We’d been away from Mt. Washington for over three weeks, and it was past time to give it another go. The weekends prior had mostly considerable avalanche risk in the bowl of Tuckerman Ravine based on the advisories from the avalanche center, but things seemed to be settling down. Rob, Sweeney and I met up in North Conway on Friday night, and made some final gear preparations.
We made our way to Pinkham Notch Saturday morning to join up with our other compatriot, Alex. Little did we know, the annual Ice Fest was this weekend and we ran into swarms of climbers also making their way up the mountain.
We started skinning up the Ravine trail, with the intention of heading to the East Snowfields, since we figured we had the best chance of getting some turns in there. When we turned onto the Lion’s Head winter route however, we heard that it was slow going on the trail because of the heavy foot traffic. The group decided to change plans and scope out the bowl to see if anything was skiable.
When we got into the bowl the wind picked up. It was likely in the teens in the bowl with 35-45 mph winds. Most of the bowl had Moderate avalanche danger due to windloading. We veered off towards Lobster Claw once we reached the bowl, assessing the conditions as we went. The snowpack was variable with ~6+ inches in lee areas on top of a breakable rain crust. In one or two spots we post-holed almost up to our waists. As we approached steeper terrain to the right of Right Gully, we stopped. Rob, Sweeney and I spread out and dug snowpits. Even though my knowledge is rudimentary at this point, it didn’t look great. There were many layers shearing cleanly away from each other even as we were cutting the snow to do tests. Sweeney and Rob came to a similar conclusion: if conditions didn’t improve, we’d likely have to turn around.
We ascended a little further up to a rock wall which the wind was whipping around. At this point the wind was blowing in snow very quickly, and some of our earlier tracks were starting to fill in. We stopped here and transitioned to get ready to ski. Sweeney went first and was rewarded with a few good turns of some deep, dense powder, before cutting right through some brush. I followed suit, with Alex and Rob not far behind.
The group then headed in search of what was supposed to be a route down to the Sherburne, but ended abruptly in extremely dense brush and low woods. What followed was a few hundred yards of the densest bushwacking I’ve ever done, wallowing in waist deep snow at points, while maneuvering skis around branches. At one point we had enough room to link up some turns near the Cutler river, but then the skis came back off. An hour later we emerged on the hiking trail near Hermit Lake, where we chatted with one of the avalanche forecasters for a bit about the conditions.
Eventually we all skied down the Sherburne back to the car. The trail was filled in, but firm, and icy in patches. We’d managed a few sweet turns, but overall the consensus was we’d made the right call, even though we got skunked.
Sunday was proof that you never know what the mountain is going to give you. We got an earlier start and skinned straight for Hermit Lake. We were greeted by the advisory indicating Low danger on most aspects of the Ravine. The Sunday Advisory said that strong overnight winds moved most of the new snow we’d been in yesterday out of the steeper sections of the Ravine.
We decided to head up Left Gully since we had the best bet of finding stable conditions all the way up. It was a beautiful, crisp winter day, with a completely clear sky. What else can you ask for?
Left Gully was firm all the way to the top of the Ravine, with a just a bit of softer snow to edge on. We all had a great first run, Rob even found some pow he kindly pointed out to me near the runout of the Gully.
At this point, there were other skiers in the bowl already enjoying some turns part way up the Sluice, so we traversed over there for a short second run. We were rewarded with some soft creamy snow to toss around. It’s amazing the difference a day can make in the bowl.