Weekend Update April 7

The next two days will show quite different moods of Mount Washington. The rough overview is mid-winter conditions tomorrow with elevated avalanche hazard followed by a transitional snowpack with spring-like weather on Sunday. Currently (8pm on Friday night), it is snowing at Hermit Lake. This should continue through the night  with somewhere between 3 and 4″ accumulating. Upslope snow tomorrow may bring up to another 3″. Winds increasing from the NW will transport this snow into our forecast area, elevating avalanche hazard tomorrow. In addition to this, the temperature will continue to drop through the night. Our snowpack, which was soaked by rain over the past few days, will freeze. Where this becomes exposed, this will provide a prime surface for long, sliding falls.

Tomorrow will feel like mid-winter. If coming to recreate in the steep terrain of the Cutler River Drainage, come with not only crampons, ice axe, beacon, shovel, and probe, but also a wise head on your shoulders. Recognize conditions that say turn around and come back another day. Dig into the weather forecast to plan and dress appropriately. Be sure to read the avalanche advisory in the morning for the most up-to-date travel advice. Spring skiing will be here eventually, but tomorrow is not that day.

Sunday should be a different story. Winds will decrease Saturday night to closer to 30-50mph. The temperature will increase into the 30sF and skies will clear. Avalanche hazard may still be elevated in areas, so be sure to check in on Sunday morning for the current advisory.

In addition to varied weather this weekend, another factor to be aware of will be the annual Inferno Pentathlon. This is an annual event put on by Friends of Tuckerman Ravine and always draws a large crowd. If traveling into steep terrain, keep in mind there will be an unusually large number of people about, and possibly skiers and climbers above you. While it’s possible to control the action of you and those in your group, the actions of other groups are out of your control. It would be unfortuante to have someone above trigger an avalanche onto your group or take a fall and crash into your group. Traveling below other parties tomorrow will be a poor choice.

As to the condittion of our snowpack after the rain, we fared well. The Sherburne is in great shape with snow all the way to Pinkham. All gullies are still chock full of snow and should provide good skiing when the opportunity finally arises. The Little Headwall is the one area that is notciceably worse for wear. Open holes exist both above the rollover in the streambed as well as on the steep part of the stream. While it is possible to thread the needle around these holes, it will require skilled skiing and mandatory turns. If attempting to exit the Bowl on skis, be sure to get eyes on your route of choice while traveling up. In addtion to the objective mountain hazards, there may be traffic jams of skiers as this will be a busy weekend. Crowds are not often an issue in the backcountry. This weekend, crowding should be on your checklist of hazards to discuss.

The Little Headwall on Friday morning. The open holes are only going to get bigger. Expect challenging skiing through this section combined with a few mandatory turns.

Escape Hatch on Friday morning. Notice the numerous roller balls and associated sluffing to accompany these. This debris will freeze tonight, creating a very challenging skiing surface. Most gullies appeared to have similar debris in Huntington. Thick fog prevented me from seeing Tuckerman today, but a short tour up the Little Headwall and across the Lower Snowfields allowed me to see similar things in the runouts of The Empress, Duchess, and Hillman’s. The size of the rollers in the Lower Snowfields was remarkable; several were almost as big as a person.

Thick fog for the bulk of the day prevented us from getting many pictures. We’ll try to get some tomorrow, but blowing snow may prevent seeing much. As always, stay safe this weekend. We look forward to seeing you on the hill.

Helon.