Good news and bad news

As promised, we’ve been keeping our eyes on Mt. Washington in hopes that late fall would get us off to a solid start. For a while it had looked promising; reports came in of people climbing ice in both ravines. So with high hopes, I set off up the trail yesterday looking to continue preseason preparations, but mostly to wrap my head around whether or not we would need to begin issuing General Advisories before the storm that is arriving today. Here’s where the good news is separated from the bad.

Over the last couple days 11/24 & 25, the north country has been in a bit of a warm spell. Honestly, after a very long and cold winter last year, most people here were quite relieved to have this respite from the cold that had settled over the Mt. Washington Valley. My feelings were mixed. Sadly, all it took was a glance at the mountain from Pinkham Notch to know that we had lost a lot of snow and ice due to the rain and warmth of Monday and Tuesday.

View from Pinkham

It’s easy to see that a lot of snow melted without even getting out of the car.

Currently, there are only patches of snow on the ground at Hermit Lake. Looking up into Tuckerman, the north side of the ravine is completely barren of snow. The same is true for most of the Headwall. If you have your sights set on a powder feast before the turkey, I wouldn’t recommend Tuckerman due to the severe lack of snow on the ground before this upcoming event. If we wake up Thanksgiving morning with a foot of snow on the ground, undoubtedly people will try to ski the John Sherburne ski trail.  Expect many hidden hazards under this initial blanket and anticipate some dinged up bases. Ski lightly!

And the good news…our first significant winter storm is on the way! Check your favorite weather sources for the details, you won’t have a hard time finding information about this storm that’s poised to destroy the best laid Thanksgiving travel plans. The Mount Washington Observatory forecast is calling for a foot or more for the area, with some southern peaks maybe reaching two feet. We’re crossing our fingers.

This may provoke the question of why we are not yet issuing a General Advisory. If we had not gone through the recent thaw and had more well established bed surfaces, then we would not hesitate to be doing this. The chances of a slab avalanche are greatly diminished when the bed surface is as coarse and anchored as it currently is. Sure, there are small areas of water ice and even some patches of snow, so with a snowfall like this it stands to reason that these very small areas could support a small unstable slab. However, we don’t feel these are sufficient to push us into the realm of forecasting at this time. This storm  certainly has the potential to provide enough bed surface for future storms, and hopefully they’ll come soon. I do think that sluffing will be an issue if you’re out in steep terrain so recall that it doesn’t take much to knock you off your feet. So saying all this remember that there is a lack of good quality ice to climb, much of it detached, and very limited options for sliding in the ravines.  Although I’ll applaud your ambition if you try to get out I’ll be quietly questioning your judgment.

On a separate note, we’ve had some people asking if we are going to continue with the ESAW Continuing Education Series this winter. The answer is yes, and the dates and locations will be announced soon. These are free monthly sessions open to anyone with an interest in furthering their avalanche knowledge. Although I’ll be teaching the first session, the other Snow Rangers will be helping out and diversifying the presentations this season, and we may even have others from outside the Avalanche Center. I’ve yet to settle on a title, but the working idea for the December session is a review of field stability tests. We’ll look at all the popular tests, where and when each are useful, how to perform them consistently and properly, etc. If you have a burning desire to dive more deeply into a specific topic, drop me a line and let me know your idea. If it’s something we can do justice to, we might put it into the queue for future sessions.

From all of us at the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, have a Happy Thanksgiving. May this storm be the harbinger of many more this winter!

Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2014-11-25 Right Side of Tucks

The right side of Tuckerman has a tremendous amount of water running beneath the ice.

2014-11-25 Tucks Headwall

The Headwall after a couple days of thawing.

2014-11-25 Left side of Tucks

Left Gully is usually the first to fill in with snow, but it had much more than this a couple days ago.

2014-11-25 Lip and Open Book

The Lip and Open Book are classic season early ice climbs. Not this Thanksgiving weekend though.

2014-11-25 Right Gully

Right Gully with no snow.

Well it’s about time

The upcoming winter is drawing ever more near. Today I noticed that northern Maine has a Winter Storm Warning issued for 5-10″ of snow, and the NWS forecasters are discussing heavy accumulations in the mountains of northern New Hampshire, too. We’ve still got a ways to go before the season really kicks into swing, but there are some things you can be doing to get yourselves ready, such as:

  • Come to the 4th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop (ESAW) to refresh and engage your avalanche brain. It’s only two days away (or one if you come for the AAC social event tomorrow night). More info can be found at We still have room for more people.
  • Enroll in an avalanche course. The best dates can fill quickly. Most of the local providers can be found here on our website.
  • Enroll in a first-aid course. Sure, accidents always happen to somebody else, but why not be ready when the time comes for you to spring into action and be a hero?
  • Do a little avalanche transceiver review session. Fall leaves make for excellent opportunities to hide one and search.
  • Consider joining a “Friends” group. We have two that we work closely with, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine and Friends of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center. These two groups, as well as all the rescue groups and the Volunteer Ski Patrol, work together to help keep people safe in the mountains.
  • Get in shape! Seriously, I’m not trying to call anyone out on being slothful, but I know that for me, I have more fun when I’m feeling fit than when I feel like every step up taxes my legs and lungs to no end. And really, shouldn’t it really all just be about making everything more fun?

Keep your eyes peeled to this website as well as our Facebook page, Instagram feed, and Twitter account. We’ll be posting sporadically from now until the first General Advisory, then with some regularity until the daily advisories using the Danger Ratings Scale begin. Hopefully that time is not far off!

Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
Mount Washington Avalanche Center