Weekend Update for Friday, April 26, 2013

Vacation week in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire comes to a close this weekend and with the weather forecast looking good for spring skiing, you can expect the crowds to descend on the Bowl as they have this time every year. Some folks like the people watching and others like the skiing and beer drinking but whatever you plan to do for entertainment, there are a few things to be aware of to keep your good times on the safer side.

Today’s mixture of  sun and clouds with temperatures in the low 30’s allowed snow to soften to varying degrees but all aspects were soft enough to easily hold and edge. Weekend overnight temperatures are dropping below freezing so things may be a little hard  early in the morning Saturday but the sun should work its magic by late morning, depending on aspect. If the forecast holds, Sunday will be even warmer so expect good skiing conditions earlier in the day.  Afternoon snow or rain showers will be possible due to unsettled weather so pack a rainshell and warm layers and be prepared for cooler temperatures during a passing shower or after a sweaty hike up to the rim. I observed lots of folks arriving at Hermit Lake in soaking wet cotton layers today. Even though it is sunny in town, you are squarely in “the mountains” when you are in Tuckerman Ravine so prepare accordingly.  It may seem obvious to most but an accident or unexpected delay can quickly make an uncomfortable time more dangerous if even a mild case of hypothermia starts to take hold.  Kids have an even harder time regulating their core temperature so the same rules apply to their clothing as well. Any other cotton clothing besides an easy to shed T-shirt has no place in the mountain environment, especially in the spring.

Warming temperatures have further decayed the frozen waterfalls in Center Bowl and Sluice so as we have mentioned everyday in the advisory, don’t linger beneath these massive chunks of ice.  Lunch Rocks would be more appropriately Mass Casualty rocks due to their position directly beneath Sluice ice.  You can imagine the outcome if this ice, which is the equivalent of two school buses stacked and standing on end, breaks off rolling and tumbling until it explodes in showers of shrapnel onto a crowd hanging around in the sun on the rocks below. Bring a small pad or sit on your pack and enjoy the view from someplace that doesn’t carry this risk. A traumatic brain injury is not the kind of souvenir you want to take home with you.

Speaking of head injuries, sledding is something that folks have enjoyed doing here in the past but please be aware that the prime sledding terrain in the Center Bowl area is directly beneath one of the most serious icefall threats.  Fortunately, a frozen debris pile from last weeks wet slab avalanche is mostly blocking off this area for sledding but realize that sleds rank as one of the least desirable forms of mountain travel tools when it comes to safety.  The rate of injury of sledders outpaces others due to the high speed and lack of control once underway.  The bowl, even the floor, is steeper than you think. And please refrain from sledding on the trail as it threatens other hiker’s safety as well as your own. Many people have been seriously injured sledding here so please consider the risk to yourself, your family or others.

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail as well as the Sherburne Ski trail have been hammered by sun and warm temps through the week.  This season’s generally lighter density snow really didn’t provide a long lasting base for either trail though cold temperatures this month, and last, gave us a good long spell of skiable conditions.  The hike up is really slick in the morning when the snow is frozen over.  Lots of folks appreciated the security of their microspikes while hiking up to Hermit Lake today. Remember real mountaineering crampons and ice axes are recommended just below and above treeline.  Lots of ultralightweight aluminum crampons and ice axes geared towards ski mountaineering and snow climbing are on the market these days. These tools will allow you to climb efficiently and with confidence when the climb gets icy and steep and the weight penalty is minimal.

We moved the rope up the Sherburne Ski trail to cutover number 5 this morning.  Skiing above it is actually pretty marginal and warm temperatures today and tomorrow will most likely force an even higher closure soon.  PLEASE don’t duck the rope, even if you are convinced you can ski further down the trail.  You may be able to make a few more turns, but you will soon be walking down a muddy path and contributing to the erosion of this trail. Erosion will help more rocks emerge and drainage gullies to appear further reducing the days of nice descents to the parking lot.  So please do your part to preserve this unique trail by moving over to the hiking trail at the rope and walking back down to Pinkham. The trail’s longevity is in your hands.

Good alpine climbing options exist in Huntington Ravine this weekend and to any experienced climber the hazards will be obvious. Melting ice and flowing water exist along with good supportable snow for climbing so finding a safe route that minimizes your exposure to rock and icefall will be the key to a good day there.  Warm daytime temperatures and full sun will likely make the snow on routes with a southern aspect an exercise in kicking “buckets” so anticipate wet boots to go along with your sunburn.

Remember to read our advisory or touch base with a Snow Ranger or Ski Patroller for more detailed information when you get to Hermit Lake.  Thanks for reading and safe travels!


Avalanche Advisory for Friday, 4-26-2013

This advisory expires tonight at 12:00 midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has Low avalanche danger. Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely except in isolated terrain features. Huntington Ravine is not posted. We are no longer monitoring conditions in Huntington this season. You will need to do your own snow stability assessments. A danger of falling ice exists and will persist until it all comes down.

Every season is a little different, for certain, but right now the weather pattern we’ve been going through feels like any other late April. Warm days and cold nights are the norm, some days the snow is guaranteed to soften, others its more questionable. Today, as temperatures in the ravine easily rise above the freezing mark and with nearly imperceptible winds, I would bet good money that the snow surfaces will be in good shape in a few hours. But, like every other late April, there are showers in the forecast. Don’t be surprised if you get a little wet this afternoon. Take advantage of the time frame after the snow becomes soft and before the clouds move in. Later today we’ll post a Weekend Update with our thoughts on the upcoming weekend.

Falling ice is an increasingly common occurrence at this point in the season. Over the years many people have been severely injured or killed by icefall in Tuckerman, while countless others have had close calls. It’s hard to truly appreciate the seemingly random, unpredictable power of this hazard until you’ve seen it firsthand. Take our advice: Minimize the time you spend in areas where ice may fall from above you, such as under the headwall or at Lunch Rocks. Despite its popularity, Lunch Rocks is not a safe place for watching the action.

Crevasses are opening up in many areas. The worst of these can be found in the Lip area and Center Bowl. The smallest ones may just trip you up a little, but others are far more dangerous. Some are quite deep, others have icy water  splashing through them, and some are hidden from view by rollovers or a thin bridge of snow. The best way to avoid this hazard is to know where the holes are located, and avoid these areas. You can do this by climbing up what you plan to descend.

The Sherburne Ski Trail is closed about 0.75 miles uphill of Pinkham Notch. At the rope, you will need to cross over to the hiking trail and walk down to the parking lot. PLEASE do not walk or attempt to ski down this muddy trail below the rope as it isn’t built for foot travel, will contribute to the erosion of this trail, and cover you with wet mud. The skiable section of trail is shrinking daily so you may want to leave the trail at an earlier cutoff than where it hangs now above the switchbacks.

Forest Service snow machines have been put away for the year and Snow Rangers are not on the mountain everyday due to other responsibilities on the White Mountain National Forest.  Though we are closely monitoring conditions and are ready to respond to incidents, our response time will be greatly increased.  As always, you need to be ready to initiate and carry out your own rescue effort so be prepared with the knowledge and equipment to effectively help yourself or someone else in your party.

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 Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol, or the AMC at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
  • Posted at 7:10 a.m., April 26, 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

2013-04-26 Printable