Some new snow, but still not enough

It felt great this morning to wake up and learn that 9″ of new snow had fallen on the summit of Mt. Washington last night. We were warned by the Observatory staff on Wednesday that the Alberta Clipper that was making its way toward us had the potential for a short burst of heavy snowfall. Most of the snow fell over the course of a six hour period, but by daybreak the mountain was in the clear for the day. This allowed for good views on a trip into Tuckerman Ravine (see photos in the sidebar), but unfortunately there still isn’t enough snow to necessitate starting General Advisories just yet.

The problem is that there really wasn’t much snow at all prior to this recent storm. The Presidentials are a very rough mountain range, with lots of little nooks and crannies for snow to get trapped in. In the early season, when there hasn’t been much snow, it takes much more snow to produce the amount of wind loading that we would expect to see mid-winter. So despite 9″ of 6% density snow falling on ideal WNW winds in the 60mph range, there still just isn’t a lot of snow in the ravine. In case you’re curious, at Hermit Lake we measured 17cm of 6% density snow, beautiful, fluffy snow.

If you’re eager to get out in the mountains in the coming days or weeks, there are some things you should be doing to prepare…

  • Keep an eye on this site. We’ll stay tuned in to the mountain weather and keep you posted as well. As soon as snowfields grow some more we’ll likely move to a General Advisory. Once they outgrow those shoes, we’ll move into 5-scale danger ratings. Hopefully that happens soon!
  • Also keep an eye on the higher summits weather forecasts. Winter hasn’t gotten a firm grip on the mountain yet, and going through warm/cold cycles and make for a very dynamic environment, especially if there is rain involved.
  • At this point, consider many of the hiking trails to be mountaineering routes, particularly those going through Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines. Even a simple hike up Mt. Washington’s Lion Head Trail can be tough with just a small amount of snow covering the rocks.
  • If you’re going ice climbing, expect early season conditions. Reports today (11/30) indicated the presence of ice dams and water running behind the ice. Also the ice is not very well bonded to the underlying rock, so its strength might be questionable. Topping out of the gullies may look good from afar, but in reality they’re still very bony.
  • Finally, the Harvard Mountaineering Club cabin is now open for the season. Rich is starting his third season there and would be more than happy to have you as his guests.

Keep your fingers crossed for continued cold and snowy weather,

Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

Playing the waiting game

Don’t get overly excited, there isn’t much of any snow on the mountain yet, this is simply an early season check-in. We’ve not yet begun issuing advisories, either General Advisories or 5-scale forecasts. If you’re heading into the mountains in the coming days or weeks, you’ll be on your own for assessing the conditions. We’ll be keeping an eye on conditions, and are patiently waiting for snow to fall. We know that it’s only  a matter of time before we issue our first General Advisory. As the snowfields in the ravines grow, we’ll eventually move into using the 5-scale rating system. Keep an eye on our website in the coming weeks for these events, plus new photos and some other small changes currently in the works.

In the meantime, take advantage of the extra time to sharpen your ice tools and crampons, wax your skis or boards, and go through your winter gear to make sure it’s ready for the upcoming season. For me, that means putting fresh alkaline batteries into my beacons and running them through their annual inspection ritual. I’d also recommend deploying your probe a few times to make sure it still works the way it should and to check your shovel for signs of wear or fatigue. Remember, these are the tools that need to be 100% reliable when it’s time to use them. Don’t put it off until the morning you first head up into the ravines!

Please remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin. 

Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856