Thom Perkins, executive director of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation in Jackson, N.H., organized the first-ever ski traverse of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains.
The year was 1981, and the expedition began in pre-dawn darkness.
The party consisted of Perkins; Ned Gillette, adventure skier who competed in cross country at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics; Walter T. "Tyke" Weed, who competed in cross country in the 1972 Sapporo Olympics; Sam Osborne, hutmaster at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, and John Halupowski, tellie skier and guide.
Such undertakings depend on many things, including skill, physical conditioning, preparation, and a window of good weather. The first three of those elements are acquired through patient, persistent effort over a long period of time, starting small and building up. The weather is what it is.
"It was a three-week wait for the weather window," Perkins recalled.
"We heard a good weather forecast a couple days ahead, slept at my house, got up at 4 a.m. and drove up to Appalachia, about an hour's drive up to the trailhead.
"The rule was we wouldn't take our skis off until we got to Crawford Notch except for lunch. The traverse involved 7,000 vertical feet of climbing, was 33 kilometers in length, and took us 13 hours. We had all kinds of weather: flurries, brilliant sunshine, corn snow, powder, blue ice, a blizzard, a whiteout.
"We came around the corner of Mt. Clay and there was a brownish cloud coming right at us. It was a total whiteout blizzard. We were able to see most of the way to the next cairn. We got in a line so we wouldn't lose sight of each other, kept going cairn to cairn ‘til we were out of the storm.
"Then there was a really interesting visual phenomenon, like skiing in a milk bottle, the sky and the snow were the same shade of gray, where we couldn't tell if we were going forward or sideways.
"We had lunch at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, a late lunch, at 1 or 1:30, then went over the most challenging part of trip for me, the traverse around Mt. Monroe. It was blue ice, so hard and so cold the edges of the guy in front of you didn't even show, no evidence anyone had passed, with a 1,500-foot slide into Oakes Gulf.
"We finally got out to Route 302. The moment we stepped out onto the road, it got completely dark. We couldn't even see our way to the car. There was no light left at all," Perkins said.
He recalled Ned Gillette's assessment of the experience: "He said the trip across Mt. Washington was just as much of an adventure as anything he's ever done."
Gillette was killed in the Haramosh Valley of Pakistan in 1998. He is remembered, and missed.