Early season conditions

Winter on the Rockpile has had a difficult time getting established. A few hardy and eager parties have stormed the castle but, generally, conditions have been “wet” for climbers and “organic stone grind” for the skiers. I wish I could report cold and snow in the forecast this weekend but it looks like the mercury is going to climb above freezing again today and tomorrow, returning to where it was just 6 days ago. That’s not to say that you won’t find winter like conditions on your next adventure to the alpine in the near future, but don’t count on deep snow. The summit has recorded only 27” of snow this month, following only 3.5” in October. That month saw average temperatures 9F above normal on the mountain with 11 climate sites in New England recording the warmest October on record! All the warm days with cold nights have created lots of ice on trails, on the Headwall, along with the shady gullies of Huntington so remember to bring your microspikes and remember that the Tuckerman Ravine trail gets pretty sketchy when as the ice grows across the trail above the Headwall. Unless you are armed for mountaineering with crampons, consider the summer Lion Head Trail a safer alternative.

The record-breaking warm temperatures and paltry early season snowfall has stood in stark contrast to last season. On December 4th of last year we issued our first General Bulletin of the season. Soon after, two feet of new snow fell on an already snow covered fetch which led to a widespread Considerable rating issued in the first 5-scale avalanche advisory. And it was game on from there. Looking back over the past five years, it’s clear that avalanches happen early in the season. Early winter brings enough snow to fill in the nooks and crannies in the alpine zone and soon after, snow falling there has no place to hide from the incessant summit winds. In short order, our forecast area, along with other areas in the White Mountain National Forest that we don’t forecast, like Gulf of Slides and the summer Lion Head trail, rapidly fill with enough snow to avalanche. Even in a slow-to-start snow year like this one, there are bed surfaces around that can produce an avalanche and certainly a long-sliding fall. Early season, thin snowpacks are perilous for sure, with rocks and stumps and bushes lurking in your fall line. Refrozen snow with drifts camouflaging the old boot prints from previous warm days add excitement and threaten knees even in low angled terrain. In short, stay vigilant, especially in the early season.

Despite the record warmth around New England this fall, winter will come and with it, avalanches. Black Friday is a good day to sign up for an avalanche class this winter. These classes are good for everyone, especially your climbing and skiing partners. The skills you gain pay dividends and will give you the tools you need to shred and pull down with a better margin of safety. We can all use more tools to recognize the decision-making traps to which we are all vulnerable. If you haven’t taken a Level 1 class, or if it has been a while since you have, consider a course with Acadia Mountain Guides or Synnott Mountain Guides, who both generously donated courses to support the education efforts of the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation (WMAEF) and the 7th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop.

Speaking of the WMAEF, stay tuned to social media channels and this website for continuing education opportunities this season. The Foundation will be scheduling locally oriented avalanche awareness presentations around New England along with focused courses of a more technical and advanced nature at IME in North Conway. Both of these opportunities will be a good way to keep your head in the game no matter what your skill level. And if you interested in hosting an avalanche awareness talk at you college or retail shop, email the Foundation at avalanchefoundation@gmail.com.

See you soon! -F