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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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