A Day in the Life of the Hermit Lake Caretaker

Alpenglow in the ravine shows up for only a few minutes and not every day...(photo:Bethann Swartz)

Know before you go: for up-to-date conditions and avalanche advisories for Tuckerman Ravine, please read the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s latest Avalanche Advisory >>

6:10 a.m.  Let’s be honest.  It’s really not that early, although when the sun has yet to rise, it feels pretty early.  In my past life I would be 1/3 of the way through my bike commute by 6:10 a.m.  These days, I groggily rise from my bed, slide into my puffiest pants and jacket, and wander over to my boots that are drying in front of my little propane heater.  This is the first big decision I have to make on a daily basis: what boots to wear.  Ha, I just realized that maybe I’m not all that different from other girls in deciding what shoes to wear.  I am different in the sense that I am choosing my boots in a small cabin that sits at 3800 feet above sea level at Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  And I am not deciding between two pairs of shoes to see which match my outfit the best (although I do think the green of  my mountaineering boots makes my eyes pop).  Instead, this first decision of the day is mountaineering boots or ski boots.  Why am I putting boots on before the sun rises on a daily basis?  Part of my daily duties as the caretaker of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Hermit Lake Shelters at Tuckerman Ravine is recording data from the Forest Service’s snow plot, which is a 5-minute hike, 3.5-minute sled, or 1.5-minute ski from my cabin up here.  Aha, that’s why I need to decide which boots to wear in the morning.  What mode of transportation do I want to utilize to get to said snow plot?  I’d say I put the ski boots on most days, but sledding is a close second, especially since my friend Josh hooked me up with a sweet new sled, and every now and then I'll simply hike, but really, when you can ski or sled, why would you hike?  The data collection consists of recording air and snowpack temperatures, measurements of snowfall and other general weather observations such as cloud cover and precipitation form and rate.  It can take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes to record the data and I then have to schlep back up to the cabin by 7:00 a.m. in order to record the daily weather report that the Mt. Washington Observatory reads to all of us backcountry caretakers over the radio.

Looking over toward Carter Dome from Shelter #6 (photo: Bethann Swartz)
Is it really cold and windy most mornings when I rely on the light of my headlamp to guide me to snow plot?  Yes.  Am I often still a little tired?  Yes, but the aforementioned cold and wind can really wake a girl up.  Do I usually say out loud how “beautiful this place is”?  Absolutely.  That first hour of my day is so wonderful.  I hope these photos can do justice to the beauty I am fortunate to witness daily.  It’s so darn magical.  While I need my headlamp to get me to the snowplot and to read the temperatures on the thermometer, by the time I am heading back to the cabin, dawn has broken and I no  longer need the artificial light.  When I get back to the cabin I stand on the porch and stare off to the east and watch the hues of the sky change from the deep black/gray of the night to brilliant reds, pinks and oranges.  Sometimes I venture down to Shelter #6, sit up there and watch the sun creep up over the Wildcat and Carter peaks.  I sit in silence (save the wicked winds some days), observe, smile, and think about how fortunate I am to have such an amazing job in one of the most beautiful places on earth…and I have hardly begun my day at that point.  There are still hours of adventuring to be had after I finish my morning chores…

Looking at Wildcat Ridge from Shelter #6 (photo: Bethann Swartz)
From skiing safety to lodging, check out our comprehensive resource for properly preparing for your trip to Tuckerman Ravine >>

Beth S.  
AMC Hermit Lake Shelter Caretaker

For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM or by email at amcpinkhaminfo@outdoors.org. To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm. We also offer ski and stay packages at our Joe Dodge Lodge and the Highland Center.

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