Lion Head Summer Trail open

Hiking this time of year can be especially challenging as warm temperatures make shorts and lightweight hikers more comfortable than soft shell pants and mountaineering boots. Trails can change from knee deep rotten snow to bullet-proof ice is a matter minutes in cool temperatures and shade. Currently, the Lion Head summer trail and winter route are equally challenging but for different reasons. The Summer route has stretches of ice remaining and a long traverse through a snowfield at tree-line that has been the seen of some pretty bad falls. The winter route is generally steeper and the steepest section now is exposed rock and frozen mud. While never technically closed, the summer route is exposed to significant avalanche hazard and only becomes the recommended route to the summit from the east side of the mountain when avalanche hazard subsides. We have reached the point in time when the summer route becomes a good alternative. That said, there is still ice along with that steep and potentially icy slope near treeline. Be prepared and equipped for icy conditions on the summer trail when it’s cold at that elevation, along with rotten and deep snow as it warms up.

The Tuckerman Ravine trail through Tuckerman Ravine is nearing the point where a closure makes sense. If you plan to ski the Lip, understand that the waterfall holes are open below you and create the potential for a fatal fall into a 70′ deep or more hole.

 

MountainFilm Festival Tour comes to Fryeburg, ME

MOUNTAINFILM FESTIVAL
May 3, 2018 // 7:00 PM
Fryeburg Academy’s Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center presents the MountainFilm Festival on Thursday, May 3rd at 7:00 pm. MountainFilm is an annual documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political and social justice issues that matter. Along with exceptional documentaries, the festival goes beyond the film medium by bringing together world-class athletes, change makers, and visionary artists for a multi-dimensional celebration of worthy causes. See the trailer here.
Fryeburg Academy is situated 10 minutes from North Conway, NH in the foothills of the Mt. Washington Valley and surrounded by people that value outdoor recreation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable development. We hope that this event will become an annual evening of fun that brings people together to celebrate indomitable spirit.
Representatives from local outdoor recreation organizations, including the Mount Washington Avalanche Center and the Granite Backcountry Alliance, will be set up in the lobby to answer questions and provide information about their operations. 
All proceeds from the event will support outdoor programs at FA.
For more information visit www.mountainfilm.org
$20 In Advance, $25 at the Door

Saddle Peak, MT avalanche fatality

As with any avalanche fatality, there are opportunities to learn from tragic events. Of particular interest to me in this case is the size of the avalanche and the timing of the rescue. Both the avalanche size, type, track and bed surface are similar to avalanches frequently occurring in and near our forecast area. The timing of the rescue is also very similar to what has occurred here. Even if snow ranger or caretaker staff are alerted quickly, it would likely take the same period of time to reach and recover a victim in the Bowl. In this case, the depth of burial may have allowed the victim to live, had they not been alone. It’s up to you to decide, but it seems likely to me that our collective luck as a community could run out again.
Read about the incident here.
Please, wear and carry your avalanche beacon, probe and shovel and understand the consequences of  solo travel. Winter is not over.
Sincere condolences to family, friends and the rescue community involved.
-Frank

Photo Update on March 23, 2018

 

Tuckerman Ravine. The hard wind slab is manageable on skis but ice axe and crampons are reassuring even on lower angle parts of the terrain.

The avalanche debris in lower snowfields and the bottom of Hillman’s is navigable and slowly filling in.

Huntington Ravine. The hard windslab is providing a excellent surface for cramponing. Ice fall is starting to show up in the bottom and will continue to be a problem as temperatures increase.

Pinnacle & Odell

Yale & Damnation

Multiple large chunks were observed in the floor this morning. Remember overhead hazards while making travel choices as the temperatures warm up.

 

New snow and weather data

 

You may notice a couple of changes to the web advisory today. We frequently refer to the snowplot at Hermit Lake in our advisory but will be including the raw data which is collected every morning by the caretaker at the AMC operated facility there. You need to go to the full forecast to see the data and wind chart. As resources allow, we plan to roll out more of this type of data to help you make more informed decisions when venturing into avalanche terrain. The weather data provided by our partners at the Mount Washington Observatory continues to be critical to our forecast process but more data improves our accuracy and may prove helpful to the dawn patrol skiers and climbers out there. Special thanks to the AMC caretakers for getting up early to collect the data, Chris McKnight for the wind rose and High Charts for providing a free license.

WMAEF Continuing Education Series

Join us this Saturday, March 17, at 5pm at International Mountain Equipment (IME) for the third installment in the White Mountain Avalanche Education Fund’s Continuing Education Series. Helon Hoffer will be reviewing fracture mechanics and exploring fracture arrest. We’ll be looking at the big wind slab avalanche that occurred on February 8 throughout the talk and discussing why the slab boundary stopped where it did. While this talk may raise more questions than answers, it will help give a better understanding of why dry slab release occurs the way it does.

Temporary Harvard Cabin Closing

Harvard Cabin will be temporarily closed mid-week due to a staffing shortage. The cabin will be open Friday and Saturday nights. This closure includes tenting outside the cabin. For those interested in overnighting in the Cutler River Drainage, you may do so at Hermit Lake Shelters. We will provide updates to this closure on our website or you may contact the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at (603) 466-8116 to see if there is availability.

Local Mountain Weather Course

The White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation and the NHOC are sponsoring a Mountain Weather Workshop in North Conway, NH. Senior Forecaster and Education Specialist Mike Carmon, of the Mount Washington Observatory, will be teaching topics relevant to avalanche forecasting and mountain travel in the White Mountains.

Topics will include weather variables and measurement, mesoscale and synoptic scale features, case studies on winter storms and forecasting challenges such as Norlun Troughs, Nor’easters, Alberta Clippers, Upsloping Events and more.

Sign Up Now!

This course is geared to avalanche professionals, guides, and mountain rescuers.

Registration is limited in number with scholarship seats available for $40 awarded by nomination to 2 members of each local rescue team. More seats will be available to people unaffiliated with local teams for $80.

 

The class is 16 hours long and spread over the following dates:

  • Wednesday, February 21, 5-9pm at IME
  • Friday, February 23, 5:30-9pm at the MWObs Weather Discovery Center (WDC)
  • Wednesday March 7, 5-9pm at the MWObs WDC
  • Wednesday March 21, 5-9pm at the MWObs WDC

 

Proceeds of the course will benefit the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation.

 

Stability Test Alphabet Soup: What do they even mean? Continuing Ed at IME, 5:00 PM Saturday 2/17/18

Strategic Field Observations

CT22 Q1 SC, ECTP27, PST 60/100 End, no whumphing, some shooting cracks, I see wind blowing snow around, I have to push kinda hard to make a hand shear fail… What does this all mean? CAN I SKI IT?

We have these stability assessment tools and many more at our disposal. They’re all supposed to ultimately guide our “Go” and “No Go” decisions. Is this a simple process? No. Do you find it challenging? You’re not alone. Can we all get better at interpreting stability test results and snowpack observations? Yes.

A snowpack is constantly changing and we have a variety of avalanche problems to contend with every season. Varied conditions require a varied approach to snow stability assessment. Join us to dive into this topic at a FREE event this Saturday evening. We’ll use stability tests and other familiar snow stability assessment tools as a starting point in a deeper discussion about letting conditions dictate your observation strategies.

Strategic observations can help any of us make better decisions in the mountains. It’s all about having more good days and coming home in one piece. See you Saturday evening!

MWAC Continuing Education Series, #2

Mount Washington Avalanche Center and White Mountains Avalanche Education Foundation

Saturday, February 17, 2018

5:00 PM (approximately 1 hour total)

IME- International Mountain Equipment

2733 White Mountain Hwy, North Conway, NH 03860

Free to attend!

White Heat Tracks Project and Decision Making

Given the tendency of otherwise smart people to make foolish decisions at times, that get themselves hurt or worse, this project seems worth making an effort to support. Link below to the site that explains the project along with helpful Q & A’s. So far, this project has had no input from the Ice Coast.

White Heat Tracks Project seeks your input:

The aim of the White Heat Project is to generate new and usable knowledge on risk-taking behavior, and on factors behind decision errors in avalanche terrain in particular. The White Heat Tracks project is an extension to the previous “SkiTracks” project, and is a collaboration between a group of researchers at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, in Tromsø; Montana State University, in Bozeman, USA; and Umeå University, in Umeå, Sweden. We are asking people to complete a decision-making survey: (https://montana.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_74aRQuWMj0wbJHv) and if they have time and energy, also submit GPX tracks of their backcountry trips to “tracks@montana.edu

More information can be found here:
http://www.montana.edu/snowscience/tracks.html

And here: http://www.montana.edu/news/17430

Huge thanks to volunteers Paul Bazanchuk, Ryan Brouder & Terran Siladi

Huge thanks to volunteers Paul Bazanchuk, Ryan Brouder & Terran Siladi for helping us with this battery bank/inverter setup donated by the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine. 

Avalanche Talk, Saturday, January 20

The White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation, along with the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, is bringing back the Avalanche Education Continuing Ed Series at IME this winter. They will take place the 3rd Saturday of January (20th), February (17th) and March (17th). Come by IME at 5 pm to hear the MWAC Snow Rangers share the state of the snowpack, avalanche center and different topics each month. As you’re heading back from the mountains, stop by IME and feel free to bring your own beverages and food. MWAC Director and Lead Snow Ranger, Frank Carus, will be leading the first presentation on January 20th. He will discuss Avalanche Problems and Terrain Management as well as aprovide an Avalanche Center and Forecasting Update. We’ll see you there!

The costs of rescue

In 1978, a prolonged search for two missing climbers led to disaster. One of the rescuers involved recently told his story to an audience in Portsmouth on the radio show, “The Moth”. Great advancements in snow and avalanche science as well as avalanche rescue gear have been made since that tragic day, but mountain rescuers are exposed to a high risk environment on almost every rescue. Joe Lentini’s powerful story serves as a great reminder of the potential outcomes involved while recreating, working, or volunteering as a rescuer in avalanche terrain. Check it out:

https://themoth.org/stories/backside-of-the-storm

If you’d like to find out more about search and rescue in New Hampshire or contribute to the efforts of the volunteer mountain rescue community, check out the New Hampshire Outdoor Council.

Wet avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine

2018-01-14 Lip avalanche in the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine

Starting late on Thursday, January 11th, southwest flow brought a prolonged period of rain to the region. This rain saturated the thick snowpack that has developed from the 144” of total summit snowfall to date this winter. By Friday night, over 2” of rain had fallen on the summit with temperatures in the 40’s F and nearing 50 F lower on the mountain at Hermit Lake. Sometime Friday the 12th a large wet slab avalanche occurred in the Headwall area of Tuckerman Ravine on a ski run and forecast area known as the Lip. The avalanche forecast for the day warned that, “wet slab avalanches may slide naturally without a human trigger today”, as well as, “the floor of Tuckerman Ravine is particularly threatened by a natural avalanche from the Headwall area.” After inspecting the site, it seems likely that the firm snowpack, weakened by rain, burst like a dam as water pressure built up in the stream channel beneath. The avalanche measured 160’ across the 12-20’ crown and ran 2,000’ with a vertical fall of 500’. By the avalanche size and destructive potential scales, this avalanche is classified as R3D3.5 or medium relative to path and capable of easily destroying wood frame houses or a railroad car.

Aerial few of the debris. People are visible near the end of the debris pile on the left.

This isn’t the first time for this type of avalanche in the Lip. The waterfall here creates this type of avalanche regularly in spring months as snow on the upper mountain melts, flows downhill, and saturates the snowpack. The one pictured below occurred on a busy spring ski day with two people narrowly escaping capture.

VIDEO: 2018-01-14   Aerial of Lip avalanche in the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine

 

Volunteer help needed

As some of you may know already, our avalanche forecasting operation involves much more than snow study field work and sipping coffee while studying weather data on the internet. Our work is complicated by maintaining the equipment and trails necessary to provide for search and rescue response as well. Not only does this equipment, need maintenance, it also breaks down or is inefficient. We have some upgrades in the works that we hope will make the logistics of gathering and posting information more streamlined, which should free us up to pursue other important projects, like more in-person and virtual outreach and education efforts. Put we need a reliable power supply to do it.

One of the current projects that will help us out alot is to upgrade our electrical situation in the cabin at Hermit Lake. We have a recently purchased inverter and some batteries to pair with our generator and existing wiring and breaker panel that we’d like to install, but we haven’t the time, or frankly, the skills to do it. If you or someone you know is an electrician and could help us out, we’d love it. Please email me at mwactucks@gmail.com. -Frank