Inferno Weekend in the Whites!

Tuckerman Ravine and Mt. Washington 4.19.2013
Ahh, Spring skiing in Tuckerman Ravine, it's a ritual descent for many of us every year!  Despite cold temperatures, high winds, and precipitation in the forecast for Saturday, I still anticipate it to be a busy weekend in Pinkham Notch and in Tuckerman Ravine.  Saturday is the Tuckerman Inferno pentathalon, an annual race held by the non-profit Friends of Tuckerman Ravine.  Racers will be descending through Left Gully in Tuckerman Ravine tomorrow for the last leg of the pentathalon, and the event will certainly draw a large crowd. Sunday's forecast from the Mt. Washington Observatory ( looks more promising, with sunny skies and warm temperatures, which will undoubtedly bring die-hard skiers from around New England to ski the fabled Headwall.
Gulf of Slides Main Gully 4.15.2013

Snow coverage is excellent for this time of year in the steeps, but hazards still exist, as shown by today's avalanche in the Lip in Tuckerman Ravine and the undermining of snow by running water in the floor of the ravine, Hillman's Highway, and Lobster Claw gullies.  The Little Headwall is currently a raging waterfall and the stream above is chock full of weak snow bridges.  Hiking out of the ravine back to Hermit Lake Shelters and to the John Sherburne Ski Trail is undoubtedly the safer and faster option than skiing out of the ravine.  Icefall is an increasing danger, and with the warm weather we've been experiencing lately, very large pieces of ice can come crashing down, especially in places people love to congregate like Lunch Rocks and the floor of the ravine.  Always be avalanche aware by reading the Avalanche Advisory posted by the U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers online (, at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or at Hermit Lake Shelters.  Only exposing one person to a time to avalanche risks is one of the primary rules of safe travel in avalanche terrain, in addition to carrying a beacon (transceiver), probe, and shovel.  I personally recommend bringing crampons and an ice axe for ascent up the gullies which you intend to ski down.  Crampons make life a lot easier and safer while climbing up the exceedingly steep terrain of Tuckerman Ravine, while self arrest with an ice axe can prevent serious injury during a sliding fall.  Areas above the steeps, including the Eastern Snowfields, and terrain right below the ridgeline in the Gulf of Slides has a very thin or non-existent snowpack.  Be careful skiing through this terrain, as rocks, shrubs, and vegetation are poking through.   

Upper Pitches of the Gulf of Slides with meager snow cover 4.15.2013
The John Sherburne Ski Trail is still open to the bottom at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, although the last half mile is currently sticky snow with open patches of ground, bare rocks, and grass poking through the meager snowpack.  Skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine is still possible from the base, but again, the first half mile is patchy, with rocks and ground you may have to work around.  The Gulf of Slides Ski Trail has two open water crossings as of Monday which mandate removal of your skis or board to cross.  The rest of the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail is skiing well, but moguls, patches of rocks, grass, and shrubs are sticking through in the lower parts of the run just like the Sherburne, so be cautious when heading downhill.
Rocky Branch Trailhead 4.19.2013

Hiking this time of year brings mixed conditions.  As the picture of the Rocky Branch Trailhead shows, bare, muddy ground will be encountered at most trailheads and up to about 2,000 ft.  Between 2,000 ft. and 4,500 ft. (treeline), expect a 1-3 ft. deformed snowpack with a "monorail."  A monorail is a dense snowpack in the treadway formed by winter hikers, while to either side of the monorail will be increasingly rotten snow as the day and season progresses.  Microspikes will be best in the morning when the snowpack's still icy, but snowshoes will be extremely helpful later in the day to prevent postholing and provide added stability on the deformed monorail.  Alpine areas will have far less snow than below treeline, while ridges and windward aspects will be practically bare from the recent warm weather we've had.  Beware of postholing near rocky outcrops and at treeline where spruce traps are becoming ever more abundant.  Again, snowshoes and Microspikes are both recommended for variable conditions in the alpine zone and below treeline. 

Tuckerman Ravine 4.19.2013
As always, if you have any questions about your upcoming hike or backcountry ski, please don't hesitate to contact the AMC Trails phone at (603) 466-8116 everyday from 6:30 AM - 10:00 PM, or send us an email at and we'll respond promptly.

Gulf of Slides and Tuckerman Ravine 4.19.2013

Lodging is still available trail-side this weekend, so if you want to hit the trails early, consider staying at Joe Dodge Lodge, the Highland Center, or one of AMC's three winter huts (Carter Notch, Zealand Falls, or Lonesome Lake).
Give our Reservations Department a call at (603) 466-2727 Monday through Saturday 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM if you're so inclined.

Have a safe, fun, and exhilarating weekend! I'll see you in the mountains,


Cormac N. Griffin
AMC Trails Information
(603) 466-8116

Labels: , , , , , , ,