t cold. No problem! I plowed on, happy with how the plastic sled was dealing with the little water crossings. 

Spring skiing! 

Then I got to the second stream crossing, the big one. And it was big! About 100 yards across. And I could see two main channels that were flowing strong. I pondered for a bit. I thought I could probably do it, but it would be a chore. I’d have to take several trips to haul everything. Then I’d have to do it again the next morning. And now I knew I had Lee’s as a a backup. I didn’t ponder long. A few mosquitoes started gathering as if to help me make the decision. I turned and headed back. 

More than I wanted to deal with

This time when I got to the first creek crossing at the base of Wickersham Wall, I didn’t bother with the Wiggy’s. My feet were already soaked. I waded across in my ski boots. Then I donned my snowshoes for the trudge up. On my first trip across that creek crossing, I saw no mosquitoes. Now there were a bunch. They followed me all the way up Wickersham Wall, urging me to go faster. I hadn’t thought to bring mosquito dope! At least they were the big, slow, early season skeeters. I hustled up the hill. Well, as fast as one can hustle in snowshoes and pulling a sled one squishy step at a time. My little adventure started to feel a little stupid again.

Should have brought skeeter dope!

Skiing Again

Back at the Trail Creek and Wickersham Creek trail intersection, I took off my snowshoes and put my skis back on for the half-mile ski to Lee’s. As I skied, I really hoped I hadn’t misunderstood Adam. I figured if people were at Lee’s I’d just turn around and head for home. It would make for an even longer and more exhausting day (and a really stupid one), but at least I could take a shower. 

I smiled as I skied up to a quiet, abandoned Lee’s Cabin. Yay! After more than six hours of skiing, sled dragging, snowshoeing, and wading, I could rest! I hung up my wet stuff, made dinner, and relaxed a bit before going to bed. The cabin was warm enough that I didn’t need a fire. 

Yay, a cabin for the night!

The next morning, I got up early to go to the bathroom, but I noticed water from the snowmelt in front of the cabin was iced over and the upper layer of snow on the way to the outhouse was frozen. I decided to wait for the sun to soften the snow before taking off. I wanted my skis to have something for their fish scales to bite into. 

I dozed some, then got up and had a cup of coffee. I worked on paper-and-pencil word puzzles (one of my favorite cabin activities), had breakfast, and then another cup of coffee. I took my time, periodically checking on the snow. It took a while, but finally the sun softened the snow. I packed up and was off by about 11 a.m. or so. 

The ski out was as good as the ski in. Beautiful sunny weather. Trails all to myself. Birds singing. A couple of the dirt patches were a bit bigger, but I was able to skirt them all (except one within a half-mile of the trailhead). 

The one patch of dirt I had to drag across

About two miles from the trailhead, I noticed human footprints in the snow. Someone had come out that far the afternoon before without snowshoes. At times they could walk atop the snow or without sinking in very deep, but a lot of the time they were post-holing. I thought about that. Someone came out on the trail and walked about two miles, post-holing much of the way, before turning around and heading back. 

Skiing on fish-scale skis seemed a lot more fun that post-holing

Suddenly, I didn’t feel so stupid in trying to get to Eleazar’s. Or at least, I felt less alone in my stupidity.  

A short side trip atop the ridge 4 miles in with the White Mountains in the background


  1. The White Mountains in May! Love it. Definitely a worthwhile adventure. I showed Beat your pictures and his reply was “My poor sled.”

    1. Ha! I'm sure his sled thought it was a relaxing, leisurely outing compared to what Beat put it through! - Eric

  2. Eric!!! So dumb but so fun! Dying of laughter. I'm sure it was novel to be out there mid-May dodging mosquitoes and wading through creeks.

    1. "Novel" is a good way to describe it! -Eric

  3. Nice! For next year you're going to need to see if you can find a pair of these...(I remember looking at this back in highschool):

    1. Don't give dad any ideas for other toys that he is going to want to get!! Mom

    2. Interesting! Or I could go with SUV inline skates!

  4. Nothing wrong with taking cast iron on a pulk sled. Part of the luxury of a cabin is being able to cook! Cast iron serves double duty as being a warming plate while cooking multiple dishes...

    1. That's true, if you're willing to pull the weight. Going up Wickersham Wall I was wishing for a slightly lighter sled! --Eric