TR: 02/09/2012 Hiking and skiing on Mt. Washington
Group: Matt Pickart '13 and Charlie Governali '12
Weather: Sunny, no clouds, approx. 12Âº - 20Âº from morning through mid-afternoon, steady West wind 35 - 50 mph on the Presidential Ridge, gusty 15-30 mph winds on East facing lee slopes (East Snowfields), little wind ~20 mph within Tuckerman's Ravine, notable blowing snow above treeline (small plumes trailing east from most ridges and high points). Beautiful!
Route: Started at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center; up Tuckerman's Ravine Trail to Hermit Lake, where Matt left his skis. Continued on Tuckerman's Ravine Trail to the base of the bowl; up the ridge on the east (climber's right) side of Lobster Claw gully to the Lion's Head Trail. Up the Lion's Head Trail to its intersection with Tuckerman's Ravine Trail by Cloudwater Spring, where we turned around due to high winds. Charlie then skiied off trail northeast of the Lion's Head Trail (up slope from the Alpine Garden Trail) while Matt hiked down the Lion's Head trail (we stayed within a couple hundred meters of each other). Off-trail down Right Gully to the base of the bowl; Charlie skiied while Matt down-climbed. Every vertical 50 meters or so, Charlie stopped in a windward, less exposed area of the gully's eastern shoulder to allow Matt to catch up. Tuckerman's Ravine Trail back to its intersection with the Sherburne Ski Trail at Hermit Lake. Sherburne Ski Trail to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Trail/Snowpack conditions: Tuckerman's Ravine Trail very well packed with little to no exposed rock (all the way from Pinkham to the bottom of the bowl) but somewhat icy in patches - ski/mountaineering boots fine, but microspikes made for faster travel.
Snowpack within the ravine: Floor of the bowl = breakable crust to hard wind slab on top of less consolidated snow; South-facing aspects receiving solar radiation by 10 am = breakable surface crust again, but softer and softer underneath, made for hip-deep post-holing on steeper terrain. Middle and lower sections of Left Gully, Chute, the Headwall and Lip, Sluice, and Right Gully cleanly filled in. Exposed rock, ice, and shrubs in the uppermost sections of some of these. Lobster Claw = brushy all the way up, not scoured, but snowpack appeared well anchored by numerous dwarf alder and spruce/fir. Deep post-holing (>knee) even on the ridge bordering the east side of Lobster Claw. Lion's Head Winter Route = very well packed. In the East Snowfields, boot-packing off-trail was fairly easy - steps went ankle depth through variable top wind slab / crust.
The avalanche report for the day from the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center (snow rangers Chris Joosen and Jeff Lane) is posted here: 02.09.2012 Hillman's Highway, Left Gully, Right Gully, and Lobster Claw were posted at Low avalanche danger - i.e. "Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features. Natural and human-triggered avalanches unlikely. Small avalanches in isolated areas or extreme terrain" possible. Areas of highest concern were east-facing (lee) slopes (including the west sides of south-facing gullies, such as Lobster Claw), causing us to avoid the Lip and Headwall, and choose to travel up the (west-facing) ridge on the east side of Lobster Claw. MWAC does not make predictions/reports for areas outside of Tuckerman's and Huntington's Ravines.
Despite recent weather history suggesting avalanche danger on the lower end of the scale (a number of days since last (small) precipitation, and high westerly winds (>100 mph) and substantial solar radiation during this period), we moved cautiously. When traveling in the East Snowfields of the Alipne Garden we made a point of staying on low, consistent angle slopes, on older snow, and amidst very well anchored bouldery areas. On a protected, but east-facing (and 35Âº) slope in the Alpine Garden, Charlie dug a brief, informal pit. A small, free-standing column was created, and impacts were applied to the top of it. After wrist taps, at the first tap from the elbow, a 6"+ hard wind slab sheared off the column. It had been sitting on a very unconsolidated couple inches of graupel, which itself sat on top of a hard rain crust. Observing this, Charlie decided to ski only slopes around 25Âº and below in the East Snowfields.
The Sherburne Trail was hard-packed and scratchy with patches of ice. Matt had to side slip down most of it.
Duration: 8 hours (0900 - 1700)
Distance traveled: 8.5 miles, 4033 ft elevation gain
Gear brought & used: Avalanche beacons, probes, shovels; full-foot crampons, walking ice axes, mountaineering/AT boots, AT skis (Charlie), Telemark skis (Matt).
Comments: Above Hermit Lake, Charlie had skis but Matt did not. We tried to communicate effectively and coordinate our descent - to avoid increasing each other's avalanche exposure, to watch each other and always keep an eye up slope, and to be in a position to help each other.
Map & Photos:
For more photos, see the DOC's SmugMug page.