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.

 

Windows to the Wild episode

Host Willem Lange and crew spent a day with us at Hermit Lake. Great to have them up and spend the day with our ski patrol and the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation Youth Course. Check it out:

https://video.nhpbs.org/video/mountain-safety-z7gbi4/

MWAC Outreach Apr 04 2020 – Tucks is Closed – SoundCloud

Listen to MWAC Outreach Apr 04 2020 – Tucks is Closed by Ski The Whites on #SoundCloud

Andrew and lead snow ranger Frank Carus talk about events leading to the closure, the reasoning and process behind it, emerging spring hazards and end of season gear maintenance.

 

 

Read more

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 Outreach Podcast

MWAC Outreach Podcast

This week’s topics – AMC Closures and Forest access, Snowpack Summary, Weekend Forecast, Resources for checking conditions, Using a 50-cal for avy control.

Follow Mike: www.instagram.com/avalanchegeeks
Follow MWAC: www.instagram.com/mwacenter

MWAC Outreach Podcast

If you’d like to hear a conversation with Lead Forecaster Frank Carus, go to the latest MWAC Outreach interview with Andrew Drummond on Soundcloud or click on the embedded image above. They discuss the long sliding fall incident on Monday, strategies to deal with hard, steep snow, communication and first response strategies, the upcoming weather for the weekend and issues surrounding the pandemic.

MWAC Outreach Podcast

Avalanches on the radio

MWAC Director Frank Carus  joined Laura Knoy on the NH Public Radio show “The Exchange”. They talked about the growth of backcountry skiing, avalanches in New England, avalanche accidents and human factors and answered questions from callers. You can listen to the recording here.

9th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 19, 2019

The 9th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop is coming up soon! As usual, the amazing group of volunteers is putting together another great program with awesome raffles, prizes and giveaways from generous sponsors like Patagonia, the American Avalanche Association, Sterling, Mammut, BCA, Ortovox,  and many others. Go to esaw.org to get your tickets.

ESAW 2019 Preliminary Schedule

07:30 – 08:30     Registration

08:30 – 08:45     Welcome, Introduction, Housekeeping, Ski Patrol and Knieriem Scholarship 

Frank Carus, Director, USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Morning Session 1

08:45 – 09:00 Remote weather station study; Liz Jurakowski – Plymouth State University

09:00 – 09:20     Season Weather Summary; Rebecca Scholand – Mount Washington Observatory

09:20 – 09:45 Raymond Cataract fatality case study; Frank Carus – Director, Mount Washington Avalanche Center

09:45 – 10:15     Smuggler’s Notch avalanche case study and organizational response; US Army Mountain Warfare School cadre; Dustin Dearborn, Tim McLaughlin, Nathan Fry

10:15 – 10:25 Friends of Tuckerman Ravine update; Jake Risch, President, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine

 

10:25 -10:35 Break & Raffle

 

Morning Session 2  

10:35 – 10:55     Risk Mitigation Among Passive vs. Active Backcountry Users; Eammon Lynch, University of New Brunswick.

10:55 – 11:35     Stress Injuries to Avalanche RescuersNathalia Daniel, Dartmouth College 

11:35 – 12:15     Global comparison- Avalanche Safety and Rescue outcomes; Dale Atkins, RECCO, 25 year ski patroller, former CAIC forecaster 

 

12:15 –   1:00 Lunch – Optional 20 min. presentation on Colorado Mountain College Avalanche Science program

1:00 –    1:10 Raffle

 

Afternoon Session 1

1:10 – 1:20         White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation update; Bethann Swartz, White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation Board Member  

1:20 – 1:50 Avalanche Rescue Case Study; Graham Kane, W-NREMT-P, Vail Mtn. Rescue, Vail Ski Patrol

1:50 – 2:25         Panel Discussion   
                            Moderator—Frank Carus, Mount Washington Avalanche Center
                            Participants— Dale Atkins, Graham Kane, Nathalia Daniel, Helon Hoffer

2:25 – 2:40         Break & Raffle

 

Afternoon Session 2

2:40 – 3:40         Small Team Response to Avalanche Rescue; Graham Kane, W-NREMT-P, Vail Mtn. Rescue, Vail Ski Patrol

3:40 – 4:00         MWAC Past, Present and Future, Ask Me Anything; Frank Carus – Director, Mount Washington Avalanche Center

4:00 – 4:30         Avalanche Accidents: The Illusion of Control and Perils of Positive Outcomes ; Dale Atkins, RECCO, 25 year ski patroller, former CAIC forecaster 

4:30 – 5:00         Final Raffle, Social hour with sponsors   

5:00 Tuckerman Brewing Aprés Party with Protect Our Winters

Summer Update

This past season was a test for the MWAC forecast team and for many in the larger community. The rugged and beautiful mountains nearby provide opportunities for challenge, growth and recovery from the workaday world but they can also be swift and merciless in their distribution of lessons to those that work and play on their flanks. MWAC staff tackled a major project by expanding the area covered by the avalanche forecast. We learned a lot in the process and look forward to continuing with the current forecast area. As you know, this past season was marked by personal losses for many when an avalanche, an icy slope and apparently irreconcilable mental health issues claimed three lives on Mount Washington. Losses such as these affect mountain communities around the world and motivate avalanche forecast and mountain rescue operations and other professionals to try to prevent such future tragedies.

Here at MWAC, we will continue to step up our game in whatever arena will help and with whatever resources we can gather. Among these efforts this coming season will be continued outreach events out in the community, from avalanche awareness talks from Boston to Portland to Montreal to Hartford and points in between and school programs designed to spark a curiosity in middle schoolers about the dynamic nature of snow in the environment. We also seek to increase the scope and timeliness of snow and weather data collection. In cooperation with WMNF Hydrology (thanks, Gryz!) and the Mount Washington Observatory (thanks Keith, Peter, Sharon and everyone else), we’ll be deploying a high tech snow and weather station that produces hourly data to be displayed in real time through a number of internet websites, including our own. Following the tragic deaths this year, we will work to improve the chain of survival for accident victims, target public messaging and continue to try to help folks make better decisions and return home after their adventures. Those efforts are manifesting in relationships with the medical community in the state of NH and partnerships with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, presentations at the upcoming Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, and continued resolve to educate and inform our community on snow and avalanche conditions in the White Mountains.

Your support is crucial to these efforts. Whether it is a shared observation on our website or volunteering with Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, the MWV Ski Patrol, or other cooperating organizations, these efforts mean the world. We can’t do what we do without your help and support! Speaking of which, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine is looking for new Board members. As you may know, FOTR is our partner organization that donates time, money and materials to help MWAC in many areas. They are currently seeking help in some specific areas, namely; Communications –press releases, messaging, and public information campaigns; Development – membership, corporate partnerships, donor relations, volunteer recruitment; Facilities and infrastructure – maintenance, upgrades and planning for Hermit Lake and USFS Pinkham Notch locales; and Events and Fundraising – outreach events, parties, movies, slide shows and ESAW. If you have some free time and can help, contact peter@tuckermanravine.org.

I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the beautiful and (mostly) bug-free late summer weather. If you haven’t already, pull out your transceiver batteries, sign up for an avalanche class or refresher and mark October 19th on your calendar for the 9th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop!  We are already preparing to meet whatever challenges come our way this season as we fill the position vacated by western-bound Ryan Matz and tackle the myriad tasks and projects associated with the avalanche center. Until I see you on skis on or around the Rockpile this winter, maybe I’ll see you on a mountain bike, a hiking trail or local cliff!

-Frank

Part-time Job Opportunities on the White Mountain National Forest

This important field research produces fascinating and useful data that helps guide public land management. The office space is awesome too! See details below:

Help preserve alpine vegetation

If you use the Mt. Washington Auto Road to access backcountry ski terrain this spring, please realize that you are heading up to one of the most fragile alpine areas on the east coast. You can help preserve this unique habitat by how you park your vehicle and how you access the ski routes.

Please park only in the recognized parking lots and not along the sides of the road.  If the smaller parking areas near the top are full, you should continue to the summit parking lots.

Help protect the fragile plants of the alpine zone landscape. Stay on a trail or step carefully from rock to rock, avoiding any plants, shrubs or grasses.

Thank you!

Annual section closure on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail no longer in effect