Weekend Update – Friday April 15, 2016

Avalanche Advisory for Friday, April 15, 2016

This Advisory expires at Midnight

Tuckerman Ravine has LOW avalanche danger. Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely except in isolated terrain features. Lobster Claw, Lower Snowfields and Little Headwall are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Due to the rain from several days ago, and multiple melt-freeze cycles since then, avalanche problems are minimal. As slopes heat up today from their hard frozen state this morning, steep untracked slopes may be vulnerable to a ski/board induced wet loose problem.  Think about sluff management and not allowing wet moving snow to suck you in by having a plan before entering untracked slopes.

WEATHER: Sunny skies will prevail again today eventually warming up the cold morning. A moderate N wind will gust to 40mph today as temperatures climb through the 20’sF on the summit.  This trend will continue through the weekend with only slight changes, but expect sun, cool frozen starts, and low wind speeds for Mount Washington.

SNOWPACK: Sunny skies and low wind speeds in the Ravine will allow slopes to soften up through the day following a brief frozen start this morning. As always, timing and choosing the right aspect at the correct time is the name of the game. The best window will be mid-morning to mid-afternoon before refreezing starts in the mid-late afternoon on a number of aspects.  This will occur as slopes move into the shade and temperatures begin dropping towards their expected 15F tonight. Being on or above an icy slope as this refreeze happens increases your risk and consequences dramatically. As always, crampons, an ice axe, and good judgement developed by experience are important tools to bring with you.  Without these, rethink your plans and make even more conservative choices than if you have them. The Ravine will be here next time, make sure you will too.

Currently snow stability is very good so the greater threats in the Ravine are:

  • Falling ice – Large high speed falling ice chunks can move on destructive unpredictable trajectories. The best thing you can do to reduce your exposure to this hazard is by limiting the time spent below these frozen waterfalls. “Icefall Rocks” (Lunch Rocks) and beneath Center Bowl (the Headwall) are in the crosshairs and are a bad place to sit, sled or hang around in. Sitting down lower on the Ravine floor near the entrance to the bowl is a great alternative to hanging out in “Icefall Rocks”.  Expect the falling ice hazard to increase over the next few days as sun warms the Ravine.
  • Crevasses, moats, and waterfall holes – Water flowing under the snow pack creates holes, glide cracks (crevasses) and thin spots that are deep enough to injure or kill you. The climber’s right side of the Bowl, near and under “The Lip”, harbor the most deep holes.
  • Long sliding falls – Crampons, an ice ax, and the experience and skills to use them effectively are required to travel safely in steep terrain. Snowshoes and microspikes are not a substitute. Watch the runout in your potential fall line to pick a route that avoids frozen waterfall cliffs, brush, and rocks.

Check out the Weekend Update later today on www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 7:25 a.m., Friday, April 15, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Christopher Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

2016-04-15

Avalanche Advisory for Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tuckerman Ravine LOW avalanche danger. Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely. Lobster Claw, Lower Snowfields and Little Headwall are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Due to the multiple, deep melt-freeze cycles that our snowpack has been subjected to, both recently and over the course of our lackluster winter, there isn’t any real avalanche concern today. Given the steepness of our terrain, I would certainly be cautious entering an untracked slope in the heat of the day and be prepared to let your wet loose sluff pass by. Over the course of the next few days our main hazards will be the more typical ones associated with a spring warmup, including the following:

  • Long sliding falls – Crampons, an ice ax, and the experience and skills to use them effectively are required to travel safely in steep terrain. Snowshoes and microspikes are not a substitute. Watch your runout in your fall line since there are plenty of things that you don’t want to slide into or over, like frozen waterfall cliffs, boulders and the next item on this list.
  • Crevasses, moats, and waterfall holes – Water flowing under the snow pack creates holes, glide cracks (crevasses) and thin spots that are deep enough to injure or kill you. The climber’s right side of the Bowl, near and under “The Lip”, harbor the most, and certainly the deepest, holes.
  • Falling ice – The best thing you can do to reduce your exposure to this seemingly random hazard is by limiting the time spent downslope from frozen waterfalls. Falling ice chunks can move with surprising speed and follow unpredictable trajectories. Expect this hazard to increase over the next few days as sun warms the Ravine.  Icefall Rocks (Lunch Rocks) and beneath Center Bowl (the Headwall) are in the crosshairs and are a bad place to sit, sled or hang around. Sitting on your pack down lower in the floor near the entrance to the bowl is a great alternative to hanging out in Lunch Rocks.

WEATHER and SNOWPACK: Overnight temperatures in the mid to high teens will rebound into the mid-20’s on the summit. Sunny skies and light winds will make it feel much warmer in the Ravines and will allow slopes to soften up to pretty much ideal spring skiing conditions. Some slopes are starting out harder and icier than others so timing and choosing the right aspect at the correct time is the name of the game. Be prepared for the snow to refreeze later in the day or by aspect when slopes begin to move into the shade. Being stuck on or above an icy slope, or committing to a potentially frozen one, ratchets up the risk and consequences. As always, crampons and ice axe and the judgement to choose safer but satisfying options through the terrain are useful tools to bring with you.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 7:55 a.m., Thursday, April 14, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Frank Carus, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

2016-04-14

Avalanche Advisory for Wednesday, April 13, 2016

This advisory expires at midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has LOW avalanche danger.  Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely except in isolated terrain features. Lobster Claw, Lower Snowfields and the Little Headwall are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Yesterday’s primary avalanche problem of Wet Slab, due to warm temperatures and +/- 0.5″ rain on Wind Slab, dissipated quickly overnight as temperatures fell.  The snowpack is freezing from the surface down increasing strength, dramatically reducing avalanche problems, and giving the primary mountain hazard concerns over to falling ice, crevasses, and hard steep surface conditions.

WEATHER: Summit temperatures yesterday rose to 35 F with almost 0.5″ of rain falling followed by a brief period of scant snow.  Avalanche terrain in Tuckerman shot into the high 40’sF.  As the front passed on Tuesday morning temperatures dropped off rapidly into the low teens, currently hovering around 9F on the summit.  High pressure will become established producing fine sunny days for the extended forecast.

SNOWPACK: New wind slabs that established over the weekend, and again on Monday, transformed yesterday due to warm air and steady spitting rain adding up to 0.5″ of liquid.  Rainfall amounts mixed with melt water to penetrate new surface wind slab instabilities to create wet slab problems yesterday.  As the mercury fell off overnight, and precipitation ended, free water began refreezing from the surface down decreasing our instability concerns. Rapid settlement and the freezing of liquid water increased the snowpack strength dramatically overnight.  The frozen crust thickness will continue to increase through the morning and then slow as the solar gain increases especially on SE and S facing slopes, such as the Sluice and Right Gully.  With clear cold nights, low winds and clear sunny days in the extended forecast the snowpack will be interesting to watch for snow science aficionados. Areas where soft slab existed may re-crystallize and go through some winter like faceting, while the old dense grey surfaces will remain hard and change very little.

  • Long sliding falls – Crampons, an ice ax, and the experience and skills to use them effectively are required to travel safely in steep terrain. Snowshoes and microspikes are absolutely no substitute.
  • Crevasses, moats, and waterfall holes – Water flowing under the snow pack creates holes, glide cracks (crevasses) and thin spots that are deep enough for grave consequences. The climber’s right side of the Bowl, near and under “The Lip”, harbor the most amount of holes.
  • Falling ice – The best thing you can do is reduce your exposure by limiting the time spent downslope from frozen waterfalls. Falling ice chunks can move with surprising speed and follow unpredictable trajectories. Expect this hazard to increase each day as sun warms the Ravine.  Icefall Rocks (Lunch Rocks) is a historically notorious bad place to sit as many very bad outcomes have occurred there.  It is a shooting ice gallery from the Headwall and the Sluice.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 6:35 a.m., Wednesday, April 13, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Christopher Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

2016-04-13

Avalanche Advisory for Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This advisory expires at midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has CONSIDERABLE and MODERATE avalanche danger. All forecast areas of Tuckerman Ravine have CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger except Right Gully, which has moderate avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered avalanches are likely. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Natural avalanches are unlikely and human-triggered avalanches are possible in Right Gully. Lobster Claw, Lower Snowfields and Little Headwall are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: The primary avalanche hazard today is Wet Slab. With rainfall currently intensifying, the peak of avalanche danger will be this morning. Once the temperatures drop, the danger of wet slabs will decrease as the snowpack freezes. Wind slabs formed from the 5.8” of snow since Friday that turned to wet slabs are the primary threat today. These existed largely in Chute through Sluice. Worth keeping in mind is the potential for a waterfall blowout in the Lip area as both the upper and lower holes were visible this past weekend. Once the rain turns back to snow, wind slab may develop depending on how much of the forecasted 1-3” of snow we get. Conservative decision-making today will be paramount.

WEATHER: Yesterday morning, the summit received 2” of snow on strong SSW and SW winds with Hermit Lake receiving about 4”. After a lull in precipitation during the afternoon, light rain began late last night and continues this morning. It appears temperatures are peaking right about now and will decrease with an approaching cold front. Rain will likely continue until mid-morning before transitioning back to snow. Current 45mph (72kph) winds will decrease slightly and shift to the W by afternoon. By dark, the mountain may receive up to 3” of new snow.

SNOWPACK: Prior to yesterday morning, the ravine was a mixture of old surface and wind slab. Areas containing the most wind slab were the top of the hourglass in Chute, below the ice in Center Bowl, Lip, and Sluice bowl. Slopes with wind slab likely continued to load with new snow yesterday with isolated pockets growing in Left Gully and Hillman’s Highway. After steady light rain through the night, intensity has increased in the past two hours. Wet slabs are hard to predict and with limited visibility today, mitigating risk in avalanche terrain will be difficult. The lack of snow this year means the waterfalls are closer to the snow surface than in years past and at some point may run on top of the snow creating the potential for a large wet slab event. Today looks like a great day to put the spring tune on your skis in preparation for the upcoming streak of nice weather. When temperatures drop today and the rain turns to snow, the snow should bond well.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 8:00 a.m., Tuesday, April 12, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Helon Hoffer and Chris Joosen, Snow Rangers
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

2016-04-12

Avalanche Advisory for Monday, April 11, 2016

This advisory expires at midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has CONSIDERABLE and MODERATE avalanche danger. Right Gully has MODERATE avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are unlikely and human-triggered avalanches are possible. All other forecast areas of Tuckerman Ravine have CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered avalanches are likely. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Lobster Claw, Lower Snowfields and Little Headwall are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Today’s avalanche problem will be Wind Slab transitioning to Wet Slab. Avalanche hazard will increase throughout the day due to forecasted weather. Wind slab will develop today as up to 4” of forecasted snow loads into the ravine on increasing winds. As the day progresses, snow will transition to rain, changing our primary problem to wet slabs. Rain on the wind slabs will weaken them and increase the likelihood of natural avalanches. Travel in avalanche terrain today will require cautious route-finding with natural avalanches in several places being possible. The wind slabs which formed Saturday night in Sluice across to Chute, and were active yesterday in some areas, are still in play and would be likely spots for a larger natural avalanche to occur.

WEATHER and SNOWPACK: Snowfall began on the summit in the wee hours of the morning. Dry air in place from the high pressure system that just exited allowed falling precipitation to evaporate by the time it reached lower elevations so don’t be too surprised by the hazard forecast this morning. Weather factors today are the main ingredients in a recipe for elevated potential of natural avalanches. Warming temperatures and snow turning to rain will create a textbook red flag situation. However, south winds shifting southwest will reduce the amount of snow blown into our forecast area from the amount that we might see from a typical westerly. Expect 2-4” of snow transitioning to wet snow and sleet before turning to all rain near the end of the daylight hours. The current summit temperature is 15F (25F at 4300’) and will rise to and just above the freezing mark by mid-afternoon. Several small, human-triggered avalanches yesterday in the Lip and Sluice areas along with a couple of near-miss long sliding falls served as a reminder to the several dozen people around Tuckerman Ravine that the mountains operate according to their own calendar. Two wind slabs released above the ice crust, more than likely with some early faceting serving as the weak layer. A much thicker (16”), but fortunately small in area, slab broke off leaving a booting skier stranded in steep icy terrain without crampons over a small cliff with only a Whippet in hand.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 8:00 a.m., Monday, April 11, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Frank Carus and Helon Hoffer, Snow Rangers
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

2016-04-11

Un-spring like conditions, April 10, 2016

20160410 Hillmans and Dodges

Dodge’s Drop and Hillman’s Highway. Tracks still visible in both from descents yesterday.

20160410_Center Bowl thru Left

Old surface visible as gray surface.

20160410_Lip and Sluice

Two sets of tracks through the Lip made yesterday are fully covered along with the waterfall hole in the Open Book area. Upper Sluice looks pretty full of new smooth and likely slabby snow.

20160410_083114

Temperature at Hermit Lake is in the mid-teens F at 9am.

Avalanche Advisory for Sunday, April 10, 2016

This advisory expires at midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has MODERATE and LOW avalanche danger. The Sluice, Lip, Center Bowl, and Chute have Moderate avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are unlikely and human-triggered avalanches are possible. Heightened avalanche conditions exist in certain terrain features within these forecast areas. All other forecast areas have Low avalanche danger.  Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely except in isolated pockets. The Lobster Claw, Little Headwall and Lower Snowfields are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin for the remainder of the season. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Today’s avalanche problem is wind slab. Winds ramped up last night, further scouring some areas while loading new snow in others. There is still a fair amount of icy old surface visible through the summit fog this morning but the larger pillows scattered around are large enough in the moderate rated areas to create concerns for human-triggered avalanches. Yesterday, wind slabs that developed after the rain event with 6” inches of new snow (measured on the summit) proved to be pretty well bonded to the rain saturated and refrozen snow beneath. Cold temperatures last night certainly didn’t allow for settlement or bonding and there is a good chance that some faceting may have reversed the trend towards stabilization. If you venture into the terrain, be wary of the size of the wind slabs and stick to the old surface when possible.

WEATHER: Winter weather is taking the helm again today and will likely continue to steer us away from good spring skiing conditions. The mercury stands at 5F at Hermit Lake right now with -3F on the summit and a harsh NW wind blowing at 60 mph on the summit. Though the forecast is again calling for mostly clear skies today, we are not counting on much of a warm up at Ravine levels today. Summit temperatures should rebound to the mid-teens later in the day with slightly relaxed winds from the west at 30-45mph. Temperatures will be slightly warmer and winds lower in the Ravines but will not allow much, if any, warming of the snowpack.

SNOWPACK: Winds ramped up last night and further scoured Left Gully with signs of scouring across much of the Center Bowl area. Newly deposited, wind blown snow filled yesterday’s tracks in the Lip and built larger pillows of snow below the ice. Chute also gained snow, primarily above the choke . Some of the wind slab is likely to be on the firm side but I would test for weak interfaces and consider the results before venturing onto a steeper slope with large areas of the wind slab. Remember that hard slabs can often appear stubborn with moderate to hard results in stability tests. Though this indicates that triggering may be more difficult it doesn’t rule out a crack propagating. A few of the wind slabs in the Lip and Chute could bury a person but it’s more likely that a human-triggered avalanche in other areas would take someone for a very long ride through traumatic terrain.  Besides avalanche hazard these are very important points to remember today:

  • Long sliding falls – Crampons, an ice ax, and the experience and skills to use them effectively are required to travel safely in steep terrain. Snowshoes and microspikes are absolutely no substitute. However, arresting a fall on a steep icy slope can be practically impossible even with an ice axe.
  • Crevasses, moats, and waterfall holes – Water flowing under the snow pack creates holes and thin spots in surface that are deep enough to injure or kill you. New snow can drift and obscure the openings.

The Sherburne Ski Trail is now closed one third of the way down from Hermit Lake. Expect water ice under a dusting of new snow.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 7:40 a.m., Sunday, April 10, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Frank Carus, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

2016-04-10

Avalanche Advisory for Saturday, April 9, 2016

This advisory expires tonight at 12:00 midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has LOW and MODERATE avalanche danger. The Sluice, Lip, Center Bowl, and Chute have Moderate avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are unlikely and human-triggered avalanches are possible. Heightened avalanche conditions exist in certain terrain features within these forecast areas. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully to identify specific areas of concern. Right Gully, Left Gully, and Hillman’s Highway have Low avalanche danger.  Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely except in isolated pockets. The Lobster Claw, Little Headwall and Lower Snowfields are not posted due to lack of snow.

Huntington Ravine is under a General Bulletin for the remainder of the season. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain in Huntington. A danger of falling ice exists, and will persist until it all comes down.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Today’s avalanche problem is new Wind Slab. Over the past two days the summit has had just short of 6″ of new snow.  3.5″ fell in the past 24 hours, most of which fell last night on a W wind between 40-60mph.  Many new winds slabs are mixed with old surface although some areas have greater human trigger potential than others.  See Snowpack section below for details.

WEATHER: Temperatures fell to 3F last night on the summit. Mercury should rebound to about 12-13F before falling again to -5F tonight.  Winds have abated from a peak of 60mph to about 35 but should increase again this afternoon gusting to 50mph.   Expect true winter conditions today with appropriate winter mountaineering clothing. Consider a conservative timetable for your day to avoid the very cold air moving in late today and tonight.

SNOWPACK: The copious rain from Wednesday, which soaked deep into the snowpack, has refrozen due to very cold air making for generally very hard slick conditions.  Since that rain we have received about 6″ of snow,  3.5″ falling yesterday and last night.  This snowfall and overnight wind gave the Ravine a nice skim coat of white this morning, but has also created new pockets of slab over the hard slick older grey surface. Some of these new areas of wind slab harbor more instability than others based or their size, depth, and slope angle.  Based on these factors we have the most concern in the Lip, high in the left Center Bowl, and over into the Chute. Other areas posted at Moderate have areas of concern, but are peppered with more visible old surface. The lower Center Bowl and the Sluice are two example of this. Overall, some of the new wind slabs could bury a person but it’s more likely that a human-triggered avalanche would take someone for a very long ride on the icy bed surface through rocks, brush, and over cliffs. Based on the hard old surface underfoot in many locations, expect travel to be difficult and a slip has a high potential for a long devastating fall. Besides avalanche hazard these are very important points to remember today:

  • Long sliding falls – Crampons, an ice ax, and the experience and skills to use them effectively are required to travel safely in steep terrain. Snowshoes and microspikes are absolutely no substitute. However, arresting a fall on a steep icy slope can be practically impossible even with an ice axe.
  • Crevasses, moats and waterfall holes – Warm water flowing under the snow pack creates holes and thin spots in surface that are deep enough to injure or kill you. New snow can drift and obscure the openings.

The Sherburne Ski Trail is now closed one third of the way down from Hermit Lake. Expect water ice under a dusting of new snow.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted 8:10 a.m., Saturday, April 9, 2016. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Chris Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2716

04-09-2016

Weekend Update- Why have accidents gone down? And Mach 1 Luge runs

As I roll into my last month in the Ravine after a bunch of years I have been reflecting about many things I have seen on Mount Washington over time.  This mountain’s landscape, and all of you collectively, have been with me since I was very young and therefore have influenced who I have become. As I move on to other endeavors in life I have thought a lot about my role here and the history that has unfolded.

Snow Ranger work is very diverse.  One minute you’re carrying some 2×4’s, painting, trying to fix a generator and then the next checking snow conditions, running a major search for a missing climber involving many teams, being lowered into a crevasse, or notifying families of tragedy.  Sometimes, as in the last few years, long periods of time may elapse between major accidents which requires us to remain vigilant and not be lulled to believe accidents don’t happen anymore, because they certainly do.  But why have accidents gone down?  Are visitors more skilled?  Smarter? More risk savvy? …you know…. I’m not sure, but I have some thoughts that all collectively may start to get to the answer that may interest you.

About 20 years ago we moved to the net with Tuckerman.org versus faxing our typed avalanche advisories around.  This began an era how we all get information…at home “online” rather than going anyway and figuring it all out once we get somewhere.   When the vast majority of people started having internet access this really made a noticeable difference.  When people stay at home because the web said there was elevated avalanche danger, or the Ravine was going to be a hockey ring pitched at 45 degrees, many more people decided to do something else.  This is quite different compared to arriving with 4 of your friends at Pinkham Notch with no prior information which was pretty typical 25 years ago.  So what happened when it was bullet proof or High avalanche danger?  Well 50% went to do something else like ski at Wildcat, 30% would come up and be a bit more conservative, and 20% would do what they had their heart set on when they pulled out of their driveway.  This led to accidents- when a small amount of individuals enter during the highest hazards. We found when people are already here they’re “going to see what it’s like”  and then when they do see, they can’t turn around…they have to give it a go.  The internet delivered safety information to give people choices before leaving home.

At about this time we went from a routine of spreading out on weekends with our Volunteer ski patrol and passing out good information, to doing it more intensively!  We began following a particular method of briefing the staff and giving out assignments to assure as many people as possible knew several points of critical information.  The strategy was if we can keep more people away from the worst hazards of the day we have gained ground to eliminate accidents.

Then 9/11 in 2001 occurred which we believe was a major factor in very low visitation that season (2001-2002).  The following spring in 2002-2003 we saw rain almost every weekend.  These two years began a decline in spring use that we can’t explain well, but think it has something to do with broken cycles in human routine.  Although they still loved coming to the mountains they also started creating new spring rituals which fits with our culture of doing many more hobbies and sports generally than our parents may have.

This was coupled with people getting after colder snow/powder with their new AT/Tele/Splitboard set ups.  We began seeing more and more skinning up to Hermit Lake rather than carrying skis up.  In order to skin you need snow and snow melts from Pinkham earlier than 20+ years ago.  So visitors started breaking March visitation records while May fell through the floor making March the new May.  Because of this, we have lower use when falling ice is highest and the crevasses are largest. However we have more human avalanche close call involvements than we ever have because use is rising in the more avalanche prone months.  Eventually I would expect our avalanche accidents to increase.

Then there’s the issue of climate change.  How will this really play out up here?  Hard to say, but I would generally expect what all the climate pundits predict.  More extreme swings, heavy snow and yes also more heavy rain as warmer air can carry more moisture.  And therefore winter coverage starting later and yes, ending earlier.  Maybe February will be the new April.

So to get to the query I started with…why are accident rates lower?  Generally in my opinion it’s the combination of climate changing human patterns, staff talking to people about hazards in the field, searching for different experiences (ie. skinning for powder rather than carrying skis for the icefall party at Lunch Rocks), and the internet giving information and options here at the Avalanche Center, other ski forums, and certain weather sites like our friends at the summit Observatory.

Why do I say all this?  Well I wanted to tie some history to what I think will be a quiet weekend due to a poor winter (climate) having people pursuing other things this spring, some hard surface conditions due to cold temperatures following the rain, and you using our website for info perhaps leading you to do something else.  I also wanted to say that by and large you have been very receptive to our hazard and risk information.  Ultimately, accidents are falling because you are using data and making decisions keeping you away from undo risk.  Mountain pursuits involve risk, but they are also there tomorrow, and you have made choices to come when risk is lower.

At face value Snow Ranger work is most rewarding when you know that your actions made a big difference for someone, such as lifesaving procedures.  The challenging rewards to notice are the successes made because information made someone think differently and decide to avoid the terrain.  These far out-number rescues, but have made more impact on our mountain community at large. Thanks for following all our information over the years and giving it some thought…now for the weekend.

  • THE INFERNO. Yes the Inferno will occur.  Based on conditions there may still be alterations in the morning, but currently a unique double loop foreshortened course down low has been established to dramatically reduce risk.  More to come tomorrow.
  • COLD Our thin snowpack was hit by 2” of rain at Hermit Lake and a bit less on the summit over the past 24 hours. This has been followed by a scant amount of snow and a dropping temperature. Tomorrow morning the temperature will start cold at about 5F, rise to the teens, and then start falling again to about 0F Saturday night.  See the details at https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/higher-summit-forecast.aspx  Hypothermia for “spring” visitors could be an issue. Needless to say there won’t be many sunbathers this weekend. Bring winter clothing.
  • MACH 1 FALLS Cold ambient air will not only make you shudder it will also make the rain saturated snow very very hard. I know you just got those edges tuned up and I can’t deny that they are better than they were before for the ice, but think through the potential and consequences for long unplanned falls.  Expect self-arresting with your ice ax and whippet self-arrest poles to be nearly impossible after 0.5 seconds.  Rocks are hard generally, but are very hard when on the unexpected luge run at the speed of sound. As you plan your travel, constantly think about if you fall what will happen.  Without an Ice ax, real crampons, and the experience to use them well, I would refrain from ascending anything steep because safe descent will not be likely.
  • CREVASSES/HOLES Some holes on the right side of the Ravine near the Lip and way down under the Lip near Lunch rocks are deep enough that ultimate tragedy is likely if they are fallen into. Ask us about the holes and how to avoid them.
  • ICY HIKING TRAIL The Tuckerman Ravine trail below Hermit Lake from Pinkham has record breaking ice coverage on it. Today ascending wasn’t extremely bad because it was wet and warm, but the dropping temperature will make it treacherous tomorrow, particularly going down.  In our Patrol briefing tomorrow morning we will discuss how we will effectively respond to accidents on the trail because they are quite likely.
  • SKI TRAIL The Ski Trail is still open a third of the way, but expect water ice! Please cross over and walk to Pinkham on the hiking trail.

Chris