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Jerm writes:

>> I thought they were purists who avoided the Auto Rd. on philosophical
>grounds,
>> but it instead appears to be simply be a lack of knowledge. The
leader of >the
>
>A real purist (or a pure Janet, take your pick) would insist on
climbing
>it from the bottom before skiing it, both to ensure safety and to
eschew
>mechanized assistance.

Mayhaps this Janet ain't so pure:  Relying on summit observatory records
of deep cycle freeze/thaw and minimal frozen precipitation records for
many days prior to skiing it I didn't think any detailed avi assessment
was necessary. But I still found it prudent to be able to see far enough
to assess the line more than 2 turns in advance...

Hitting the summit parking lot at ~11AM yesterday with Gary Crofton and
his daughter Caroline it was pea-soup fog, 39F, and somewhat breezy.
Figuring dropping into the Airplane Gully in those conditions wasn't a
good idea, we decided to scope the eastern snowfields for some warmup
lines. After a pretty good sweep of the Alpine Gardens we didn't
encounter snow enough to ski, but visibility rarely exceeded 100' for
very long, so we could have walked right by it...

Bushwacking up to the road and walking to the car we weighed the
options: Plan B- Head back down to Pinkham Notch and hike for the
leftovers at the Left Gully at Tucks or; modified Plan-A- head for the
top of the Airplane Gully and hope for thinner fog. It was a slam-dunk
in my mind, "Airplane Gully or bust."

Stepping off the summit, within 150' of vertical we'd lost the trail! As
numerous and humongous as all of those cairns are, between the misty
goggles and soupy fog we couldn't see fer sh!t! But given the numerous
features there are to stumble into (can't mis railroad tracks, for
instance) it would have been difficult to stay lost. With a well studied
and well marked map to go by there was scant chance of not being able to
find it, unlike the more amorphous locations of thin upper snowfields.

Hiking the Gulf Side trail we stopped a few times to scope out visible
snow patches dropping into the Gulf- there's some seriously steep stuff
to be had there when there's more cover! It was obvious when we'd
reached our quarry- a dozen or more weekend skiers had left enough
footprints (and moguls!) to distinguish the skied from the not-so skied
pitches, and the gully was exactly where we had expected it to be
relative to the nearby trail intersection. (I even remarked at how
thoughtful the area designers were to cut the gully  so near a trail
intersection to make it easy to find! :-) ) On a clear day it is a
no-brainer, but wandering in fog so thick that the next cairn wasn't
always visible kept us skeptical and alert along the way, and more than
once we wandered off trail. We even stopped for lunch at most a couple
hundred yards from the top of the Airplane Gully to wait out the fog,
unaware of just close we were to the mark!

At the top of the Airplane Gully, peering into the fog we could get
occasional glimpses as far as 150'- it was beginning to look hopeful. By
the time we had all swapped boots and cinched the compression straps on
the packs the visibility was about 200'+ and increasing, with a few
bright spots in the sky.  At about 3PM it was time to ski!

The upper portion was decently steep, mostly in the 40-ish degree range.
Goodman's guidebook had it pegged at 44 degress max pitch, but it seem
lower than that to me- could vary quite a bit depending on how big and
when the cornices formed/collapsed.  It would probably hit 50 degrees at
the top in a good snow year with westerly wind, but not this year.  The
width/pitch and rock exposure was similar to the Fear Factor couloir on
the Sourdough Ridge in on Mt. Rainier- a no-fall zone to be sure, but
fun and doable in good snow.  Of course, my name being Janet, we all had
beacons despite the low/(extremely low) avi hazard. :-)

We took our sweet time on the way down, taking care to not get too
spread out, 6-12 turns at a time.  Rounding the bend to the north the
slope moderated into the mid-high 20s of degrees and broadened from
50-70' (narrower around some rock obstacles) to over 100', and
visibility had increased to well over 1000'. While not exactly a
blue-bird day, it was getting to be pretty nice!  Gary and Caroline
(having retained some intelligence) stopped at a rock just above where
the slope petered out into narrow undermined strands of snow between
brush & rocks, while I persevered to max out the ~1k' skiable vertical 3
turns at a time.

On the upclimb us geezers let Caroline sprint to the top, where she beat
us by ~15 minutes.  Gary stoped at least once to re-rig the
not-quite-teleboot-compatible crampons that he'd gotten from Dana
Oufitters (miserable no-account vendor, that guy- don't do any business
there! :-) ) but it was for the most part non eventful. Swapping tele
boots for hikers at the top of the gully, we could now easily see the
summit.  The up-hike was a dramatically different experience from the
down-hike in the fog! From the north rim of the Great Gulf we could ski
the entire ski route (and our tracks), which made for a decent photo-op
despite the low hanging sun.

Once back at the car we didn't even bother looking for the snowfields
again, having burned a lot of time on our tour of the Great Gulf.  From
the vantage point of the rim it was clear we had skied the best of
what's left anyway.  The Pipeline on Mt. Clay looked blocked by
rock/meltout about 300' from the top, and may have an undermined or
missing section nearer the bottom too (hard to tell for sure).  Anyone
skiing the Pipeline this late is probably better off to do Janet thing-
descend via the Airplane gully and scope the Pipeline on the way up!

Janet

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