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:
- “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:
- “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.
- “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.
- “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:
- “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.)
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.