Apr 252014

We usually stop writing Weekend Updates at the same time as we shift from 5-scale advisories to General Advisories. Earlier this week, we had moved to a General, and so I thought we would need to look for other creative outlets in advance of the weekend. However, new snow prompted us to return back to the 5-scale danger rating system. Hopefully this isn’t making you schizophrenic. Anytime we decide to change to a General Advisory this early in the season, there is a good chance that we will need to revert to ratings at some point before the season is over.

So you’re a brave soul and thinking about coming up to do some skiing on Saturday??? I’ll get the easy discussions out of the way first…The Sherburne is being closed today at the #5 crossover. This means you’ll be able to ski down from Hermit Lake more than half way. At this point, cross to the hiking trail, change into lightweight boots, and hike the rest of the way to Pinkham (about 1 mile). Getting out of the bowl is also a hike. No more skiing out through the brook or Little Headwall this year. I don’t like walking out any more than you do, but more than you I’ve probably thrashed through the brush hoping to find a way to slide out, so take my word here…it’s over.

For the upcoming weekend, this graphic from the National Weather Service will give you an impression of what to expect:

 weekend forecast

How’s that for spring weather??? In all seriousness, please don’t come here expecting spring weather. It will be like a cold winter day, most likely. If you come prepared for this and have a good attitude about it, then you can still have a good time. If you come dressed for the weather we are having right now (sunny, warm, and very little wind) you will be a good candidate for hypothermia. These are the weather forecasts that cause experienced visitors to find an alternative adventure for the day. Very experienced Tucks visitors have likely already learned that sometimes you’ve just got to come up and hope for the best. But like Kenny Rogers says, you’ve “got to know when to walk away, and know when to run.” I’d be pulling out my running shoes and staying low in the valleys this weekend if I had the choice.

OK, so maybe you’re an optimist. You might dig deeply into the weather forecast and see the potential for a powder day. I’ll give you this one. There is a chance that we will get a decent amount of snow out of the weather maker and perhaps it will make for more than “dust on crust.” In my experience here, true powder days are rare. We have one of the ingredients on hand already…a stable base. To this you need to add sufficient snow to get your edges up off the base (not very likely tomorrow) and hardly any wind to form wind slab (close, but the forecast doesn’t give me much hope). So what if we get all this? You will still have limited visibility and a strong likelihood of people dropping in from above you. As much as I love powder turns, I don’t love it so much that I’m OK with some other person triggering a slide above me. I also not OK with the idea that I might not see the family of sledders innocently in my runout when trigger a slide in poor visibility. And really, I just don’t like low visibility when I’m trying to skirt around avalanche hazard. The combination of low visibility and very low chance of a powder day does not make me want to try my luck.

Just so you don’t think I’m all doom and gloom, there is one silver lining to the weather forecast. The winds will be on the light side of what this mountain is capable of for the entire weekend. It’s not until Monday that they will begin to rip again like they did earlier this week. This means hiking might not be a bad option.

Yet another benefit of this weather forecast is that it will stall the development of the usual springtime hazards, falling ice, crevasses, and undermined snow. These are not going away, they’re just waiting for warm weather this season. If it does get warmer down at the ravine elevations, you should expect increasing potential for falling ice and crevasses opening. I’m hoping temperatures stay cold, so the ice hangs on through the weekend and the crevasses don’t open any more than they already had. (Currently, most are buried under a blanket of snow from earlier in the week.)

Normally this is where I would begin to tell you about the snow coverage on various runs. I’m going to hold this discussion for another day. I don’t want to end this update on a positive note. You might get the wrong idea and decide to come up despite the weather forecast. If this is what you’re thinking, I suggest you check the weather forecast.


 Posted by at 6:37 am
Apr 182014

This is a transition time for the snowpack in the ravine. As each week passes, we are losing more and more snow. In this season of change, we begin to see a wide variety of conditions. Over the course of this past week, we’ve seen… hot days that brought river levels to flood stages (Monday), a rain event that dropped 2″ or so of rain on the summit (Tuesday), a couple inches of new snow (Wednesday), a day with great snow on S-facing slopes and icy conditions on N-facing slopes (Thursday), and a day where pretty much every surface in Tucks softened nicely (Friday). In addition, we’re beginning to see the emergence of all the annual springtime hazards, such as falling ice, undermined snow, and crevasses.

After we get past the possibility of a light sprinkling of sleet tonight and some clouds early in the day tomorrow, this weekend has the potential to offer some decent weather for playing around in the mountains. From what I’m seeing right now, Sunday’s weather looks better than Saturday’s. The temperatures will be a little warmer, but the real difference will be with the wind speeds. Expect a breezy day on Saturday, but Sunday you might find very calm conditions. (I’m not a weather forecaster, so don’t take my word for it…check the real forecasts for yourself!)

We get a lot of questions during this time of the year. That’s a good thing, it means at least some people are actually thinking about what they’re doing and not blindly following others. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing as well, and what’s more, everyone wins when we can provide good information. Here are the most common questions I’ve fielded recently, with answers that are current as of Friday afternoon:

  1. “Is it good up there?” or “What’s good?” This is a tough question to answer, because good can mean so many things to so many people. It is a very personal, subjective concept. Are you asking about avalanche conditions, softness of the snow, snow coverage, the weather, etc.? We can often figure out what you mean, but it helps if you ask more specific questions, such as:
  2. “How’s the snow coverage in the ravine?” Right now, it’s doing pretty well for this point of the year. Some runs are hurting a little, such as Lobster Claw and Right Gully. The tops are more than a little bushy. Other areas such as Hillman’s and Left Gully are doing pretty well. The tops are also a little thin, but you can still get top-to-bottom runs. The slopes in the middle of Tuckerman are holding up well. You’ve got continuous snow coverage from top to bottom in the Sluice, Lip, left side of Center Bowl, and Chute. The ice cliffs in the middle have melted enough to deter most rational people.
  3. “Can you ski out the Little Headwall?” Yes and no. The fact is, the Little Headwall has melted out and is a wide open waterfall, so no, you cannot ski out on the Little Headwall. If you’re really inquiring about whether or not you can keep your skis on to descend from the bowl to Hermit Lake, well, you can, but it’s not recommended. I guarantee you that it is far faster, easier, and more fun to hike out on the trail then put your skis back on at Hermit Lake. (People generally HATE this answer, the responses we get often remind me of this classic). You might be thinking, what’s the worst that can happen? One outcome could be collapsing a snow bridge and ending up in a chest deep pool of water. If you stay away from the water, you could take a wrong turn and end up at the top of some cliffs. Or your friends who are waiting at Hermit Lake might just drink all the beer while you try to figure out how to get down through the maze of ski tracks.


    Looking down the streambed on the route the Little Headwall

  4. “How is the Sherburne?” It’s open to the bottom, but expect large moguls, icy sections, and a lot of bare spots. We’ll be keeping an eye on this and closing the lower sections as they continue to melt out.

That’s about it for commonly asked questions. Now let’s get to the one we wish more people would ask:

  1. “What hazards can we expect up there?” This largely depends on the day, the weather, and the crowds. The annual spring hazards, such as crevasses and icefall, are emerging. Falling ice will be the biggest threat this weekend, particularly when it’s warm  . There is a chance that we’ll see some crevasses begin to open up. In fact, we thought we had seen the early stages of this early in the week, but a closer look today makes me believe we currently have very limited potential for someone to fall into a crevasse or waterfall hole (subject to change with more melting, of course.)
    A large chunk of ice in the Sluice, directly above Lunch Rocks.

    A large chunk of ice in the Sluice, directly above Lunch Rocks.

    Long sliding falls is a good possibility, especially early in the morning or late in the day. As usual, we recommend an ice axe and crampons (not microspikes) for travel in steep terrain.

    Avalanche danger is currently Low. I don’t expect that to change much this weekend.

    The danger posed by other people on the mountain can be significant. If you are below someone who is falling, you need to be able to move out of the way. The best thing you can do is not be there in the first place.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Seriously, we are in the business of giving information, so ask questions. Even dumb questions are welcome. While we prefer you do some pre-trip planning, we understand that some things are just not clear until you see them for yourself. If you come up this weekend, don’t be afraid to ask questions from those who are in the know. As always, check the avalanche advisory and weather forecasts before heading up the hill.


Tucks Headwall Friday around noon.

Tucks Headwall Friday around noon.

The Sluice, Friday around noon.

The Sluice, Friday around noon.




 Posted by at 6:45 am