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The weather reports for the weekend were much better than for Monday,
but scheduling conflicts precluded a weekend run, and playin' hooky
became the only option.  The soaking rains Sunday night into Monday AM
weren't encouraging, and the uncertainty of the freeze/thaw line and
potential new snow gave some concern, but Dave Mann I still had a
plan...

Plan-A was to hook up early in MA, be on the Gulf of Slides trail by
9AM, grab as much corn as we could and be back home in time to tuck in
the kid.  Reality stepped in with delayed start, wetter than expected
weather and a good mental image of previous late April rainy G.O.S.
tours.  By 10:15 we were solidly on track with Plan-B, skipping the
G.O.S. trail quagmire and headed for Hillmans in a steady rain, pelted
by ice-storm party ice cascading from the trees.  Along the way we
encountered a surprising number of other "crazy people", including an AK
native pinhead and his snowboardin' buddy on their way to Tuckerman, and
a pair of wayward Ontarians packin' fat alpine-mounted skis (Pocket
Rockets & Bandit-XXX).

Dave & I were hiking in tele boots, ever hopeful that around the next
bend consistently skinnable snow would present itself, but that didn't
appear until the final 200' of vertical below to HoJos, making the
change over to skinnin' mode not worthwhile. On the final stretch into
the hut the rain had abated, and through breaks in the fog our Plan-B
quarry became manifest:  Pretty f'in' miserable! Our Hillman's dreams
were dashed! The lower 1/2 was broken up with open waterfalls, exposed
rock and undermined snow.  Clearly "skiable" in a sort of
survival-skiing mode it hardly seemed worth it. But in the rare fog
breaks there were hints that Chute & the Left Gully still held good
snow, so Plan-C, the consolation prize, was yet another Tuckerman tour.
Lounging around HoJos eating lunch & chatting with the others, we didn't
resume the hike until almost 1PM.

In blustery south winds, at the toe of the avi debris at the bottom of
the bowl I was finally able drop the Montours on snow and let them carry
_me_ for awhile instead of the converse (not that they weigh much- even
with the 3-pins & riser I doubt they're more than 6-7lbs). Visibility
was pretty low, but as we headed up it became apparent in brief glimses
that from the Right Gully N & E it was pretty wiped out- still skiable,
but with overhanging ice, rock runouts, and not huge vertical available.
From the Chute N there were tons & tons of ice just waiting to peel off.
Indeed the middle of the bowl were planted several interesting
office-chair sized ice sculptures- not a good place to hang out in the
fog!

Bearing to the S side of the bowl in the fog, Dave dropped his pack
behind a safe rock shield while I skinned up on a traverse to the dogleg
where the Left Gully enters the bowl. Occasional glimpses into the Left
Gully confirmed the observation that there would be at least 300' of
vertical available there, and probably more! Anchoring my pack below a
rock with an ice axe, I stripped skins then made a sidestepping
ascending traverse on heavy rain-softened snow back into the bowl where
our Canadian buddies were prepping for a run from just N of Chute.
Slurping up a sweet dozen syrupy turns I reconnected with Dave.

It didn't take much convincing to get Dave to abandon the center of the
bowl and its icefall hazard for the more benign lower portion of the
Left Gully. Once there we parted paths, figuring my tolerance for
steeper was higher. Although I had brought crampons, kicking steps in
the heavy rain-softened corn was easy enough that I decided to forego
the ice-axe & crampon ascent (which would have required carrying the
pack), opting instead for a fast'n'light boot up with just the
essentials in a fanny pack. Visibility kept coming & going (mostly
going,) and in under 2 minutes I'd lost track of Dave, but we had agreed
to meet back at his pack-drop at the 2:30 turnaround time, which only
left enough time for one good run and I was gonna make the most of it!

Ascending quickly into the draw, the winds quickly dissipated, protected
by the depth of the Left Gully.  Bathed in the gray soup I would
occasionally get glimpses out the bottom as far as the Wildcat Ski area,
but above visibility rarely exceeded 200'.  Below the slot where the
Left Gully narrows to about 30' there were several icefalls on the S
bank to be avoided, but it was easy going in consistent good corn on the
moderate ~30ish degree pitch.  Once above the slot, visibility below
became much more difficult, and gradually kicking steps became more
difficult in firmer, less consistent snow as the grade pitched over 40
degrees.

Somewhere near the top of the funnel but still below where the quickly
eases back into the 30s of degrees, I stopped as the fog closed in
dropping visibility to under 30'. Waiting for several minutes in vain
for a clearing to either take more vertical or get safer look at the
descent I timed out and donned skis. (Got to get back in time to tuck
the kid in, after all!)

Skiing very conservatively in pea soup to avoid the remotest potential
of a free-slide into the rock walls of the slot I took it 5-6 turns at a
time. Getting surprised by an exposed rock here, some clear ice there,
was not a good option. But once the slot was in sight it was easy to
relax & crank up the tempo for an absolutely rippin' fun run!

Stopping to pick up my pack in the blustery winds I couldn't see the
bottom of the bowl consistently, but retraced my traversing ascent track
to just N of the Chute where I encountered one of the Canadians booting
up for his last lap of the day in the bowl. Since he and his buddy were
planning to come back the next day I quickly informed him of the _great_
conditions to be had on the Left Gully before laying down a final quick
set of tracks back to Dave's pack, where he was comfortably perched
chatting on the phone with his wife.

Soon were back on the trail, stopping to snack on the porch at HoJos. As
luck would have it the fog lifted and we got our first full clear view
of the day of the entire width of Tuckerman. Chute looks fully skiable,
as does the Left Gully, but that's about it and its going fast- runs
above the bowl won't make it more than another coupla weeks if current
weather trends hold, but the surface conditions couldn't be much better
this time of year than what we encountered.

I gave Dave a bit of a hard time about being a bad-Karma skiing partner-
every time we head for the Whites together the weather turns for the
worse and we end up at Plan-B, C, or D, skiing the dregs of Tuckerman.
But I have to say, Tuckerman is _great_ when you can have it mostly to
yourselves- we saw fewer than a dozen people up there, counting the
glissading climbers descending (but not counting the dogs :-) )- it was
almost like a day at the Gulf of Slides. Despite it's brevity and
limited runs-of-choice, this was one of the most enjoyable Tuckerman
tours I can remember- sans circus it can feel like the best of
backcountry skiing!

dana

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