It is interesting how rapidly plans can change when you are on a mountain. Thursday morning after taking a look at the weather forecast for Mount Washington I came up with a plan for what I wanted to do Saturday. Knowing that this weekend was probably the last weekend to do something big on the Rockpile I figured I would go all the way. Ascend up through GoS, do a climbing traverse across to the Snow Fields, summit out, and then ski back down through Tucks, get onto the Sherbie and turns down to the parking lot. Needless to say, things didnít happen quite like that.
I arrived at Pinkham Notch and was ready to hit the trail by around 7:30, but there was no sign of an avi report up to that point. The previous night there had been rain on top of the snow that fell Tuesday. I was using the avi report as a gauge to judge in if GoS was safe enough to ascend through. Since there was no report by 7:45, and after some long hard thinking I decided I would essentially reverse course on the plan. Go up through Tuckerman and down through GoS. Though the start of the Tuckerman Ravine trail looked like it has just enough coverage to skin up on, after the bridge the bare spots became quite large, and I decided to boot pack it. About half way up the snow coverage finally did become good enough to allow skinning and I pulled into Hojos on my skis ahead of what turned out to be a good sized crowd.
The trailhead at Pinkham
Things were pretty windy and cold up at HoJos, and I walked into the caretakers cabin to check the avi forecast, the weather conditions, and have a quick chat with Seth about what was going on out there. Fortunately the avi report got posted right when I was there with low or moderate for all aspects of Tuckerman. I got a chance to ask the Ranger a few quick questions about things. The rain the previous night was far less than expected, but instead of filtering down through the snow it formed a crust on top of Tuesdays dumping and the following wind loading. The snow base was pretty consolidated meaning there was less of a chance of a slide, but there was nice crust on top of it all. In a way this was even worse than hearing that everything was about to come off in one huge wet slide. A thicker crust with snow that you can sink in beneath it was bringing back some bad memories.
About three years ago, on a day just like Saturdays, I took a tumble out of Sluice. The snow conditions were crusty with softer snow beneath it. My uphill ski punched through the crust and submarined which sent me star fishing down. The result was a partially torn MCL, a very painfull hike out, and the end of the season.
Outside at HoJos the crowds were increasing, and so were the winds. I regeared from skinning mode, to crampon and ice axe travel and did the hike up the remaining portion of the Ravine Trail. It was interesting to note the raging torrents coming down the Little Headwall. Definetly a boot pack out of the Ravine.
Walking into the Ravine the winds were getting progressively strong reaching the point where I was feeling myself being pushed around by them. Also the snow was not looking too good. As I pressed on the surface of the snow with my ski pole I would feel an initial amount of resistance from the crust, which when it finally broke would yield to the pole sinking by about a foot.
The Headwall at Tucks on April 8, 2006
Now I am a ĎDamn the torpedoes, full speed aheadí kinda guy in many situations. But standing there on the Ravine floor, poking holes in the snow I came to the conclusion that it just plain out wasnít worth it that day. I donít know what exactly tipped the scales, maybe it was the snow conditions, maybe it was knowing I was coming back next weekend, maybe it was all the accidents that had happened this week, maybe it was Gazoo speaking from my shoulder, whatever it was I looked around and just called it off. Maybe I am a wuss, or I just didnít have the drive, I donít know. Sometimes, you just have to walk away.
But the whole day wasnít a loss. I decided to practice a bit of mountaineering skills since I was in the Ravine. I figured this was a good chance to practice digging a snow pit, and practice self arrest technique. I depacked, took off the crampons, grabbed a shovel and set about digging a snow pit at the base of the slope leading up to Chute. No one was on that side of the Ravine so I had it to myself. The pit came out fairly decently, and my analysis of the snow pack agreed with that of the Rangers. Thankfully! I threw in a shovel compression test on the column of snow there. After that I grabbed the ice axe and moved a bit further up slope and started some self arrest practice, which is some scary stuff. It is amazing how quick you pick up speed and how long it takes for the axe to begin to noticeably slow you down. On my last slide down the slope I climbed up higher than before, my slide took me all the way down to where I was practicing previously and one of the bumps in the snow actually rolled me over from my arresting position. I managed to get back into arresting position but that was kinda scary.
My snow pit, dug all the way down to the icey base.
The snow column before the shovel test.
The snow column after the shovel test. I had to slam down on the shovel with my full strength using both hands to get it to collapse.
My self arrest tracks
The boot ladder.
After that I put the pack back on and hiked out to Hojos. There I regeared to downhill mode, and set out on the Sherbie. The whole trip down was an exercise in speed control as the surface was either ice, or crusty windblown snow. There was one patch in the middle which was sort of skiable, but it was mostly not wide enough to make turns in. The top part of the Sherbie has good cover, with more and more bare spots appearing as I descended. By the time I got to the bottom it was a combination of mud and ice chunks. The last bit I decided to boot out. Three PM saw me over at Ragged Mountain checking for any deals on ski gear.
That was my Saturday, and this is a convoluted way of me saying I didnít do much, but hopefully some people will find something worthwhile in this write up.