Sunday, March 26, at 1:45PM, I skied 3000 vertical feet down the Westside of Mount Washington, New Hampshire.
The Mount Washington Observatory reported that the wind was blowing from the West at 18 MPH, with an air temperature of 25°F, under sunny skies with visibility of 110 miles. The Mount Washington Avalanche Center forecast Low to Moderate avalanche danger in Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines.
I started skiing from a point at 5700 feet elevation, near the Westside Trail junction with the Gulfside Trail. I skied South along the Westside Trail for about four-tenths of a mile (0.4 mi). At 5600 feet, I left the hiking trail, and skied down snowfields on the rocky summit cone, above the headwall of Ammonoosuc Ravine. I then skied down Ammonoosuc Ravine’s Central Gully without mishap, where the avalanche danger at the time, in my assessment, was Low to Moderate. I followed the Ammonoosuc River out of the ravine floor, then skied the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail for the last one-and-a-half miles (1.5 mi), to the lower hikers’ parking lot at Marshfield Station, an elevation of 2640 feet.
Central was on the high-end of LOW, and trending toward MODERATE as it heated up in sun. LOOSE, DRY avalanche problem: I kicked off several small R1 sluffs, one harmlessly ran into me, another flushed out a choke point ahead of me, which freaked the dog out, but he was able to run down the short section of icy old surface okay, after he had looked twice at the other options. I outlined the 5 ice bulges & 5 start zones in the video. I should have explicitly labeled the #6 waterfall that’s not much of an avalanche hazard, but it’s a water hazard that melts out before the snow above, that has blocked my descent of the final pitch in the past. It’s good that no one skied it later that afternoon, as WET LOOSE avalanche problems were becoming more likely, and possibly WET SLAB avalanche problems, if enough melt-water percolated under the snowpack.
The short version of the video:
The long version of the video includes 5 more minutes of footage, from the approach on the Westside Trail, and the run-out in the floor of the ravine:
My dog, Rocket, had waited for me at the trailhead on many colder days in February and March, while I skied. Monday was perfect weather to reward Rocket with a walk on the Westside. He is quite familiar with the terrain, and the snow was just right for my four-legged companion – not too soft, and not too firm. Hiking and skiing with a dog in steep terrain, or anywhere in the White Mountain National Forest, raises many other considerations that I won’t go into here. I will say that I don’t take that decision lightly. My dog’s safety comes first, which requires conservative decision-making on my part, and maintaining a slower pace than most of my ski tours.
One of the Snow Rangers at the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, Jeff Lane, on March 30, 2013, wrote a wonderful article on this subject, titled “Dogs in Tuckerman – From Our Perspective”, that I encourage you to read (http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org/2013/03/30/dogs-in-tuckerman-from-our-perspective/).