Avalanche Advisory for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines

Posted 7:53a.m., Tuesday, January 4, 2011 

Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have Low avalanche danger. Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely. Watch for isolated pockets of unstable snow in areas with good protection from strong west winds.  The Escape Hatch, Lower Snowfields, and Little Headwall are not posted due to a general lack of snow in these areas.

Today will continue our run of bitterly cold days devoid of meaningful precipitation.  At least the ice is reforming quickly for those who are actually seeking it out.  Snow conditions on the other hand, leave something to be desired.  Scorching holiday temperatures melted much of our thin snowpack but by the time people were reading the Sunday paper the mercury was in freefall mode.  A 44F (25C) drop in temperature did a proper job of locking up meltwater and our world turned from slush to ice.  Down in the trees the snowpack was either consumed by the heat or left with a nasty crust that prohibits any recreational enjoyment. In open areas where the existing snowpack was more densely packed due to wind effect or previous avalanche activity, the snow surface has been converted to the bulletproof variety.  As a result LONG SLIDING FALLS are the main issue of concern today.  An ice ax is a critical piece of equipment if traveling in open angled terrain but it is useless if you don’t have the proper skills to go along with it.  Once you begin to slide you’ll pick up speed quicker than a jackrabbit out of the starting gate.  Instantaneous self arrest is your only help for waging a successful battle against gravity and the rocks and trees in your runout.

ICE DAMS are a significant concern for ice climbers especially in the confined gullies of Huntington.  A large volume of meltwater was coursing through the veins of the Ravine this past weekend and then the huge temperature drop shrunk those veins as rapid freezing took place.  In this scenario water effectively dams behind these constrictions waiting for a chance to release pressure.  Be gentle, avoid swinging into convexities, protect often with rock gear when possible, and station belays in protected areas. Today’s weather forecast calls for another day of temperatures climbing back to the single digits above zero F and winds slowly diminishing from their currently sustained speeds greater than 70mph (113kph). Expect arctic conditions above treeline.

We usually don’t go into great detail about trail conditions on the mountain but today it’s worth it because they’re downright nasty.  I didn’t run into too many people on the trail yesterday but everyone I saw was wearing crampons or microspikes.  There is so much water ice on the Tucks Trail that you cannot make it up the trail without this type of equipment unless you venture into the woods and cause unnecessary resource damage.  Additionally there are places where a sliding fall would send you a few hundred feet down a rock-studded iceflow.  Situational awareness will help you make good decisions that on any other day would have been trivial.  We’ve personally seen a number of failures with lightweight traction devices recently so keep an eye on your equipment in these challenging conditions.

The Sherburne Ski Trail lost much of its snow and there are LONG sections that have nothing but grass and water ice.  There are also rocks, brush, and open waterbars. And where snow exists, it’s very hard and choppy. I checked out a long section yesterday and wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy.  Until things change pack your mouthguard and plan extra time for your descent or walk the hiking trail down to Pinkham.  We need 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 or the Harvard Cabin.
  • This advisory expires at midnight. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

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