Avalanche Advisory for Saturday, 3-17-2012

This advisory expires at midnight, Saturday, 3-17-2012

All forecast areas of Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have Low avalanche danger. Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely.

In the ten years or so I’ve been working in the White Mountains, one thing I’ve learned is that every winter is unique in some way. This season is no exception. Not only was every month this winter marked by low snowfall amounts, but the springtime meltout has arrived with force. The past week we’ve already lost dramatic amounts of snow, and we’re just about to begin an intense March heat wave. While today won’t break records, expect to see new high temperature marks set tomorrow and later in the week. Snow stability remains good in the ravines today, though you will probably see some sluffing of wet, mushy snow. Currently the “Big Three” springtime hazards are what you need to be aware of while traveling in either Tuckerman or Huntington this weekend.

  1. Falling Ice. Whether it’s Tuckerman or Huntington doesn’t matter. There is a full winter’s worth of ice melting out of the steep cliffs and gullies, waiting to crash to the floor of the ravines. Through the years, there have been many significant injuries and even fatalities from falling ice. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid spending time in the potential path of icefall, which can happen almost anywhere at this time of the year. In Tuckerman, the most dangerous ice can be found in the Center Bowl as well as directly above Lunch Rocks in the Sluice. If ice falls from the Sluice, you will have nowhere to hide as shrapnel flies all around you. For this reason, Lunch Rocks is not a safe place to sit! You’re better off parking yourself down low in the floor or on the climber’s left side of the Bowl.
  2. Undermined Snow. Currently, this hazard looms largest for those who want to exit the bowl via the Little Headwall. The Little Headwall itself has already collapsed and is an open waterfall. The streambed above is a series of open water holes and weak snow bridges. I strongly recommend taking off your skis and hiking the trail back to Hermit Lake.
  3. Crevasses. This hazard forms as the wintertime snowpack creeps slowly downhill, pulling away from cliffs, rocks, and in places, from itself. These are just beginning to open up, but over the next few days I think we’ll start to see them become more and more problematic. We recommend hiking up the route you plan to descend so you can assess the hazards in advance.

General coverage in Tuckerman is still pretty good, all things considered. Left Gully, the Chute, and left side of the Center Bowl all have decent top-to-bottom coverage. A couple things are not worth your time, such as Lobster Claw, the top of Right Gully, and the Little Headwall. Personally, I’d be looking for two things in my choice of ski terrain today, both are aimed at avoiding bottomless mush. First I’d look to areas where others have compacted the snow through the season. Next I’d head toward runs that are out of the direct sun. Off-the-beaten-track runs and those in the direct sun may have a lot of snow, but you’ll be riding a Slurpee by the end of the day.  Climbing these runs may be a frustrating experience as you punch through, even in places with an existing bootpack.

The Sherburne Ski Trail has taken some abuse this past week. Bare spots, rocks, and water ice have all made their appearance, and with the upcoming weather they’re only going to get worse.

We have transitioned to the Lion Head Summer Trail. The winter Lion Head route is now closed. Please avoid using this route to avoid damaging the soil on the steep section of trail. The Summer Trail does have a lot of snow on it. Plan for wet snow and postholing over the next several days.

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 or the Harvard Cabin.  
  • A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

2012-03-17 Print Friendly