Turning back

Last modified: 3/26/2015 9:25:04 AM
Frozen fingers, tired thighs, heavy breathing, and a rumbling stomach. This is not the perfect recipe for skiing the backcountry. Fortunately, I recovered quickly, and relished turning through knee-high powder on my way down the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

That Saturday tour was a reminder that I should manage my energy, and realize when to climb faster and ski harder, and when to ease off and relax.

I was one of eight skiers to ski along the Cog Railway on a day trip the Appalachian Mountain Club sponsored.

My morning started before dawn. I carpooled with the trip leader, Tyson Sawyer, who lives in Mason. We met the rest of the mixed crew of skiers in the parking lot for the Cog Railway in Bretton Woods just after 9 a.m.

I was somewhat surprised when I introduced myself to everyone. I was the youngest by at least ten years (I’m being generous). And no one else appeared to be in a hurry as they chitchatted in the parking lot. My fingers weren’t thrilled — they quickly numbed in the frigid morning. Once everyone was ready, I jumped at the opportunity to start hiking. I led our way out of the parking area, and alongside the half-buried railroad track that leads to the summit. I clanged my skis forward, started sweating, and squeezed my poles.

My fingertips unthawed, and I was relieved. But I glanced back, and noticed part of our group staggered behind. I apologized, and blamed my frozen fingers for distracting me, to which one telemarker replied: “You have to realize — you’re younger than all of us.”

I slowed my pace, and we settled into a rhythm.

The Cog Railway is strange. The slope lumps toward Mount Washington, and a half-buried wooden and metal railroad track rises out of it.

The climb turned out to be easy. Most of us reached the water tank halfway, although two straggled behind. Myself and the telemarker skied to meet them, climbed behind them, and arrived at the water tank a second time, where everyone was enjoying their lunch.

Not me. Right when we skied over to them, two or three other skiers asked if I interested in climbing as close the summit as we could. I couldn’t turn them down. Yet, I hadn’t rested or eaten. As I fumbled my ski poles, I reached into a pocket, and dug out a Clif Bar.

I ate the bar while I climbed. I don’t recommend this. The bar was frozen, and it might be an acquired skill to eat and breathe simultaneously. To recover, I slowed my pace, and started to trail everyone else.

We reached Jacob’s Ladder, which is three-quarters of the way to the summit, and the steepest section of the Cog Railway. The wind blistered, visibility was poor, and the snow was windblown. We continued past Jacob’s Ladder, and in ten minutes, everyone looked back at me. I was on the ground trying to reattach my climbing skins to my skis. I gave up, unclipped my skis, and started hiking. A woman skiing told Sawyer she was cold. “Alright, let’s ski down,” he said.

We skied short turns pasted Jacob’s Ladder, and arced them into longer turns once the trail opened up where the powder snow was as light as Utah. The slope was gentle and easy, but none of us cared. It was a blast.

On the drive home, I asked why we stopped where we did. Sawyer said you have to know how the rest of your group is doing. You were tired, another skier was cold, it’s better that we skied down then. If an accident happened, help isn’t close.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or brosen@ledgertranscript.com. Follow him on Twitter @Benji_Rosen.


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