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

General Bulletins are issued when unstable snow may exist within our forecast areas but before 5 scale avalanche advisories begin. Please remember that avalanches can occur before 5-scale avalanche forecasts are issued. This bulletin expires at midnight, Friday, November 16, 2018.

After a fitful but early start, winter is taking a solid hold on higher elevation terrain. Snow is beginning to fill in the windswept alpine zone and the mercury is dipping well below the zero mark. Snowfields are growing in size while boulder strewn gullies, cliffs and trees are beginning to be covered by wind-blown snow. All this adds up to conditions which can produce enough snow to build wind slab avalanches along with the bed surfaces needed for the avalanches to slide on. Signs of natural avalanche activity were observed in October before a warming trend melted much of the 52” of snow that fell in the latter half of that month. The recent downward trend in daily temperatures and passing storms is allowing the snow to accumulate once again. Avalanche debris was recently observed in the shady and sheltered aspects on the south side of Tuckerman Ravine. Tuesday the 13th brought another shot of snow followed by plummeting temperatures and extreme winds in excess of 100 mph. Winds of this velocity have a history of scouring many areas while building rock hard wind slabs in more sheltered spots. The next storm, which is forecast to arrive Thursday night, will bring more potential for unstable storm and wind slabs on growing snowfields.

Photo taken Saturday, Nov, 11 showing runouts of Left Gully and the Chute in Tuckerman Ravine. More snow and windloading occurred Nov. 13 and 14.

These snowfields could produce consequential avalanches in many areas of steep terrain. Ice climbs are growing in size and pockets of unstable snow between ice pitches are notorious for causing problems.  In addition to avalanche hazards, remember to take into account other early season hazards that exist in the terrain:

  • Rocks, trees and bushes lurk in the snow and in the fall line. Skiing or sliding into obstacles can ruin your day or worse. New snow may just barely cover a season ending stump or boulder.
  • Terrain traps and cliffs make burial and significant injury a real possibility, even if you are only swept off your feet by a small avalanche.
  • Long sliding falls are a threat despite the appearance of new, soft snow on your approach. Wind can easily scour parts of your climb or hike down to a hard bed surface. What you thought would be a mellow snow climb can turn into something much more exciting. Don’t count on self-arrest to save you. Protect yourself with a rope and/or don’t fall.
  • Recent, rapidly falling temperatures stress the outer surface of the ice and create brittle conditions. These same conditions can lead to ice dam formation where flowing water is trapped behind freshly formed ice. Be mindful of tool swings when you hear water and approach top outs.

The summer Lion Head Trail remains the safer east side route to the summit than the Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine Trails. Weather forecasts indicate that the Lion Head Winter Route may soon become a better alternative as snow fields grow and allow avalanches to threaten the summer trail. Be sure to ask about the switch or be prepared to travel in avalanche terrain on the summer trail.

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, the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters.
• Posted  7:00 AM, Wednesday, November 14, 2018. A new 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

2018-11-14-General-Bulletin

An early visit from old man winter deposited close to 29″ of snow through the last week of October on the summit of Mount Washington.  While a return to warmer temperatures brought freezing rain and then rain and above freezing temperatures, snow on the ground will likely be around for a while. All this snow yielded some early turns for skiers and some crown lines indicating some avalanche activity. Where the snow has fallen and drifted into continuous snowfields, any new snow may find a bed surface to release another avalanche.  An new snow means that it will be important to play by the rules of winter, even though the calendar says early November. Here’s a checklist to use as a starting point if you are considering a trip into the high country.

  • Bring the gear you’d bring in mid-winter including a beacon, probe and shovel. Perform your group beacon check before you leave the car…the batteries last a long time but not forever if you forget to turn it off. Corrosion due to batteries left in your device can damage your beacon. If you haven’t already practiced with your beacons, now is a good time to do that.
  • Plan to be self-sufficient if someone gets injured. Waiting for rescue is seldom your best choice. A lightweight, improvised rescue sled kit or some means of transporting a person with an incapacitating injury should be part of your group gear.
  • Any continuous slope in the 30-40+ degree range should be evaluated for it’s ability to produce an avalanche. Denser snow over softer snow, either from wind packing or warming or rain should be considered suspect. Travel one at a time and avoid lingering in fall line. Helmets are a great idea.
  • Early season avalanches, no matter how small, are dangerous. Rocks and cliffs in the runout of a slide path means that traumatic injury or worse can result if you get caught in a slide. Flat spots on a slope, trees and boulders can serve as terrain traps that pile snow deeply enough to bury a person.
  • Avalanches don’t care about danger ratings or how good a skier you are. 5 scale avalanche advisories will be posted when snowfields grow further and when winter has fully taken hold. As always, you control your exposure to the risk of avalanche and other mountain hazards by choosing where, when, and how you travel.

The ground is not yet solidly frozen, meaning loose rocks are beneath all of this snow. Be sure to account for increased travel time due to challenging travel conditions, even below treeline. The wind that accompanied this week’s snow brought plenty of trees and branches down onto the trails, further complicating travel. Remember the days keep getting shorter, so don’t forget your headlamp!