2016: The Winter that Never Arrived

An overview of the Bowl looking as if it is April or May.

An overview of the Bowl looking as if it is April or May.

Helon and I hiked into Tuckerman Ravine this morning to survey the damage to the snowpack wrought by over an inch and a quarter of rain and two and a half days of summit temperatures near 40F. First and foremost we wanted to see how the snowpack dealt with the all the liquid. Several pits up to 170cm deep in the lower sections of the Lip revealed that the rain did penetrate deeply into the snow, through various melt freeze crusts and appeared to have broken down the upper ice crust at least in this area. Rain had made the snow wet to 170cm in one spot and down only 45cm in another. No matter what the depth of the penetrating rain, we expect this upper layers of the snowpack to solidly bridge over any lingering weak layer deeper in the snowpack. Our nowcast for stability at 2pm was Low avalanche danger with a strong concern for wet loose sluffing for anyone skiing steeper terrain. We were sinking well over our boot tops and expected that a significant sluff would have been generated by the first turns on any of the steeper runs. In an area like the Lip, the force of a wet heavy sluff combined with the deep, unconsolidated snow could easily make self-arrest impossible and could even push an unlucky soul into the waterfall hole.

Weather for the weekend looks pretty good though winds on the higher end should keep the temperatures from really baking the snow. High temperatures in the low 30’s on the summit with clear skies both days will cause further melting and settlement of the meager snowpack. Lows tonight in the teens should allow a nice refreeze of the snowpack. An ice axe and crampons may be necessary in spots both days, not due to the overnight refreeze but more because of the amount of water ice deep in our snowpack. This ice may be near the surface in wind eroded shallow spots near the tops and even mid-sections of some gullies. Don’t count on microspikes working in the steep terrain but they will be a godsend on the approach up the Tucks trail right out of Pinkham Notch.

 

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These folks were first into the floor today. Going to take a closer look at avalanche debris or huge blocks of ice that have tumbled down the slope puts you in a place where you need continued good fortune to stay alive and healthy. I did not witness any digging or testing snow stability before they committed to travelling slowly up the floor. Another party laid a straightforward skin track up towards Right that avoided exposure to any overhead hazards.

 

Left Gully still looking pretty rocky at the top.

Left Gully still looking pretty rocky at the top.

 

The waterfall opening in the main drainage of the Lip is open in several places. A fall into this would most likely be fatal. Multiple crevasses can be seen in the vicinity.

The waterfall opening in the main drainage of the Lip is open in several places. A fall into this would most likely be fatal. Multiple crevasses can be seen in the vicinity.

 

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Center Bowl ice. Note the horizontal cracks running full width.

 

Springtime Hazards

The spring ski season is fast approaching, if not already here and nearly passed. Along with the arrival of skiers making their annual pilgrimage to “Tucks” come the associated hazards of springtime.  The big three that you will likely hear talked about if you visit the ravine this weekend will be icefall, crevasses, and undermined snow.

Icefall

Upon entering the Bowl this weekend, take note of the chunk of ice sitting on the Ravine floor. This chunk likely weighs over 600 pounds and is the cause of the wet slab that released from the Center Bowl on Wednesday.  Icefall should command much more respect this season as the Ravine has not filled in enough to cover much of the ice in the Center Bowl.  Due to the lack of snow cover this year, the amount of exposed ice that potentially could fall to the floor is greater than usual.  Beware of sitting at Lunch Rocks since the Sluice ice is directly above this location and is slowly peeling away.  Crossing the floor of the Ravine puts you under a lot of ice that could result in a nasty end to the day.  This is a hazard to respect and the only way to avoid it is by not crossing under the fall line.

A close-up of the Sluice Ice that lingers directly above Lunch Rocks.

A close-up of the Sluice Ice that lingers directly above Lunch Rocks.

Crevasses

This label is always up for debate; does Tuckerman actually have crevasses or are they just large glide cracks? Call the gaping hole underneath two separate waterfall holes in the Lip what you will, falling into one of these holes can have fatal consequences.  It seems to happen every year and multiple skiers and riders have stories of surviving the fall, however these holes are scary and nobody should see the inside.  If skiing the Lip this weekend is your goal, you will be in a no-fall zone.  Glide cracks are appearing in other places around the Ravine, but at the moment are primarily in the Lip area.

Undermined Snow

With the warm weather Mount Washington experienced this past week, there is a vast amount of meltwater running downhill. Just look at the Ellis River as you drive up Route 16 and think, “That’s probably the top half of Right Gully running down to Jackson right now.”  Higher on the mountain and in Tuckerman and Huntington, this meltwater eats away at the snow from beneath.  Punching through from above is something we’ve all done and in certain spots can have dire consequences.  It would be foolhardy to try and exit the Bowl to the Little Headwall at the moment.  The snow cover is so thin you can hear the water rushing underneath in the floor with the remainder of the creek more or less uncovered by snow.

Trail Closures

Lion Head Switch

As of Saturday morning, the Lion Head Winter Route will be closed. The Summer Trail will open for the season.  This switch happens every spring and this year is happening very early due to the lack of snow and ice cover on the Winter Route.  If winter returns and the gods finally decide to bring snow to New England, it is possible we may re-open the winter route.  This is very unlikely and we ask that you preserve the tread way of the Winter Route and refrain from using it.

Sherburne Closure

The John Sherburne Ski Trail is now closed at cutover number 2, about a half mile uphill of Pinkham. We have placed a rope across the trail at this point and ask all ski traffic to please cross over to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and hike down.  Skiing the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is frowned upon for safety reasons and also not feasible at this point due to lack of snow.  The overall condition of the Sherburne is rough.  The trail is skiable down to the rope, but be prepared for all types of snow as well as patches of ice and occasional grass.

 

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#3 hill on the Sherburne. Trail is closed just around he corner and down the next hill.

 

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Sadly, the long stretches of ice are some of the better skiing options and one of the few spots where you probably won’t hit a rock.

 

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This shot is a little overexposed so don’t confuse the running water in the Little Headwall with snow. Plan for more hiking than you usually do on the second weekend of March.

 

There is no doubt that this winter is one for the record books. The lack of snow has changed things dramatically.  It’s hard to wrap our head around the fact that the weekend of March 12 looks more like a weekend we would typically see in mid to late April.  The skiing will likely be great this weekend, but keep in mind that runs have thin coverage overall and runouts are still rocky.  Conservative skiing this weekend will make for a great day on the hill.  We will be in the Ravine alongside the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and the caretakers of Harvard Cabin and Hermit Lake.  Be sure and stop to chat on your way through.  There’s nothing we like more than talking about safe travel plans and getting home for dinner.  See you on the hill!

-Frank and Helon