Weekend Update–Will it ever be cold again?

Happy Friday everyone. There were two possible titles that I thought of for this post. One is the one you see above and the alternative was “It’s been hot all week, so why hasn’t more ice fallen?” I chose to go with the shorter one, but the second one gets more directly to the point. It has been a very warm week. Nighttime temperatures have mostly been above freezing, allowing the snowpack to continue it’s meltout around the clock. I hadn’t personally been to the bowl since last weekend, so when I arrived this morning I was very surprised to see as much ice still sitting up on the Headwall as there currently is.

I don’t know what to tell you about the weekend weather other than it’s going to be great. The latest forecast for Gorham calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70’s Saturday and reaching 81 on Sunday. Up here, I would expect temperatures in the upper 50’s in the ravines. This is definitely the type of weather that necessitates a good hat, sunglasses, and liberal applications of sunscreen. Remember that snow can reflect up to 80% of the UV light, so don’t forget to apply it to all those places where the sun doesn’t usually shine, like the underside of your nose.

Before getting into the good stuff, like what runs are skiing well and where I would recommend going, you need to know where the hazards are and what areas to avoid.


[singlepic id=928 w=320 h=240 float=right]As mentioned, there is a lot of ice in the Center Headwall and the Sluice area. This has been hanging prominently above Lunch Rocks, so we are continuing to recommend avoiding this area. Icefall is sporadic and to some extent, unpredictable. We know that it will come down at some point, what we don’t know is exactly when it will fall or how large the chunks will be. When it goes big, it goes really big. The ice sitting above Lunch Rocks is in position to crash down as a single large block, about the size of a large van. The best way to not get hit by flying ice is to not be in the places where it will fall. We recommend hanging out in the left side of the ravine to reduce your risk.

[singlepic id=924 w=320 h=240 float=left]The Lip area is in very poor shape. Every season we close the Lip and Tuckerman Ravine Trail to all use from Lunch Rocks up through the junction with the Alpine Garden Trail. We are on the verge of closing this area, and it may actually happen tomorrow morning. This will be well-signed, so don’t worry too much about whether or not it has happened, you will know. In reality though, if you’re smart enough to be reading this you’re smart enough to stay away from the area whether or not it’s officially closed. Want more info? Check out the WMNF Supervisor’s Order.

Crevasses and undermined snow are becoming more and more prominent as the season progresses. The largest crevasses are in the Center Bowl, but others are forming in various places around the ravine. Undermining (when water melts out the snowpack from below) is prevalent in many locales, including the lower part of Hillman’s Highway. Anywhere you see a stream running underneath the snow, you should be alert to the potential for breaking through.

Ok you’ve read this far…

Recommended runs:

  • Hillman’s is a good ski option for a long run. There is some undermined snow at the bottom and some bumps throughout, but overall it would be a recommended run.
  • Left Gully is still skiing top to bottom. It has large moguls, but relatively little falling ice potential or crevasses.
  • The summit’s east snowfields. They aren’t the longest runs on the mountain, but the quality is great. With Right Gully and Lobster Claw being melted at the tops, the Lion Head Summer Trail is the best way to get there from Hermit Lake.
  • The hiking trail…not so much for skiing, but it’s the recommended way to get from the bowl to the shelter site.

Maybe go here, but they’re not great:

  • Lobster Claw. It’s melted out completely in two of the choke points, so it’s a short run. But the quality of what is there is pretty good down from the high point to the floor. Icefall potential is low in this gully.
  • Right Gully. The top has completely melted out, so it’s a relatively short bump run down to the top of Lunch Rocks. From here you can go right or left, but moving right brings you into the lower Sluice and underneath the giant ice. If you go this way, keep moving until you are well out of the way of any icefall potential.
  • Lower Snowfields. They never really filled in this year, and now they are more than a bit bushy. But if you want to avoid the crowds…

Not recommended runs:

  • The Chute. [singlepic id=927 w=320 h=240 float=right]The big reason for this not being recommended is the channel carved by sluff over the past week. This is a couple feet deep and runs right down the center. Good luck not getting stuck in it. Also, the normal bootpack line has melted out through the band of rock and bushes. Climbing is not a pleasant experience.
  • The Center Bowl/Icefall/Headwall/Lip. Call these runs what you will, they are subject to crevasse hazard and will put you in the path of any ice that falls from the headwall.
  • The Lip. As mentioned, it is likely to be closed. In all seriousness, a fall in this area could be fatal if you fall into one of the open water holes or crevasses. It’s best to avoid this area until next season.
  • The Sluice. The top is a mess of undermined snow and the bottom is subject to a lot of icefall hazard.

We will have Ski Patrollers and Snow Rangers at the ready to answer any questions you may have. Seek us out when you get to Hermit Lake, even if just to say hello. Enjoy the weekend,


Avalanche Advisory for Friday, May 3, 2013

This advisory expires tonight at 12:00 midnight.

Tuckerman Ravine has Low avalanche dangerNatural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely. 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.

Yesterday afternoon cooler air glided into the region as a gentle cold front passed through the mountains.  A few drops of rain here and there made it to the ground, but the thickening clouds were generally more bark than bite. Over the past several hours a high pressure system has once again nudged out the short lived clouds to bring back clearing conditions and sun.  What is left behind however is a brisk air mass bringing the Ravines very close to the freezing mark.  Expect snow surfaces to begin a bit firm this morning taking some time to soften. But with a dropping east wind and summit temperatures reaching an expected 40F degrees snow should soften on all aspects today.   As discussed all week our concern for icefall remains elevated.  Although ice will fall whether it’s busy or not, the increased visitors over Friday, Saturday and Sunday raises the probability that someone will be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Stay vigilant to avoid the most likely areas for ice fall discussed below and remain disciplined to give these locations plenty of room even if the snow looks tempting.  Realize that even though you skied there last time you were here hazards change and are a dynamic moving target that do not stay consistent from week to week or year to year.

Objective mountain hazards should be figured prominently into your travel plans today. These include:

1. POTENTIAL FOR FALLING ICE.  Over the years many people have been severely injured or killed by icefall in Tuckerman, while countless others have had close calls. Minimize the time you spend in high risk 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 TO SIT AND WATCH THE ACTION.  Sitting on the Left/South side of the Ravine will reduce your risk.   

2. CREVASSES AND WATERFALL HOLES. 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 most prominent area where crevasses have become a serious threat is in the Lip and Center Bowl. Falling into one of these holes or breaking through a weak snow bridge could be fatal for you or someone in your group.

3. UNDERMINED SNOW. As the snowpack continues to get thinner, we are starting to see this problem emerge. Many gullies have running water in them, which melts away the snow from below. While it may look thick and strong on top, you don’t really know until you step through. The consequences could range from minor annoyance to being swept into an icy water channel. If you see a small hole in the snow, realize it’s larger beneath the surface. A common practice is to probe the depth of snow to help locate problem areas.  It’s another good reason to carry a collapsible avalanche probe.

The Sherburne Ski Trail is closed one third the way down from Hermit Lake at crossover #7. At the rope, you need to cross over to the hiking trail and walk down to the parking lot. Do not walk or attempt to ski down this muddy trail below the rope.

We are switching signs back to the The Lion Head summer trail today and closing the Winter Route.  Some steep snow traverses still exist just below treeline on the summer trail so mountaineering skills, ice ax and crampons are important to travel safely through this area.  Chuck Taylor sneakers and a broken stick for an alpinstock will fall short as the right tools on these slopes so think through your risk and actions before heading into this area.  All other routes/trails accessing treeline also require mountaineering equipment to travel through them safely. Look for the Weekend Update this afternoon on www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org

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 or the AMC at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center or Hermit Lake Shelters.
  • Posted at 7:10 a.m., May 3, 2013. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

2013-05-03 Print Friendly