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….