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East Side Closure lifts Monday, June 8

The USDA Forest Service is making every effort to expand access to recreation sites within the context of CDC guidance and state and local government orders for residents, while prioritizing employee and public health and safety. The White Mountain NF (WMNF) is working closely with state and local partners to determine the best path forward to safely reopen sites closed in response to the pandemic. As a result of those efforts, the east side closure of Mount Washington and the Cutler River Drainage will be lifted on Monday, June 8th. Services will be limited with no camping allowed in the Cutler River Drainage, including at Hermit Lake Shelters and tent platforms or Harvard Cabin.

The WMNF asks the public to please recreate responsibly. Snow rangers are no longer on site and law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues so be prepared to perform your own rescue.  Please seek out the AMC caretaker at Hermit Lake, or the new visitor information window at Pinkham Notch if you need assistance. Dial 911 for emergencies and be prepared to start your own rescue. It could be a long wait for rescue personnel to arrive. This is not the time for the typical large groups in Tuckerman Ravine and now more than ever, novice visitors should leave their skis at home.

Currently, conditions on the mountain are more typical of snow found in late April or May during most average years. This season was an average year for total snowfall but when combined with limited melting events, we are left with an east-side snowpack well above average in depth. Spring hazards are now plentiful with snow and ice on most shaded or wind-loaded trails above 3,500′. Those planning to hike to the summit from Pinkham should have boots and crampons and, ideally, an ice axe due to several sections of steep snow at tree-line and on the summit cone where a slip could end badly.

All photos were taken Friday, June 5th. This is the first half of the traverse across steep snow before the summer Lionhead Trail emerges from treeline. There is a cliff band below this slope behind a thin screen of trees which may, or may not, stop a fall. As more folks travel this trail a trough develops which can make it a bit safer but in freezing conditions or after a period of warming, the slope remains a hazard. Be prepared with ice axe and crampons on stiff soled boots.

The Tuckerman Ravine trail is now closed where it passes through the Headwall. The crevasses and waterfall hole make this section impassable for skiers and extremely dangerous for hikers and their would-be rescuers. To understand the reasoning behind the closure, see this video. The summer Lion Head Trail is the shortest route to the summit from Pinkham and the typical route for folks when snow remains in Tucks. The Lion Head Trail has several long stretches of steep snow that create significant hazard for unprepared hikers. Stiff soled boots, crampons and an ice axe will lower your risk of a long, sliding fall in those sections.

 

Left Gully remains skiable top to bottom and Sluice ice has fallen completely. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the moats and waterfall holes are open and they are deep! Here’s another view in this video taken from Right Gully.

 

Hillman’s Highway is also still filled in top to bottom. Be alert for undermined areas! If you hear water, you may be near or over a thin spot. These holes can be nasty and surprisingly deep. You can best avoid these by booting up the edge of the gully and by giving any existing holes a wide berth. Holes tend to appear first in the lower half of the gully. That’s a good place to move towards the edge of the couloir.

 

Glide cracks like this one in the fork of Hillman’s are prevalent and obvious throughout the terrain. Mostly they are small and harmless.

 

Access Prohibitions on Mount Washington

The USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center has issued its final avalanche and mountain safety forecast for the 2019/20 season.

At this time, the need to reduce exposure of workers and forest visitors to the novel coronavirus outweighs the value of providing avalanche safety information to backcountry travelers. The decision to stop forecasts was made in order to better provide for public health and safety by reducing interactions between the recreating public, USFS employees and volunteers. NH Governor’s Order Section 18 of Executive Order 2020-04, part 4 requests that the public limit non-essential travel and further defines essential businesses and activities. Among the allowed activities are “leaving home for outdoor recreation” or “to get fresh air and exercise” provided that appropriate social distancing protocols are observed. The unavoidable travel and social congregation that occur in Tuckerman Ravine, Gulf of Slides, nearby hiking trails, and parking areas suggest that more aggressive measures are needed in order to comply with state and federal guidelines intended to reduce the spread and impact of coronavirus.

There is an official closure order now in place for an expanded area which includes all of Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine as well as the Gulf of Slides, Appalachian Mountain Club Visitors Center grounds, parking lots and facilities at Pinkham Notch.  These areas are now closed to the public for all use including hiking, skiing and riding, or climbing. This larger closure is in addition to the annual closure of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail above Lunch Rocks.

Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5000.00 for an individual or $10,000.00 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than six (6) months, or both (16 U.S.C., 18 U.S.C. 3559 and 3571).

R9-22-20-02 Closure Order, Closure Order Map, Press Release

The USFS and MWAC understand and support the need for outdoor recreation, fresh air and exercise but interpret the measures to limit the spread should exclude riskier activities, particularly at a highly popular venue which attracts visitors from around the region. Furthermore, high risk activities such as skiing and climbing in complex avalanche terrain with extreme weather conditions create an unnecessary risk of injury or a need for search and rescue intervention. What is frequently overlooked is the potential for an injury, even a minor one, takes on much different logistics when hiking, than, say, walking around your neighborhood. These injuries could lead to rescues and the opportunity to further spread the virus through close contact among rescuers and the patient, whether they show symptoms or not.

We acknowledge that the absence of avalanche and mountain safety forecasts increases your risk in the backcountry, but since backcountry travel is not an essential need at this time of pandemic, you assume this increased risk. We will continue to support local rescue teams with spot forecasts on request but every effort will be made to encourage parties to self-rescue without intervention.

Thank you for your support as we all grapple with challenging decisions and redefine our work and community life. We look forward to getting through this pandemic with a minimum loss of life and economic disruption.

For more information, contact:

Sherman Hogue, Public Affairs Officer, sherman.hogue@usda.gov, p) 603-536-6215 or c) 603-348-1649

Or Colleen Mainville, Public Affairs Specialist, colleen.mainville@usda.gov, p) 603-536-6243 or c) 603-790-0860

End of the season and closures

Thank you for your support through this season that ended much differently than normal. We had a successful season from a safety standpoint with only a handful of incidents and accidents despite quite a few human triggered avalanches. The community stoke was high though the snowpack and weather did not supply the goods as often as we would like. As usual, our amazing ski patrol turned out to help in March and were invaluable in navigating those first weekends when the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Late in March, we had @avalanchegeeks, Mike Austin to work as an intern with Glenn Pinson as an emergency hire. They were meant to provide late winter opportunities for the other members of the snow ranger team to take some time off. Turns out, vacation travel was off the table given the rising epidemic, but the two visiting forecasters helped us maintain social distancing among the team and reduced our exposure time to the public and to each other. 

The season ends on the east side of the range with a closure order in effect for the east side of Mount Washington, including Gulf of Slides, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine and all of the trails in between. While this may seem to be an extreme measure, consider the viewpoint of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease. “the fact is what I like to see is when people look at what we’re doing and say, ‘you’re overreacting.’ For me, the dynamics and the history of outbreaks is you are never where you think you are with the (spread)– if you think you’re in-line with the outbreak, you’re already three weeks behind. So you’ve got to be almost overreacting a bit to keep up with it.” So in addition to the annual closure that occurs to the section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, a much larger closure is in effect. Pinkham Notch parking lot will be closed to the public, with both the closure orders enforced with fines and even possible jail time.

Please do your part and stay near home, hike in the woods, run a new route, or take up that project you’ve been putting off. The mountains have been around for a long time and will be here when life returns to normal. Thanks again for your cooperation as we navigate these rough waters.

Frank Carus, Lead Snow Ranger
Director, USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center

MWAC Spring Operations

During this challenging time, we know that backcountry skiing, climbing and hiking will offer needed opportunities for recreation and escape. We will continue to forecast avalanches and other mountain hazards through it all, but with some changes to our operations that are designed to protect snow rangers, ski patrollers and the public. The changes are based on current recommendations from public health professionals.

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