General Bulletin for Wednesday, May 22, 2019

This information was published 05/22/2019 at 9:49 AM.


This is an archived avalanche forecast.

The Bottom Line

Cold temperatures and a couple inches of new sleet, freezing rain and snow fell Tuesday night and remind us that it isn’t just about corn every day, even when the calendar and leaves on the trees say that it is spring. Be sure to check summit weather before heading up and prepare for a mixed bag of conditions ranging from refrozen, icy snow to intense thunderstorms. Currently, Hillman’s Highway offers the longest ski descent with the fewest hazards followed by Left Gully in the Bowl. There is more information on the many springtime hazards unique to Mount Washington and especially Tuckerman Ravine in the following sections of this bulletin, which is likely to be our second to last for the 2018-19 season.

2019-05-22 General Bulletin

Our generous winter snowfall leaves plenty of skiing to be done in the backcountry, and slackcountry, but this weekend will be the last that snow rangers and ski patrol work in Tuckerman Ravine. We will close the Tuckerman Ravine trail where it passes through the Lip above Lunch Rocks and to the Alpine Garden trail by next week. The magnitude of crevasses and undermined snow in the Lip raise the level of consequence of hiking or skiing in this area, along with the danger to potential rescuers, to the point that closure makes sense. The Lion Head Winter Route and Summer Trail are almost melted enough that a change back to the Summer Trail is possible. We will notify the public of the switch and post signs when completed. That annual switch is about protecting the winter route from erosion and keeping the unwary from the sliding fall and avalanche hazards that exist on the summer trail near treeline. As such, the Lion Head switch is not a legal closure, unlike the Tuckerman Ravine trail closure which is supported by law and carries a stiff penalty for violation. If you plan to drive the Auto Road to ski, remember that slackfest fun shouldn’t include trampling the delicate alpine vegetation. Please limit walking to durable surfaces like rocks or snow and ice to preserve the delicate and slow growing plant communities in the alpine.

Mountain Weather

A mixed bag of fast moving low pressure systems with associated rain is on tap for the rest of the week. Looks like windows of good high pressure are mixed in as well, so plan accordingly. Today (Wednesday) and Thursday should be clear with warm enough conditions. Showers return overnight Thursday into Friday which should be unsettled but not a washout. Showers seem likely on Saturday with high temperatures near 48F on the summit with thunderstorms developing overnight but clearing for Sunday, which seems like the better day of the weekend.

Forecast Discussion

Tuckerman Ravine with Left Gully on the far left. This descent avoids the remaining ice that has not yet fallen from the Headwall and Sluice. The right hand ice remains in Sluice just out of view and threatens Lunch Rocks.

Prolonged periods of melt have opened deep cracks and holes in the snowpack. Beware of these at the margins of the snowpack as well as places that have large cliff bands, like the Headwall in Tuckerman. Keep the following hazards in mind as you make terrain decisions in our dynamic spring backcountry conditions:

Steep snow and ice in gullies and trails can become very hard during any frozen periods in our spring melt/freeze cycles. Even in soft conditions, having crampons and an ice axe are well worth the weight in your pack.

Additional Information

Currently, the Lion Head Winter Route is still the preferred hiking trail to access the summit from Pinkham Notch, though this is likely to change very soon. The Sherburne Ski Trail is no longer recommended for use. The Sherburne, and all other ski trails or bushwhacks that access ski terrain late in the season, have surfaces that are less durable than established hiking trails. Please be aware that slogging through mud accelerates erosion drastically and means a rockier start to next year’s skiing on the ski trails. Leave No Trace travel also applies above treeline when accessing remote ski lines in Oakes Gulf, Great Gulf or even the steep lines in Tuckerman like Dodges Drop, though for a slightly different reason. The alpine environment of the Presidential Range is home to plants that exist nowhere else in the world, in particular the area known as Monroe Flats. Bushwhacking from Lakes of the Clouds Hut to ski in Oakes Gulf takes you directly through the only non-transplanted home of Robbins Cinquefoil, a plant which only recently made it off the Endangered Species List. Stick to walking on durable surfaces like rocks, snow and ice.

Details on daily snowfall totals, precipitation type, total depth of snow and other information can be found on our page devoted to snow study plot data. Click here to check it out.

Recent snowpack and avalanche observations can be found here and on Instagram. Your observations help improve our forecast product. Please take a moment and submit a photo or two and a brief description of snow and avalanche information that you gather in the field.

The young man who was last seen heading up the Winter Lion Head Route on March 8 remains missing.  It is thought that he may have been intent on taking his own life. If that is the case, his remains may be somewhere with the Cutler River Drainage,  around the summit or within a few hours hike on the steep part of Lion Head Winter Route. Please report any potential clues to the NH Fish and Game officers at 603-271-3361 or to USFS Snow Rangers at or via AMC Front Desk staff at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. If it is clear that you have found him, please call 911.

Please Remember:

Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This forecast 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.

Avalanche danger may change when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.

For more information contact the US Forest Service Snow Rangers, AMC visitor services staff at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or seasonally at the Harvard Cabin (generally December 1 through March 31). The Mount Washington Ski Patrol is also available on spring weekends.

Posted 05/22/2019 at 9:49 AM.

Frank Carus
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest