Upside down snowpack in Hillman’s

By Stacey

Date of Observation: January 4, 2020  3:00 PM
Location of Observation: Hillman’s Highway runout

Yesterday our party of two traveled to the base of Hillman’s Highway to practice pit digging and field observations. We chose to dig the pit in the bottom portion of Hillman’s since it’s still early season, but discussed that we wouldn’t have been hanging out in that area any later in the season this year as we were squarely in a runout zone for any large avalanches from above. We were at around 4,000 ft on a northeast aspect in the boulder field around 3 p.m. Saturday.

We found a 4 finger hard wind slab over a layer of soft snow above the ice crust. Our compression test resulted in a clean shear on the 14th tap about 30cm down in that soft snow.

Our pit was far from perfect as it was a less than ideal location due to the boulders and brush, and we were unable to conduct an ECT or a PST due to the limitations of our pit. The attached pictures show the slab and the soft weak layer.


Snowpack observations are one part of the complex puzzle which is your decision to enter avalanche terrain. Some observations may include stability tests. It’s important to understand that the results of a stability tests are seldom conclusive anywhere, but particularly in snow climates and terrain like ours where the primary driver of instabilities is wind drifted snow. Many stability tests exist and each works best with specific avalanche problem types. Stability test results should never be used alone as an indication that a slope or conditions are safe particularly when more obvious red flags are present. Please use this page as part of your information gathering process, but don’t make decisions based on a single piece of information. A good article that summarizes some of the issues associated with snow and avalanche observations can be found here.

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center cannot verify the quality or accuracy of any observations that come from the general public.


See an avalanche or evidence of previous avalanche activity?  Near-miss? Snowpack observations?

Your observations are valuable to an accurate forecast! We welcome observations from everyone. You don’t need to be an avalanche professional to submit helpful observations, just be as detailed and accurate as you can.