After what I witnessed this weekend I'm almost tempted to never post another TR again, then again people will likely do what they will do regardless of what they see on T4T.
I headed up to Pinkham Saturday AM and skinned up to Hermit Lake.
I dropped my camping gear off at the lean-to and debated my route. I don't normally find myself in the terrain solo very often, which presents an obvious number of safety issues. After mulling over some options and not wanting to gamble on the chance that someone might be heading up to the ravine, I opted to head up Lions Head and check stability in the Eastern Snowfields.
Getting there was spicy. If anyone has been on the winter route lately I'm sure they would agree with me. We need a lot more snow to cover up some of the interesting terrain features that currently exist.
As you can see there isn't much skinning to be done anywhere along the Alpine Garden. I carefully selected a route once I gained some elevation on the cone as to not impact any of the exposed Flora.
Snowpack on the Eastern Snowfields was certainly low tide and as I picked my way across I performed many spot checks for stability. Most of the snow was a consolidated windslab ranging from Fist to 4F on the surface 3" and 4F-1F on the underlying layer which ranged considerably in depth from 3" on top of bed surface to almost 24" in some deeper sections. After making my assessment I determined the slope was safe to ski and was LOW avalanche danger, but could creep into Moderate depending on the afternoon snow event. My plan was to bail off the summit cone before 1PM when the storm was supposed to roll in.
I didn't see another set of tracks anywhere up there. Perhaps the trek wasn't worth the reward for some. I can attest that it was certainly worth the extra effort and was suitable terrain given my party size. True to plan I bailed off the cone by 1PM. The weather didn't seem to be correlating with the forecast. Clouds were in and out, but there was quite a bit of blue. In hindsight I could have stayed up there all day. As you all know by now, the storm never really materialized in the Whites. On my way down Lion's Head I snapped this shot shortly after observing a solo skier ski left.
There was also a group of 3 snowboarders heading up. I will not use this as a platform to critique anyone here as I don't know these particular individuals experience levels, but I will say when travelling in avalanche terrain (and icy terrain) make sure you are prepared and following safe travel techniques. Crampons and a mountaineering axe essential for safe travel in the ravine right now...beacon, shovel, and probe should go without saying, however I saw other groups that carried none of these items and rode left under moderate conditions. In the words of Chris Joosen "Moderate is not the new Low".
Sunday I was meeting up with a friend to go skiing. After discussing plans for the day and not seeing my buddy, I ventured out with Beth. All the terrain was rated as CONSIDERABLE. A careful game plan to get out of the terrain by Noon was made, when the wind speeds were supposed to rise. The trail into the ravine is still only really passable with traction until Connection. From there on up its smooth skinning. Skinning on the way up to the throat we noticed several isolated pockets of snow they felt slightly hollow. This raised several red flags. Overnight we had only received 1.5cm of new snow at the summit and winds were low. Winds were still low with light snow. We found a sheltered aspect and tested stability. Results were CT14 Q2 shear and likely not very indicative of the snow conditions past the bottom of the throat. We decided to wait for Rich and then proceed with caution looking out for any deeper pockets of windslab. About at the top of the ice section we decided to not proceed any higher. After digging down deeper into one of the isolated pockets graupel was observed. 12+" of snow was resting on top of this. Good eyes Rich. Forrest caught up with us and we all made turns. Conditions were far better than I expected!
After a solo skier descended we opted to boot back up since the weather was still favorable. Winds were beginning to change and snow was getting slightly heavier, but was still very light. Once we got the the throat is when the danger scale meter started making pinging noises in my head. Spindrift was beginning to travel into LG, not steadily, but frequent enough that it was a concern. We traveled back to the same spot we geared up before and that's when things got interesting. Rich yelled "SLIDE" and sure enough on the steeper left flank of the throat in line with the top of the ice bulge a small 10ft section of the 1.5cm new snow sluffed off and gathered more along the way coming to rest where we were standing.
Time to GTFO. Had there been any sizable slabs further up (Beta from a Friday descent within the group), higher winds, or more new snow, we would not have been in the position we were in.
The turns the second time were the best yet and we left at just the right moment.
I hate to stand on the proverbial soapbox, but after what I witnessed this weekend I feel its necessary to share.
Travel in avalanche terrain requires at a minimum these 4 basic things:
1. Plan-Make one and constantly assess and change plans
2. Tools (Beacon, Shovel, Probe, Saw etc.)
3. Skills and knowledge of how to use these tools, interpret results, observe
4. Partners (Don't go solo and if you do travel in safe terrain.)
I am well aware LOW doesn't mean no danger, when I made the decision to ski the Eastern Snow fields Saturday I used steps 1-3 and what I considered to be my acceptable level of risk.
I don't want to sound condescending, but when I encounter one more person or group without any avalanche safety gear, or only 1 piece of gear per person, it will likely result in a lengthy and education discussion of backcountry etiquette, safety protocols, acceptable levels of risk, and the impact of any SAR that might have to be performed.