Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Early Season at Eleazar's

post by Corrine

“What got into you?” Eric asked when he caught up to me. 

“I don’t know,” I replied with a smile. “I just kept going!”

I had just skied down the “Wickersham Wall,” a section of the Wickersham Creek Trail in the White Mountains National Recreation Area that drops 500 feet in less than a mile. Besides being steep, the “Wall” is narrow and bumpy in places. Many skiers have crashed and burned on that hill. A common strategy is to take your skis off and walk down, at least the harder parts.

Looking up at the "Wickersham Wall".  I still can't believe I skied down that!

Eric was particularly surprised at my feat because I’m usually a wimp on downhills. He thought the descent had been tricky and figured I would have walked. But we had skied it a couple of years ago when several inches of new snow had made it manageable. I guess that helped my confidence. 

Skis pointed downhill and ready to head down "the Wall"

We didn’t have the same conditions this time, but the trail was soft with a bit of new snow. And I’ve been doing a lot of strength training, so my butt and thighs didn’t burn too much from snowplowing all the way down. 

I felt good about my accomplishment. Eric just shook his head in surprise, then we continued toward Eleazar’s Cabin, our first White Mountains cabin trip this winter. 

A Nice Break

During winter – October to April – we usually take several trips north of town to the Whites, which is managed by BLM (Bureau of Land Management). The Whites aren’t far to drive and offer a great break from daily life. 

A month ago, I had booked Eleazar’s cabin knowing it was still early in the season for a cabin trip. The cabin is only 12 miles from the trailhead, so we can hike if there isn’t enough snow. But we lucked out. The area had received above-average early season snow and BLM had groomed the trail past the cabin the week prior. With several inches of snow falling in the days before our trip, we figured the trail would be soft, so we opted for skis rather than fatbikes. That was the right choice. The trail was solid for the first few miles but got softer after that. 

Good trail for the first 5 miles

A little softer on day two with new snow

We had some chilly temperatures but only down to around 0F. In a month that will seem warm! But the “warmth” was partially due to low clouds, which limited the view and created flat light. The sun came out only for a few minutes on our way back on Sunday. We also got a little snow for most of our trip out on Sunday. During trips in the Whites, we’ve had some gorgeous sunrises, sunsets, views, and auroras, but none of that this time. Still, it was a wonderful, relaxing little trip. 

The sun came out for just a few minutes on Sunday

Crazy New Things

Our trip did give us an opportunity to try a couple of “new” things. Eric tried out a pair of “skin” skis that he recently purchased. And we relearned how to play rummy with a deck of cards we brought. I know, we’re just wild and crazy people!

Eric's new skin skis

Eric thinks his skin skis are a little sluggish compared to waxable skis but are fine for a cabin trip where speed isn’t important. On Saturday, my wax was a little grabby and on Sunday my skis iced up a little. Eric didn’t have to worry about any of those problems. I’ve got skin skis, too, but I prefer my waxable skis unless the temperature is right around freezing when it’s hard to wax. Still, it is nice to just grab your skis and go. 

On these trips, Eric usually heads out on his snowshoes right away to harvest firewood while I get the fire going and set up the cabin. Some of the White Mountain cabins have dead standing trees close by, making wood gathering fairly easy. But the area around Eleazar’s is more challenging. It has a lot of older but living black spruce. This time Eric tried a new spot (uphill from the cabin), but he still had to do a lot of searching for good dead (or almost dead) trees. On the bright side, he said dragging the trees downhill made the gathering easier. While he brought a few loads, I sawed up some of the wood. When Eric was done hauling, he took over the sawing. He’s got a system that makes the sawing easier, and he likes the full body workout it gives him. I tended to the fire and kept snow melting on the pot atop the woodstove. 

Finally, with wood gathered, split, and stacked, and snow melted for water, we could kick back and relax. After dinner we did a crossword puzzle and played card games with a deck Eric brought. We both grew up playing card games and played some with our kids, but we’ve fallen out of the habit. We struggled to remember how to play any games besides War (boring!), but Eric had a book of card games on his iPhone and we quickly relearned how to play rummy. That was a fun break from reading and crossword puzzles. Overall, these cabin trips provide a nice break from work and “connected” life. After all the “work” of getting to the cabins and collecting the firewood, we can just slow down and relax. 

A Time to Think and Cherish

The trips also offer some mental space for contemplating life. Skiing to Eleazar’s usually takes three to four hours. This time during the ski, I thought a lot about my friend, Betsy, who had joined us last spring on a fatbiking trip in the White Mountains. She is currently in the hospital, having recently been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor.

Betsy having fun on her fatbike last spring

It is a good reminder that life can turn on a dime. Two weeks ago, she was rock climbing, doing some of the best climbing of her life and now she is having surgery and will most likely need both radiation and chemotherapy. You just never know what will happen. We are sending her positive thoughts and hoping for the best. 

Enjoy life while you can. It’s important to make time for experiences that make you happy. Which is why even just a small trip to Whites is a good thing to do.