Dogs in Tuckerman–from our perspective

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.

Dog Safety

  • 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.

Avalanche Advisory for Saturday, 3-30-2013

This advisory expires at 12:00 midnight tonight.

Tuckerman Ravine has MODERATE and LOW avalanche danger today. Lobster Claw, Right Gully, The Sluice, the Lip, Center Bowl and Chute have MODERATE avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are unlikely and human triggered avalanches are possible. Of these, the Lobster Claw and Right Gully are at the lower end of the Moderate rating. Left Gully, Hillman’s Highway, the Lower Snowfields and the Little Headwall have LOW avalanche danger. Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely in those locations. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features. 

Huntington Ravine has MODERATE avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are unlikely and human triggered avalanches are possible. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully. South Gully and Escape Hatch are at the lower end of this rating. 

The mountain has cleared already this morning as of 7:00am. This will allow a full day of heating today on south facing aspects today and contribute to our concerns about human triggered avalanches to warrant a Moderate rating.  Yesterday’s new snow mostly blew down into the mid-elevation start zones of lee gullies.  Steeper parts of these  areas are the focus of concern today.  The concern is generally limited to these recent new snow layers losing strength as they warm and possibly fracture and fail. A shallow slab could entrain more snow on it’s descent but do not forget the poorly bonded interface at the mostly deeply buried ice crust . In Tuckerman Ravine, I would be most concerned about the surface slab problem in the climber’s left fork of Lobster Claw,  the large climber’s left hand pillows near the top of Right Gully, the steepest section of the Sluice and the Lip. The belly of Right Gully and the main gully in Lobster Claw received a lot of “skier control work” recently which generally cut up the slab but the steeper drop-ins in Right Gully and the climber’s right fork of Lobster Claw could release if the right trigger is applied in the right spot.

Another concern of a different nature is the pooled rimed snow which has sluffed over the ice in Center Bowl and the upper part of Chute and which may lurk elsewhere.  An experienced party wisely abandoned an attempt to ski the Chute yesterday when they began to wallow in waist deep snow on their way through the narrow, choke point which avalanched recently and has now reloaded as a result of this “sluff loading”.  Left Gully should provide dry snow for skiing with some windloaded pockets here and there.   Remember that our areas rated at Low remain exposed to hazards from above. For example, a poorly chosen approach to Left Gully puts you in the runout of Chute and sections of the Lower Snowfields are threatened by the Duchess so stay alert plan for worst case scenarios. 

In Huntington, fairly well developed snowfields exist near the top of Damnation, the mid section and adjacent to the Harvard ice bulge in Yale, as well as below and above the first ice pitch in Central. Look for sluff loading in Pinnacle at the base and to a lesser extent in the mid-section.  More easily avoidable pockets of slab on Odell, South and Escape Hatch also exist.  

This is the first spell of intense warming that we have had for some time so all the issues you’d expect from rocks, ice and slabs of snow heating should be on your radar today.   The other issue will be the amount of human triggers overhead who may not see you or may not know how to avoid hazards. People innately seek the comfort of others in steep terrain  so don’t be distracted from safe travel guidelines by others who may be taking uncalculated risks by booting up avalanche tracks.

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.
  • Posted at 8:30a.m., March 30, 2013. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

2013-03-30 Print friendly