A Bluebird Weekend in the Whites!

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 >>

Howdy again from Hermit Lake! Last time I let y’all in on the life of the Hermit Lake caretaker, I was telling you about my morning routine of heading down to snowplot and catching some sweet sunrises. Well, I have more sunrise photos to share as well as additional insight as to what it is the caretaker up here actually does. I cannot pinpoint the favorite part of my job, but one of my duties that I take very seriously is being up-to-date with trail conditions: the John Sherburne Ski Trail "Sherbie", The Tuckerman Ravine Trail, various lines in the bowl; I like to get out there and get a feel for how everything is skiing, what’s good, etc. Well, I got back up to Hermit Lake from my days off last Friday (I get 4 days off every other week), and ran into a friend who had just skied the lower part of Hillman’s. He asked if I wanted to ski on Saturday, but I had to sadly reply that I couldn’t because on Saturdays I really need to stick around Hermit Lake in order to chat with folks about conditions as well as be available to sell Snickers Bars, Handwarmers, neat new ORANGE fleeces and many other goodies to those who make the trek up here. After a minute of being bummed that I couldn’t ski on Saturday, we came up with a plan. Ready for it? DAWN PATROL! What’s that, you ask? Well, get up really early and get your skiing in as dawn breaks. PERFECT plan. I could go skiing and still get back to the cabin relatively early to be available to the public. I could have my cake and eat it, too!
Photo Credit: Ryan Gibbs
Saturday morning I woke up super early to collect snowplot data, post the weather and get ready for some skiing. My friends arrived promptly at 5:45 a.m., we looked at the weather, the previous day's avalanche forecast, and came up with a plan at the cabin before heading out. We decided to head up Hillman’s due to the low avalanche risk. We turned on our avalanche beacons and did a beacon check to make sure everyone’s had enough battery life and could pick up each other’s signals in search mode (and be picked up by the other ones). We also made sure we all had our shovels and probes and we were off. I was able to skin a good ways up Hillman’s before I had to throw the skis on the backpack. We all agreed that we felt comfortable with what we were finding in the snow through some snowpack tests that we did, and that the snow was unlikely to avalanche (sure enough, when the advisory for the day was posted a couple hours later, Hillman’s was rated as “LOW”). We stopped to watch the sunrise and to see the sky turn brilliant shades of yellow, red and orange and continued on up. Eventually topping out of the climbers’ right fork. We observed a good snowpack throughout the climb up and although the conditions weren’t “epic”, the windslab was edgeable without too much ice. The top 50 yards or so before topping out turned to blue ice and was not all that enjoyable. I was grateful to have my ice axe and crampons for that section. In retrospect, we probably would have been a little more stoked transitioning a little lower instead of topping out. We got down through the ice and then enjoyed a lovely run down Hillmans. Got back to the cabin, made some pancakes and tea and excitedly continued on with my day of chatting up skiers and hikers and being able to share what conditions could be expected up above.

Per usual, weather on this mountain changes drastically and quickly. The warmer temperatures and sunshine of the weekend turned cooler and precipitation arrived Monday night and continued off and on through the day on Thursday. Snowfall and lack of visibility played a huge role in the decisions I made during the week with my adventuring. Tuesday brought us a couple inches of pre-storm snow, which made for some fun skiing on the Sherbie. Temperatures warmed throughout the day and the lower half of the John Sherburne Ski Trail did have some heavier, but still fun, snow. Going into the day on Tuesday I had hopes of heading up into the bowl, but avalanche conditions and zero visibility modified those plans. Instead, I took a couple of Sherbie runs with Rich & Marcia, the Harvard Cabin Caretakers and we skied the Little Headwall and did some other exploration down low. It all skied quite nicely. Wednesday through Thursday brought us well over a foot and a half of fresh white stuff. The snow stake is at its highest level of the year—nearly 5 feet of snow sits here at Hermit Lake!!! The new snow brought with it increased avalanche danger Wednesday and Thursday, so they were great days to get first (or second, third and fourth) tracks on the Sherbie and then ride the lift across the street at Wildcat. I dare to say that the Sherbie is skiing the best it has all season!

There you have it, this mountain continues to change things up on us daily. I don’t know if you remember the record highs we hit up here around this time two years ago, but don’t be fooled by the calendar telling you that it is the middle of March and that spring is near. It is still very much winter up here. I am at eye-level with the snow out my back window and the wind is making my little cabin creak like crazy right now and keeps blowing the front door (the one with the cowbell) open! The peak gust here at Hermit Lake was over 50 mph Thursday afternoon and the current air temperature is 4 degrees below zero. If you were hoping for some spring skiing this weekend, I will be the bearer of bad news and tell you to plan on some winter mountaineering instead. Feel free to stop by the cabin or find me on the porch to chat about the most up-to-date conditions and weather if you venture up here this weekend.

From skiing safety to lodging, check out our comprehensive resource for properly preparing for your trip to Tuckerman Ravine >>

Happy Winter Adventuring!
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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