Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have Low avalanche danger. Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
Before we begin, let me remind everyone that Low avalanche danger does not mean no avalanche danger. It can often come pretty close to that after strong melt-freeze cycle or other similar events, but we’ve had no such event that would put the snow at the lower end of the Low rating. Instead, we’ve come to today’s rating through a combination of settlement over time, solar gain and mild temperatures, and numerous volunteer stability testers (e.g. skiers, ice climbers, and even a large German shepherd rag-dolling in the Lip).
You’ll find a variety of snow conditions as you move around in the ravines. Yesterday was bright and sunny up here, though it stayed deceptively cool throughout much of the day. Aspects facing strongly to S did receive enough heating to moisten the surface, and in some cases made for heavy wet snow. I found this to be the case beneath North and Damnation gullies in Huntington, but as a traversed underneath Yale, a slightly different aspect, the solar gain was much less noticeable. By the time I got to NE and N aspects, it was clear that the snow had remained cold and dry. Tuckerman was much the same, with Left Gully staying dry and Right Gully being wet. Between these two areas the snow will range from dry windblown to crusty chopped up that will make you hope the sun can work its magic on the slopes.
Avalanche concerns today are a little different than a typical Low, where we advise people to “watch for unstable snow in isolated terrain features” or sometimes we refer to isolated pockets. The thing that gets my attention today is the potential for someone to hit an isolated trigger point in an area that did not get tested a lot by skiers or climbers yesterday. For certain, there were a lot of skiers getting into the Lip, Chute, and left side of the headwall. Areas that weren’t thoroughly tracked up are the ones to watch for, such as the icefall area and the Sluice in Tuckerman and above the ice in Odell and Central in Huntington. Overall stability in these locations is good, but there may be weak points near buried rocks or ice, or at the edges of slabs. If something were to release in these locations it would be too large to call it an “isolated pocket”. With this in mind, my advice is to stay vigilant to changing snow conditions, keep up the habit of using safe travel practices, and pay attention to who is above or below you.
We’ll see clouds on the increase later today and precipitation beginning as early as this afternoon. It would be a good day to get an early start. The John Sherburne Ski Trail saw above freezing temperatures yesterday and plenty of traffic. This means conditions will be similar to a resort whose groomer has been broken down for a week. Hopefully warmth will soften it again this afternoon.
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.
Posted at 8:30a.m., March 30, 2013. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.
Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856
At about a quarter to five on Saturday, I called over to Dave, the AMC caretaker, to see if he was coming over for the traditional springtime spaghetti dinner. During the call he asked if I’d seen the dog stuck up high in the Lip area. Sure enough, through the binoculars from the cabin I saw a large dog being slowly lead downslope by someone on foot. It was slow going. The man appeared to be having some difficulty kicking solid steps into the crusty snow. He would go a few feet down, then would coax the dog down. Every so often the dog would try to climb back uphill. The dog certainly wasn’t a willing participant in the downclimbing effort. Watching this from the cabin window was captivating. Like a bad reality TV show, I just couldn’t pull myself away from watching.
Before the duo had made much progress, I saw them begin to fall. At first it looked like they might be able to recover and simply slide down the slope, but after about a hundred vertical feet they started to tumble. The dog accelerated more quickly than the man, and before long was tumbling, fully laid out like a gymnast doing back handsprings.
I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of people take that same fall, most of them stand up and walk away. In ten years of working up here, I’ve never seen a dog take a fall quite like Saturday’s (though I wasn’t here for Tyrol the dog falling over the cliff in the Lip in 2012.) I had thought there was nobody else in the ravine at that time late in the day, so with the potential for an injured person and a dog, I asked our volunteer ski patrol to stand by, grabbed my pack, and started quickly up the trail. Truth be told, I was less concerned about the person as I was about the dog. Having seen the fall, I expected to see the person in good shape but an unconscious dog.
As it turns out, both man and dog were uninjured. When I got there, they were beginning to ski out. I caught them in time to hear the story. It turns out that there were two skiers. The first skier down went with the dog, through the steepest section of the route. At some point the dog slipped, and then ran back up through the steep section above past the other skier who was skiing down but near the top. The lower skier took his skis off and headed back up to the dog to help it come down. This was where the situation was when I began to watch the event unfold.
Unfortunately, this type of event is not uncommon here in the springtime. We often have a variety of dog safety and related issues in Tuckerman Ravine.
Cuts to dog paws or legs from skiers or snowboarders are the most common reason for dog evacuations. Some dogs have the herding instinct and like to get close to the heels of a skier or tips of skis. Dogs don’t know the danger in being run over by a ski or board, and are not likely to know enough to stay away from sharp edges.
In some snow conditions, dogs can also get snow balled up inside the pads of their feet, which can be incredibly painful and debilitating. It can lead to bleeding, and it can cause your dog to want to lie down and go nowhere. If you see this happening, remove the ice balls and consider turning back to the trailhead while your dog is still willing to walk. Cutting the dogs fur very short between its pads, and some commercial paw products can help.
Dogs in excessively steep terrain is another common safety issue. All dogs are different, but there are some commonalities, one of which is that it’s far easier for a dog to climb up a slope than to climb down. This is often the case for humans as well, but as bipeds we have the ability to face into the slope or away from it, or to traverse when needed. Dogs only know how to go downhill one way—face first. This makes it tough for them to maintain the balance needed to go down slowly.
Snow conditions and slope angle are the factors that drive whether or not a dog can actually descend the slope. In hard snow or very steep terrain, at some point your dog will reach a point where it will only climb, and won’t descend. If the dog isn’t showing a willingness to go down, consider taking a different route that is less steep. Whether or not this is the way you want to go down should not be a consideration. If you brought the dog up do what you need to so that it can get down safely.
Dogs often get separated from their owners. Some that do this end up following other skiers up a route looking for their owner. See the bullet point above for what happens next, but add to it the fact that someone else usually has to change his or her plans to help the dog get down the slope. There always seems to be a kind hearted person who takes this on, despite it not being their responsibility. A leash is the best way to keep your dog under control; other things that help are keeping your dog in sight and appointing someone from your party to watch the dog while you climb up and ski down. If you lose your dog, contact a Snow Ranger, the AMC caretaker, or Pinkham staff to let us know what’s going on. We’ll do what we can to help locate the dog, but ultimately it’s your responsibility to find your dog.
Like people, dogs get tired. They just can’t really speak up about it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t signs of fatigue that you can recognize. Frequently lying down and resting is a good sign that your dog is getting tired. If you find yourself needing to pull on the leash to get him up and walking, that’s a great sign that you’ve got an exhausted dog that needs to rest and head back to the car. We see this more with dogs that don’t spend a lot of time hiking, but fit dogs can also get tired in poor snow conditions (e.g. postholing).
Other dog issues
Want everyone in the bowl to be angry with you? Leave your unattended dog tied up in the floor of the ravine barking for hours while you’re out having fun is a sure way to do this. Unless you know for sure that your dog is not going to do this, keep someone with the dog at all times.
Not all dogs are perfectly friendly, and not all people like dogs. Don’t be surprised if your sweet canine running around gets attacked by an aggressive dog. While we would love to see only well-socialized dogs here, that’s often not the case. You can blame the other dog or dog owner, but you can also avoid the problem by keeping your dog on a leash. Also remember that some people just don’t like dogs and others are terribly afraid of them. Your dog, sweet as it may be, might be intimidating to others, so this is yet another reason to keep it under control.
Some dogs have been known to steal food from people and packs. It’s in everyone’s best interest to not leave food unattended, but it’s also the responsibility of the dog owner to make sure their dog doesn’t snatch food from others. Once again, keeping your dog on leash or under control is the solution to this.
Finally, all dogs have to relieve themselves once in a while. If they defecate on the trail, at minimum you should shovel it off into the woods. Dogs also been known to mark their territory right onto another person’s backpack. You can probably imagine the problems that can cause.
Most of us working up here really love dogs. We especially enjoy seeing well socialized, non-begging dogs that can run up and down the mountain, never bark or bite, poop in the woods, and stay at their owner’s side when standing and 20’ back from skis when moving. Rarely are dogs good at all of this, so it ultimately falls onto the owner to be responsible for their dog at all times. If you aren’t sure of your dog’s ability in the mountains, be conservative until you learn. Pay attention to what your dog is telling you and you’ll prevent many issues before they emerge. And always bring a leash, even if you don’t need to use it all the time.