Tuckerman Ravine, Mt. Washington
April 19, 1998

Skiers: Matthew Reagan, Simon Karecki

After a mediocre winter (at best), New England was blessed with a beautiful powder dump in late March. Conditions were spectacular. Of course, less than a week later, a freak heat wave pushed temperatures into the 80s and melted off most of the season's hard-won base. Ski season didn't last long after that.

So, when commercial areas start closing, you know it's time for Tuckerman! The Tuckerman season got pushed ahead by the heat wave and the snowfields on Mt. Washington were bare, but by mid-April there was still plenty of snow in the bowl. After last season's warm-up on Hillman Highway, I was ready to hit the headwall.

Last year's crew was held back by thesis-writing and research responsibilities, so housemate and Mt. Washington virgin Simon Karecki decided to give it a try. The expedition begin Saturday night with a drive up to MITOC's Intervale cabin and a stop at Woodstock Station. After a reasonable night's sleep, we managed to start early enough to squeeze in stops for Dunkin Donuts and sandwiches and still find a parking space at Pinkham Notch. After some fumbling with equipment, we both engineered a satisfactory system to haul 45 lbs of ski gear, clothing, food, and beer up a three-mile trail. By 9:30 we were ready to check the avalanche report and safety advisories (right) and head on up the trail.

(What kind of automobiles? Yugos? Hondas? Lincoln Town Cars? I'm glad I brought a helmet.)

Compared to the climb last May, the tractor road was devoid of snow up to about 3000'. Above that was mostly tracked out slush (left) that gave us little trouble in our summer boots. Significant snow didn't appear until we approached Hermit Lake, and even then the depth was rather depressing. There was a good five feet on the ground eleven months ago! Compare the Hillman's trip report to a current photo taken on this trip. At Hermit Lake we added another layer to block the wind and trudged up the rocky footpath to the ravine floor. The Little Headwall was a rushing waterfall, and the skiable snowpack didn't start until we reached the base of the bowl. From there, though, things were looking up (right). Although the lip and the cliffs along the headwall were bare, the main chutes and gullies were filled with plenty of snow.

From where we stood, the bowl and the bottom of the headwall looked particularly nice, and anyway, it was right in front of us (right). For our warmup run, our goal was the exposed rock just below the headwall cliffs (left center). The walk up was a bit longer and more difficult than we had guessed, and we soon realized that the bowl was a bigger and nastier place than we originally expected. After a few dozen minutes of slogging up the ever-steepening slope, we reached the rock and began to organize our gear on the lip of a small crevasse. It took a few minutes to get settled and dig out a small platform for our skis, and while we worked the first of many warning cries erupted from the crowd down below. The first was "ski!," and we looked up just in time to see a lone ski whiz by, followed by a lone ski pole. I tightened the strap on my helmet. Soon after, we hear a cry of "Rock!" and look up to see a softball-sized chunk of Presidential mica-schist fly by, passing just a few inches over the head of a fellow skier. By this time, I felt the need to pick up the pace and get going. The next call is "Dog!" We looked up to see a very confused black lab sliding down the bowl toward our little crevasse. Apparently it's easier for four-legged creatures to climb *up* a 50% grade than walk *down*. I clicked into my skis, tightened my pack, and heard one last yell: "Skier!" Sure enough, some large young man with more guts than skill has blown out of both skis (on his first turn) and is now rag-dolling down the boot track. A blocking maneuver by someone up above deflected him away from the boulder but sent him straight toward us. I pushed off and skied away, but poor Simon was still setting up his skis and narrowly escaped a full-on collision. He made it--but his equipment didn't. As I skidded to a stop a familiar 200cm Atomic 9.26 passed me on its way to Lunch Rocks.

After taking a moment to recover my senses, I made a half-dozen short jump-turns to get myself down the steeper section of the headwall, pausing to look back over my shoulder after each. Once the bowl leveled out, I linked another half-dozen GS turns back down to lunch rocks while Simon down-climbed with the help of his ice axe. A good-sized crowd had set up on the edge of the snowfield, and I savored the views back down toward Pinkham Notch and Wildcat (left) while Simon recovered his gear. Lunch was a well-earned treat after our "warm-up."

For our second run, we decided to stay out of the line of fire and try the Left Gully. From below, we could see that the coverage was excellent and that some nice moguls had formed in the narrow part of the chute. The climb began on a moderate incline (right), but soon got steeper as we progressed into the throat of the chute (left). We fully appreciated the wonders of mechanized lifts after thirty minutes of hard climbing. However, our hard work was rewarded by perfect conditions. Left Gully gave us a nice steep run, with moguls at the top opening up onto smooth corn snow for the run-out into the bowl. A patch of undermined snow collapsed underneath me and sent me for a tumble, but I managed a quick arrest and didn't waste much precious vertical. The whole experience was still well worth the effort. Simon made up for his earlier troubles by linking a nice set of turns through the moguls. As the gully turned left and opened up into the bowl, we were also rewarded with a fine view of the Ravine in all its glory. A line of skiers was still heading up under the bare cliffs of the headwall, and a steady stream of tumbling bodies still littered the lower slopes. This photo (right) also shows some of the perils lurking on the headwall--most notably the open waterfall and extensive undermining on the right side of the bowl and in the Sluice. Despite the obvious danger, Right Gully and Right Right Gully were still popular runs, with the first having a runout into a crevasse field and the second having no runout at all. The latter gully was the sight of a particular horrific crash earlier in the day, as a skier lost it in the narrowest part of the run and tumbled over several large boulders as he slid into the snow-dusted scree just above Lunch Rocks. As the crowd expressed its concern, he simply stood up, straightened his jacket, and began hiking back up to get a lost ski. Once at the top, he tried again and had a great run. Some skiers have both guts *and* skill, it seems.

Things were looking really nice on Right Gully and Chute, but it was getting late and the last climb had really taken its toll. After a nice cruise across the bowl, we pulled into our base camp at Lunch Rocks and excavated some liquid refreshment to celebrate our adventure (left). We sat back, soaked up the scenery, and after re-engineering our packs, began the long slog back to Pinkham Notch. A fine dinner of flattened fauna, O-rings, WD40, and Big-Ass Beers was procured from the Roadkill Cafe on US-302 in Bartlett, complete with the expected four-star service (right).

Next year? We resurrect The Inferno! Summit to Pinkham Notch in six minutes!

photos by Simon Karecki and Matthew Reagan

Back to Outdoor Adventures

Home Leave a comment