It’s incredible how rapidly conditions can change here. Just two weeks ago, we didn’t have enough snow on the trail to drive a snowmobile up to Hermit Lake. Today I was able to drive nearly all the way to the base of Huntington Ravine. This change is thanks to the 2 feet of snow that’s fallen on Mt. Washington since January 12. To put it into perspective, this is 4 times more than what had fallen in the first 11 days of January, and that’s not counting the four inches or so that have fallen today. If the next ten day stretch is as good as the last one, we’ll end January with above average snowfall for the month. How’s that for a change?
As a reality check, we did start this snowy stretch with a pretty deep deficit. Looking around the Bowl yesterday I found myself surprised at how so much snow could have such a small effect on the size of certain snowfields. After 2 feet of recent snowfall, I simply had high expectations. But when I look back at photos from years past, what I see is that over the previous four winters the coverage we currently have is really not bad for this time of the year. And the best part is that today’s weather is going to continue to transport snow into the ravines, further helping fill in slopes for future avalanche cycles.
Today we had High avalanche danger posted in most areas. We were expecting 5-7” of new snow, but a quick look at our snowplot revealed only about 4” on the boards at this time. This is a little less than expected, but I’ll take it. The winds have just started to pick up in velocity and are now blowing out of the WNW. This is working to bring plenty of snow into the ravines. Thinking ahead into the weekend, it’s tough to say exactly where we’ll end up for snow stability. The winds will continue to rage overnight as temperatures plummet. Peak instability will be reached sometime between now and tomorrow morning. The stability ratings for tomorrow will be determined largely by what happens during this time. I can say that it’s likely ratings will come down at least one notch from their current High, some areas maybe going down to Moderate or even Low. Once the winds subside somewhat on Saturday, there will be less snow above treeline available for transport, so the danger will stop increasing. However, the cold temperatures will prevent stabilization of windslabs, so any instabilities left over will be what we will most likely be dealing with for the entire weekend. I wish my crystal ball was a little less foggy, but this is a case where we’ll have to wait and see in the morning.
While we are uncertain of where stability ratings will be for the weekend, we know pretty well where the mercury will be. It’s going to be extremely cold this weekend. We’re talking -20sF at the summit, and no that does not include the wind chill. It may even hit -30F if we’re lucky. These are some of the coldest temperatures to hit the Presidential Range in 4 or 5 years. I’d encourage anyone who is planning a trip above treeline to give some careful consideration to your plans. If you do decide to head up high, be sure to bring appropriate equipment, use good judgment, and be conservative. You won’t want anything to go wrong, because the only way to keep warm will be to keep moving!
Lastly, we made the annual switch from the Lion Head Summer Trail to the Lion Head Winter Route on Thursday. The Winter Route is a steep mountaineering route, so bring your ice axe and crampons. Please stay off the Summer Trail, as it crosses a couple avalanche paths between Hermit Lake and treeline. Seek us out on the mountain if you have any questions about conditions.