Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I owe many thanks to friend and master bushwhacker J.R. Stockwell for this interesting exploration to an amazing place. The day before (1/27), J.R. had bushwhacked to the westernmost slides on the northern slope of Mt. Osceola and climbed one of them to the top - adding to the collection of Osceola slides he has ascended in winter. Afterwards he stopped by the store and told me about his adventure, and suggested I might enjoy snowshoeing along the open brookbed to the base of the slides. He told me where to pick up his snowshoe track off the East Pond Trail, part of which coincided with another track that we suspect may have been laid down by someone accessing Osceola's huge "dogleg slide."

Snow was forecast to move in during the afternoon, though from the look of the radar map it appeared it would be arriving sooner. I decided to undertake this adventure and hopefully get up to the slides for some views before the snow and clouds blotted them out. I set off from the East Pond Trail before 9:00 and followed a well-packed snowshoe track to the crossing of Pine Brook.

After climbing up the slope beyond the crossing, I turned off onto the bushwhack snowshoe track, which for a while led through fine open spruce woods.

I knew it couldn't stay this open for long, and soon the woods became quite thick. It wouldn't be a true J.R. Stockwell whack without some dense spruce to push through.

I popped out onto the bank of Pine Brook for a look below the slides.

J.R. had asked me to keep an eye out for an ice axe leash he had lost the day before, should I make the trip into the slides. And there it was on the snow, which made up a little bit for my poaching of his tracks and navigation.

After some scrappy whacking through clinging conifers, I followed J.R.'s tracks onto the open brookbed a half-mile downstream from the slides. Just before I reached this, it started snowing, so I would not see the view north to the Hancocks from the slides.

As J.R. told me, this was a great open snowshoeing route.

He wasn't kidding when he said it was like a road!

First look ahead to one of the slides.

Interesting lichen on a rock in the slide track/brookbed.

Approaching the great split in the slides. The day before, J.R. climbed and then descended the one straight ahead.

Two slightly different perspectives on the split in the slides. An impressive snow-covered scene of destruction! This is one of the neatest spots I've seen in the Whites. Would love to come back on a sunny winter day.

Looking up the right-hand slide. Jack Dorsey, who has made numerous snow and ice climbs on the north side of Osceola, has dubbed this "Steaming Gift Slide." To find out why: http://jack-dorsey.smugmug.com/keyword/right/1/253873753_yJjYG#!i=253873786&k=fPM37SX

Most of the snow on the slides was firm, grippy styrofoam, so I snowshoed partway up the left slide.

I saw a few of J.R.'s boot/crampon tracks.

Climbing a little bit higher.

Looking up towards the top of the slide; up there it curves to the left and continues, topping out at about 3600 ft. The split in the slides is at about 2950 ft. It looked like it would have been possible to snowshoe quite a bit farther up the slide with the ideal snow conditions, but I decided not to since there were no distant views today.

Looking down the left slide.

I descended back to the split and found an angle where I could see both forks of Steaming Gift Slide.

I snowshoed a short way up Steaming Gift Slide, which seemed noticeably steeper than the left slide. All told, I spent about an hour and a half in this marvelous slide area.

I retraced tracks back down the open brookbed. Beyond this point, the brookbed is no longer easily navigable.

Back into the thick stuff, now laden with some new-fallen snow.

Part of the route went down a rough little drainage...

...where one snowshoe went deep into a hole. It took a minute or two to extricate myself.

This towering white pine was, appropriately enough, located near the bank of Pine Brook. Quite an interesting area out here on the north side of Osceola.

Friday, January 25, 2013


In the middle of one of our coldest stretches in years, with several subzero nights in a row, the protected wooded trek into Hancock Notch seemed like a good choice. This broad, spruce-wooded gap between Mt. Hancock and Mt. Huntington is wild and remote, and the miles of snow-laden spruce forest are a classic winter wonderland. There are no open views from the flat floor of the pass, but you do get a couple of intriguing peeks up at the open talus slopes on the steep north face of Mt. Huntington.  If conditions permitted, I hoped to bushwhack up to the talus for its unusual views.

The temp was two above when I set out from the Hancock parking area at the hairpin turn on the Kanc. The first 1.8 mi. of the Hancock Notch Trail was a well-packed sidewalk and made for easy bare-booting. Along the way I chatted with a solo hiker, a customer at the store, who was headed for the Hancocks. He was the only other person in this area all day.

A trailside view down the North Fork of Hancock Branch to a spur of Mt. Hitchcock.

At one spot you get a glimpse of South Hancock's peak peering over the trees.

Once past the Cedar Brook Trail junction, the Hancock Notch Trail was softly packed and ideal for snowshoeing. Approaching the notch there were occasional glimpses of Mt. Huntington.

Open spruce woods on the floor of the notch.

When I reached the flat height-of-land, I made a short detour to this open boggy spot for a look at the Huntington talus. I knew from previous summer visits that this would be a short but steep and strenuous bushwhack. I launched my whack from this spot, figuring that by angling across I would cut the steepness of the slope compared to a head-on ascent. Nice theory, but I ended up on a slope full of small snow-mounded conifers mixed with blowdown, a minefield of potential spruce traps. Luckily the crusty base held me up. I spent the better part of an hour pushing and pulling my way up through this mess.

After a final steep tussle with plain old dense scrub, I emerged at the bottom of the talus slope and clawed up the crust to get some views. Looking east across the talus..

...and looking west. This sunless slope was cold and desolate and raked by the northwest wind - the very depth of winter - but it was worth the struggle to see the views, which were crystal-clear in the subzero air here at 3100 ft.

Across Hancock Notch, the three peaks of Mt. Hancock towered in sunlit majesty: North Peak, South Peak and Juno Peak.

A little closer look at the Hancocks.

To the NE was the great whale-like mass of Mt. Carrigain and its long Signal Ridge.

Zoom on Carrigain. (Having fun playing with a new camera with a more powerful zoom.)

Far to the NW the Franconia Ridge floated ethereally above a gap amidst the Hitchcocks.

Franconia Ridge above North Hitchcock and Owl's Head.

Mt. Garfield and Bondcliff over the Cedar Brook pass between Hitchcock and Hancock.

The rocky face of Garfield.

North Hancock and the top of the Arrow Slide.

Juno Peak, the wild southern spur of Hancock so named by Guy Waterman.

The cliffs on Juno Peak, reportedly a formidable bushwhack. Imagine trying to get out to the top of one of these cliffs for a view!

Too cold for a boot shot, so we present this instead.

My route through the scrub just below the talus.

I found a much better route back down to the trail, with mostly open woods after the upper thick stuff.

A frontal view of the talus from another boggy spot along the trail.

Deep snow in the heart of the notch.

Late afternoon sun coming out the west side of the notch. From the Cedar Brook junction I walked out with my Hancock peakbagging friend, and as we emerged on the Kanc we saw a nearly full moon rising over a shoulder of West Huntington, promising another subzero night.