Latest avalanche advisory for Mount Washington’s Cutler River Drainage – Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines

General Bulletin for Sunday, December, 4, 2016

General Bulletins are issued when isolated areas of unstable snow exist within our forecast areas. Forecasts using the 5-scale danger rating system will be issued when snowfields and bed surfaces develop further. Please remember that avalanches can occur before a 5-scale forecast is issued. A new General Bulletin will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours.
New snow measuring near 16” fell on the summit of Mount Washington on Friday and Saturday, December 2 and 3, on prevailing westerly winds. Most of this recent snow appears to have remained on the softer side of the hardness scale. Beneath the new snow are pockets of hard, refrozen slush from previous rain and mixed precipitation events. Sizable isolated drifts and discontinuous deeper pockets of this new snow on 30 degree or steeper slopes should not be trusted. You will find areas of this new snow on and beneath many of the popular ice climbing routes. To complicate matters further, areas of pooled round, rimed particles (graupel) can also serve as weak layers in spots. Slabs below steeper sections of ice and cliffs, plus deep wind drifted areas, will make for challenging route-finding on any climb in either Ravine.
Currently, our terrain is broken up by many buttresses and ice cliffs and is not capable of producing large avalanches. However, smaller avalanches can certainly take you for a ride through this rocky terrain or bury you in a terrain trap. If you are planning to recreate in our forecast area, bring your avalanche rescue gear and your snowpack assessment skills!
The weather should be relatively calm today (Sunday) but remain foggy before clearing this afternoon. More moisture then enters the region from the south, bringing 3-6” more inches of snow with it to higher terrain on Monday. Winds will increase, so anticipate new wind slabs to develop.
The recent snowfall totals vary drastically by elevation with only 2-3” on a firm, crusty base on The John Sherburne Ski Trail. Due to recent warm weather and rain most water bars at every elevation contain flowing water. The upper half of the trail has better coverage but lots of barely submerged hazards exist. Watch for heavy machinery, snowmobiles and uphill ski traffic on the ski trail while the bridge on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is still underway. Use the Huntington Ravine trail detour to the Fire Road and head left, back to the Tucks Trail or the Raymond Path to Tucks Trail. Construction debris is piled near Crossover number 7 so be cautious when skiing or riding in the vicinity.

Please Remember:
• Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This bulletin 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 8:50a.m. December 4, 2016. A new General Bulletin will be issued when conditions warrant.

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

2016-12-04

November 30th. Waiting on winter…..

At first glance, Mount Washington and other high peaks appears to be buried in the white stuff. The reality is closer to be buried in ice. Looking back at photos I posted a month ago, compared to more recent ones tell the tale. We have had several brushes with winter weather bringing a few snowfalls but the mercury has repeatedly fought it’s way back above the freezing mark, and will again today, before the next round of cold, but far from frigid, weather returns. Looking at the climate record from Concord, NH, mean temperatures over the  past 12 months have been 2.23C  (4F) above normal. Average temperature on the summit for November was 4.4F above normal which makes sense on the ground in this case.

What does this mean to me, you ask? Well, for one thing, don’t forget your microspikes on the trails and even crampons in steeper terrain or steep and sketchy trails. Trails like the Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine trails have significant fall potential in places and are more like alpine climbing objectives than trails at this point. Thin snow cover will likely come and go in the short term as rain returns to summit elevations today before turning to snow. More snow is likely to return as temperatures drop over the next week so be prepared for a mix of trail conditions. Those planning to climb Mount Washington via the Tuck’s Trail to the summer Lion Head route be aware that a portion of the Tuck’s trail will be closed for a little while longer. The bridge work is nearing completion but please use the reroute (follow the signs) until the crew is done working. The beams are set with just decking remaining to be done so it shouldn’t be long now. Due to the stream crossing on the reroute, it seems that folks are opting to descend the Sherburne ski trail. If you opt for this route, please return to the Tuck’s trail as soon as possible. The lower part of the Sherbie remains unfrozen so hiking the trail increases erosion and will make for a muddy hike.

The other thing to consider now is that all the ice on the ground or refrozen crust due to rain will likely make for a poor bonding surface, at least initially, when snow arrives. Though bed surfaces for avalanches are currently small and isolated, they should grow more rapidly now that nooks and crannies are more filled in. I’d expect bed surfaces like the Chute and Left Gully and maybe portions of Odells to grow pretty quickly in size with decent snowfall totals on a westerly wind. Early season avalanches may be small but the consequences of being knocked off your feet and falling can be more severe than a larger mid-winter avalanche. Travel carefully if you plan to head into the Ravines for early season ice climbing or to link a few turns. Skiers and riders on the Sherburne should also be aware of the stubs of trees from trail work last summer add to the usual rocks and bushes that lurk just beneath the thin snow cover. Additionally, don’t be surprised to meet an excavator, ATV or some other random piece of heavy equipment moving up or down the Sherburne due to the aforementioned bridge construction. Give them a wide berth since visibility from insode those machines can be a challenge.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to test your beacons, probes and shovels. Equipment failures right before, or even worse, during an outing are not good. Did you leave your batteries in your beacon last spring leading to corrosion on the contacts? Are you due for a firmware update from the manufacturer? Is your probe still functional? Ferrules intact and straight? HAve you practiced with it so you can access and deploy it in seconds with your heart racing? Has your shovel been used as a prying tool or otherwise abused? Maybe it’s time for an upgrade for some of these items? Remember that no one plans to be caught and buried in an avalanche, but these critical items have lots of uses in a winter environment beyond rescuing someone in your, or another party, in an avalanche. Emergency shelter building, evacuation sled construction, snow stability tests, the list goes on and on. Lightweight versions of this gear can even fit the needs of the most devoted light and fast alpine climber. How about a good headlamp and even a lightweight back-up for the friend that always forgets something? How is your first aid kit? Still intact with enough stuff to get you by and off the mountain? A SAM splint make a nice pack stave and 4×4 gauze and cravats weigh next to nothing and are worth their weight in gold when you need them. As many folks have learned, rescuers can take quite a while to arrive, making self-sufficiency the name of the game even on our apparently accessible Rockpile.

There really is no good excuse to enter avalanche terrain without the right equipment…or education. Now would also be a good time to sign up for an avalanche course, whether it is your first Level 1, a refresher Level 1 or simply a course in winter travel skills and avalanche awareness.  As many folks have learned over the years, a wilderness first aid course, heck, any first aid course, is a good thing to take. No one likes to be the proverbial deer in the headlights when your partner needs medical attention!

If you are out and about in the field this year, please remember that we always like to receive observations from the field. Here is the link to submit them.

That’s it for now. We’ll be keeping track of conditions and will post something when conditions are drastically different and with any luck, we’ll be forecasting for avalanches soon! Now if we can just get some more snow….

-FC