This is a disclaimer to everyone who plans on hiking the Tuckerman Ravine Trail or skiing the Sherburne this week. Both trails will see heavy use by the snowcat over the next few days. As the snow depth for the year is so low, we think this may be the one week this winter where we can run the machine and resupply the Hermit Lake area with crucial items. The planned route of travel is to use the bottom half of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and to then cross over to the Sherburne at #5, roughly the halfway point. With so much ice and exposed rocks present, the machine’s maneuverability is not what it is on a midwinter snowpack. Please help us by having your group step off on the same side of the trail and making eye contact with the operator before trying to pass. We apologize for chewing up the ski trail and appreciate your patience as we hustle to make do with an unusual winter.
The top of the Sherburne is a little better than what you’ll see in this video, but not by much. The upper trail is very hard icy snow and less water ice.
Helon and I got up into Tuckerman early this morning and were treated to the sight of two fresh piles of avalanche debris and one older pile. With our avalanche eyeballs wide open, we welcome the arrival of the 2015-2016 avalanche season. The recent slides were likely from overnight or early this morning, as they were both very soft and had slightly different levels of wind effects on the debris. The older slide was probably from earlier this week.
The first of the recent pair came from the Chute. We believe all the debris came from the crown lines visible in the picture, across the narrows of the gully, into the variation to the lookers’ left of the main path, and down along the buttress. Debris from this was approximately 2′ deep, some less, some more. The crown ranged in size from a few inches deep to a few feet deep.
The second of the pair was from the far left side of the Center Bowl, just to the lookers’ right of the Chute. The crown was still visible beneath the ice bulge, although wind loading was ongoing and working to fill it in. This slide was a little smaller than the Chute, with debris being about 12-18″ deep and a max crown depth of 18″ (just a guess, as we couldn’t access the deepest location and it had been partially reloaded.)
Even though we hadn’t yet begun using the 5-scale danger rating system, these new slides were not completely unexpected. We were a little surprised at the size; I’d call them both D1.5R1, but they are at the larger end of the R1 size. The one that surprised me a little is the older slide that crossed the hiking trail down low in the flats. The trajectory of this shows it coming from the Center Bowl and left side of the Center. Based on how far it ran in lean conditions and weather history, it was likely a pretty hard slab.
After returning down to Hermit Lake, we got a report of another small avalanche triggered by a skier. This was in the area we call “Chicken Rock Gully,” which is the small terrain feature that fills in between the Open Book and Lunch Rocks, and from the top you can go right into the Sluice or Left into the Lip. The party triggered the slide near the rocks at the top of this slope. They reported that it was about 4-6″ deep, 40′ wide x 50′ long, and ran down to the bottom of Lunch Rocks.
Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
Mount Washington Avalanche Center
Snowfall totals as of 8:00am, January 13:
- Pinkham Notch 7-8″
- Hermit Lake 7.5″
- Mt. Washington Summit 6.1″
It’s been a lackluster start to the winter of 2015-2016, but last night’s snowfall certainly was good to brighten one’s spirits. Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines are currently posted under a General Bulletin and will likely remain this way at least for now. As long as I’ve been working here, I can’t remember a season that has started off so slowly. We’ve had our share of late starts and early winter rain and thaw events, but this had been remarkable.
As you can see in the photo, Tuckerman’s headwall had very little snow on it before the latest rain. Look closely and you might see a very small crown line in the Chute. This is the type of problem that can often be found even when we are posting only a General Bulletin – it’s a relatively small and isolated patch of snow compared to the hazards presented by the Chute with better coverage. In these conditions, you might find several patches of unstable snow if you go looking hard enough, but it’s not enough to warrant going into full avalanche forecasting operations.
This photo was taken on Friday, January 8. Two days later, Sunday, we got hit with a warm rain event with 1.4″ of melted precipitation and summit temperatures topping out at 35F. Needless to say, this impacted the already thin snowpack, leaving behind two ravines very hungry for snow.
So what effect will this recent snowfall have? It’s certainly going to help, but given the prior snow deficit in the ravines, I think the overall effect on filling in the snowfields around the mountain will be minimal. Having said that, on a smaller scale there will be noticeable changes. It’s hard to ignore the forecast for increasing W and NW winds gusting over 100mph later today and tonight. These speeds will be effective in picking up any available snow from windward sides of the mountain and redistributing it into leeward sides.
If a more well-established base of snow existed in the ravines, with larger potential bed surfaces, this storm coupled with the wind forecast would pretty easily put us into Considerable or High avalanche danger. In fact, I could see this producing a pretty good natural avalanche cycle with multiple paths running. But the fact is that we are still establishing a base in the ravines, which changes the equation significantly and leads to a broad scale General Bulletin.
However, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of looking only at the big picture of this winter. Small snowfields can avalanche, regardless of whether we’re fully forecasting, under a General Bulletin, or even before the Snow Rangers start paying any attention at all. If I were looking to get out and recreate in these conditions, I’d be very suspicious of any areas of wind slab, no matter the size. I’d be thinking carefully about the consequences of a fall, knowing that even a very small avalanche can take me off my feet. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t enough snow to bury someone, what matters more right now is the bigger question of “what happens if…?”
I hope this doesn’t sound as if we’re talking out of both sides of our mouths. The fact is, we have conditions today that should be raising several red flags. Don’t be lulled into complacency by the overall lack of snow or the lack of an Avalanche Advisory. There is a lot of terrain you can cover in the mountains today and tomorrow that is not exposed to avalanche hazard (although with the weather and visibility, you’d do well to consider all available options), but it’s up to you to figure out where those locations are. We’ll be keeping tabs on conditions, and will begin forecasting as the snowfields grow larger and more capable of producing avalanches.
With a little help from Mother Nature, it might only be another couple storms like this and we’ll start to see the ravines looking more and more like their usual selves.
If you’re wondering about conditions on the Sherburne, the short answer is that I don’t yet know, but I can make some informed guesses:
- Let’s just be honest, for the better part of the past decade, the ski trail hasn’t seen the level of maintenance it needs. Fir growth in the upper third of the trail is pretty significant, meaning that until a deeper base is formed, the skiable track is only as wide as an ATV. Coincidentally, this is just about the same width as my snowboard. I found it very easy to catch a tip last week in the fir trees up high. (Contact us if you have a desire to help with this trail next summer.)
- While the trail was wet from Sunday’s thaw, someone apparently walked on the trail. These slushy footprints are now frozen into the base of the trail. (If you’re reading this and it was you…shame, shame on you!)
- The base was very thin and very hard prior to the rain, with many exposed rocks, sticks, and other hazards. The base now has much more water ice or icy snow, and more rocks exposed. Now we have 7-8″ of light density snow sitting on top of the ice. In many locations this will have been wiped clean by the wind. In a few locations you might be lucky enough to find a little drift.
Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
Mount Washington Avalanche Center
Silent auction and raffle prizes provided by Black Diamond, Julbo, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Petzl & Adventure Medical Kits. Beer is being provided free by Tuckerman Brewing Company. Yes, we said FREE BEER!
What happened to the MWAC website???
Well, it’s been five years since we first moved away from www.tuckerman.org to current site, and in that time much has changed, so we figured it was time to update the site. Since this fall and winter were off to such a lousy start, it gave us ample opportunities to work on the changes. Here’s some of the changes you’ll find today:
- A more organized navigation bar, with an attempt to put the greatest emphasis on the Avalanche Advisory and resources one could use to help understand the advisory.
- A page with the past 15 days advisories. When planning a trip, it’s often helpful to know the recent history of the snowpack.
- A “News” section, where you will find the Weekend Update, The Pit, and now other newsworthy items that previously didn’t have a good home.
- A streamlined homepage, less “busy”
- Better responsiveness on mobile devices
- An “About Us” section, with contact info so you know how to reach us
- A “Trail Status” page, so you can quickly see which trails are open or closed (E.g. which Lion Head route or how far up the Sherburne is open.)
More changes are coming through the season, but we wanted to make the site live right now so we can ensure all the critical components are working properly when we move into full avalanche forecasting mode. There is nothing more unsettling to us than finding out that we cannot update the Advisory due to some website glitch.
Some of the changes I’m hopeful we’ll be able to implement include:
- Bring our photos page back onto our website instead of using the Flickr site
- Providing a means for you to share your photos with us
- Providing access to our snowplot and avalanche observation data
If you are navigating around the site and have thoughts, comments, or questions, feel free to send them my way. When information flows in all directions, we all stand to benefit. So please don’t be afraid to speak up if you see something or want a feature added. We can’t do everything you might want, but if it’s a reasonable request and technologically feasible, we might incorporate your suggestions.
Ps: We owe a great deal of gratitude to Jeff F. and Joe K. for their ongoing support of the tech side of this site. Thanks, guys.
Winter knocking on the doorstep. We’ve been busy at work with preseason tasks, one of which is to start taking and posting photos. You can see some from yesterday at our website or go direct to Flickr.
Reports were mixed of the ice climbing quality…generally OK ice, but slushy, tough bushwacking to get out of Odell, too much water in the Open Book, etc. -JL
Returning to the bowl today after the annual closure of the Lip began was another journey through the calculations of risk tolerance. As you may know, we have a pretty unique situation in Tuckerman Ravine where heavy skier traffic intersects with pretty intense though smaller scale mountain hazards. The high volume of visitors in terrain that is riddled with all the hazards you might encounter in higher elevation, glaciated western peak led to a decision long ago to close a section of trail that passes through the bullseye of these hazards. Helon and I hiked up through the bowl to photograph these hazards and to install the trail closure signs above treeline. Along the way I was able to gain enough elevation to look closely at the Lip and Headwall area and came to the conclusion that the closure is completely warranted. At first glance from Hermit Lake, it seems that a good skier could bob and weave between the slots, which frankly seemed pretty narrow. As I can elevation on the hike up Right Gully I was able to look into the slots and see that they were both wider and deeper than I thought. Also, as I climbed the sheer volume of ice still clinging to the Headwall and nooked into the corner in Sluice was surprising. From our perspective in Right Gully and later Lion Head you could see that the ice was crisscrossed with large cracks and grooves from meltwater flowing through. Sadly, the crevassed terrain which could serve as a fun climb, technical and risky ski descent or training ground for those venturing to glaciated peaks is directly in the fall line of these deadly blocks of ice. Please respect the closure and head over to Left Gully or Hillman’s Highway which are much less threatened by these objective hazards. I would still stay heads up about potential loose rocks tumbling down the slope. The receding snowline at the tops of all the gullys is exposing piles of rocks and boulders so watch your footing if you top out above the snow line.
The weather forecast is going to make for a challenging go-no go decision this weekend. Though unsettled weather and possibly some thunderstorms is on tap for Saturday, it doesn’t seem like a complete washout. I’d get an update on the forecast first thing in the morning before committing. Sunday looks like a much better weather day for spring corn harvesting. Speaking of which, the snow looked like a nice supportable peel away corn after all the recent melting and a couple of refreezing nights. Unfortunately, the number of slopes and gullies is disappearing rapidly. Helon and I posted a bunch of pictures on Flickr, click on the photo link in the menu above and check them out and we’ll see you on the hill if you decide to head up. Remember that the winter Lion Head trail is now closed as is, the Tuckerman Ravine trail through the Ravine.