I have to admit that I’m spoiled. The Tetons. The Chugach. The Alps. I’ve dined from some of the finest mountains that Mother Nature cooked up, and so my appetite for adventure has become, let’s say, a little particular. When I moved back to New England after five years caroming from Jackson Hole to Valdez to La Grave, I figured I might as well hang up my skis. I thought nothing could scratch my itch for the steep and deep among the molehills of my youth. But then I returned to Tuckerman Ravine.
For those born on the ice coast, those who snaked their first turns between the dense trees and bramble of their backyards and then learned how to set an edge on bulletproof blues and blacks, Tuckerman Ravine is as close to the Alps as you can get on a tank of gas. Chiseled into the eastern face of Mount Washington, Tuckerman is thought by many as the birth place of extreme skiing in the United States.
I’ve been spending my winters in Jackson, New Hampshire since returning to the East Coast. My home is a fifteen-minute drive from the Tuckerman Ravine trailhead, and my regular exploits on Mount Washington continue to spoon feed me heaping doses of humility.
Skinning up to Tucks recently, I was reminded of the words of legendary travel writer Paul Theroux: “Adventure…seems to imply a far-off destination, but a nearby destination can be scarier, for no place is more frightening than one near home that everyone has warned you against.”
These words echoed in my mind as I gazed at the Forest Service’s sign before entering the high-alpine zone where Tuckerman Ravine looms like a piece of the Alps plopped in New Hampshire. WARNING ICE FALL DANGER, the sign read. Massive blocks of ice the size of automobiles travel at high speeds, hit rocks and send deadly shrapnel in all directions.
If the ice doesn’t get you, avalanches can. Then there’s the steepness; misplace a turn on the headwall, and you’re bound to tomahawk until you either self arrest or meet the boulders at the bottom. Add to the mix, extreme winds and bone-breaking cold, and Tuckerman Ravine can get real real quick.
But my most recent serving of humble pie had nothing to do with the ice fall, the steeps or the frigid cold. On an overcast afternoon, I set out with a friend to tour all the way from the base of Tucks to the back door of my house, some six miles away. We shot down the John Sherburne Trail and hanged a right onto the Avalanche Gulf Trail. Skinning through breakable crust, up and down rolling hills, we waited for the trail to plunge and hopefully deliver us home. But the plunge never came.
Instead we just kept skinning and skinning as the sun crept further behind the trees. As it got darker, desperation built silently in the air. Fear gathered in the back of my throat. By all accounts, we were close to home, and yet way off the grid. These mountains are so welcoming until they’re not.
Finally, we made our way into familiar trees. I spotted the light from my back porch piercing through the forest as warm and welcoming as the sun. That familiar sense of relief mixed with endorphins and adrenaline washed over me. All at once I was reminded, that no matter where you go, adventure is never too far away.