AIARE 1 Avalanche Course on the Summit of Mount Washington!

Yesterday we concluded the first ever American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Course on the summit of Mount Washington! The idea of holding an AIARE 1 Course in partnership with the Mount Washington Observatory has been brewing in my mind for years, and it finally turned into a reality!

Early in the morning this past Friday 8 participants met at Eastern Mountain Sports in North Conway to meet fellow AIARE Instructor Keith Moon and I to prepare for our 3 day adventure. After organizing our gear we made our way to the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road where Director of Education for the MWOBS, Michelle Cruz, welcomed the group and gave a short orientation.

Michelle welcomes and briefs the group
Michelle welcomes and briefs the group

Long time snow-cat operator and charismatic local Slim Bryant meets the group and gives them some last minute information about the snow-cat operating procedures.

099

During our ascent EMS Schools Guide Keith Moon took advantage of the improving visibility to point out various landmarks and explain some of the reasons Mount Washington has such interesting topography, weather, and flora.

Conversations about this unique trip made the first part of the ascent go by fast!
Conversations about this unique trip made the first part of the ascent go by fast!

Five miles up the road deep snow drifts required quite a bit of plowing so Slim suggested we take advantage of the warm comfortable weather and stretch our legs while he assaulted the drifts with a lot of back & forth plowing.

Walking beats motion sickness!
Walking beats motion sickness!
Great weather!
Great weather!

We arrived at the summit just before 11am and started class after a quick safety tour and lunch. Class was held in the conference room until a 6pm social hour followed by a delicious turkey dinner prepared by the Observatory volunteers, John & Gates.

Thank you John & Gates!
Thank you John & Gates!

The next morning the Higher Summits forecast called for sustained winds over 70, with gusts up to 110mph (it actually hit 118mph). Despite being “house-bound” the extra time to cover topics & info in greater detail was welcome, as the group stayed engaged and inquisitive through-out the demanding classroom day. I think the highlight for many was when we stepped out onto the observation deck after lunch to see what all the hype was about:

iPhone video uploaded to PC “upside down”. Will need to find a fix before I embed it. 😦

That evening we enjoyed a tour of the Weather Room from the very accommodating and informative Education Specialist Kaitlyn O’Brian. Despite having attended this tour in one form or another a dozen times over the last 10 years I still had questions and Kaitlyn was quick to answer and increase my understanding of what makes Mt. Washington such a remarkable place!

Weather Room tour after dinner on Day 2
Weather Room tour after dinner on Day 2

After the tour we all suited up and climbed the observation tower to visit the parapet, technically 30+ feet above the summit of Mount Washington, participants reveled in the opportunity to climb up and hold on while they felt the incoming high pressure system from Canada challenge their grip (Winds were 60-70mph at this time, down from 90mph during our Observation Deck venture)

(Asking participants for a photo or video from this time as I was busy using participants camera’s to catch anything with mine)

The next morning volunteers John & Gates treated us to a hearty breakfast of ham, eggs, and hashed potatoes before we packed our gear and met in the conference room for a trip planning session.

Gather info, form an opinion, converse, make a plan, execute!
Gather info, form an opinion, converse, make a plan, execute!

We settled on a descent of the East Snowfields followed by a long traverse over to the Gulf of Slides.

My Trip Plan
My Trip Plan

Around 0930 we bid farewell and thanks to the summit crew and volunteers who had been so accommodating to us during our stay and ventured out into 60+ mph northwest winds. The short distance we needed to travel to make it to the more sheltered East Snowfields will definitely be a memorable moment (especially for those who had snowboards in our group). Once we dropped 200 feet onto the East Snowfields though conditions were quite appealing.

Pavan ready to put some turns in near the top of the East Snowfields
Pavan ready to put some turns in near the top of the East Snowfields
The group discusses some terrain options
The group discusses some terrain options
Looking back up the East Snowfields with Allyson & Tod taking a quick break. Slope info is captured thanks to Theodolite iPhone App!
Looking back up the East Snowfields with Allyson & Tod taking a quick break. Slope info is captured thanks to Theodolite iPhone App!

At the bottom of the East Snowfields we intersected with the Lionshead Trail and switched back to touring mode to make our way towards Boot Spur & Gulf of Slides.

Long contouring traverse (2 of these words are not snowboarders favorite things)
Long contouring traverse (2 of these words are not snowboarders favorite things)
Brendan crosses above Tuckerman Ravine
Brendan crosses above Tuckerman Ravine
Patrick is all smiles!
Patrick is all smiles!

We got a great view looking back at our home for the last couple days… see all the ants climbing up Lobster Claw Gully?

Nice view of the summit cone I don't often experience
Nice view of the summit cone I don’t often experience
A zoomed in shot of Lobster Claw Gully
A zoomed in shot of Lobster Claw Gully

While we crossed Bigelow Lawn the views on all sides were amazing. I especially liked looking over at Franconia Ridge:

Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafeyette
Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafeyette

Visibility was over 120 miles as we could make out Mount Mansfield in Vermont! A nice wind-roll above Gulf of Slides offered a quick photo op for the Swanson father & son team!

Bluebird
Bluebird
#familyadventure!
#familyadventure!

We dropped into the snowfields of Gulf of Slides and had some great turns before stopping to learn a bit more about snow-pack observations.

After checking how deep the recent rain & warmth had penetrated we practiced layer ID, Hand Hardness, and Compression Tests, then traversed our way into the Main GoS gully. A fun run down brought us to a busy Pinkham Notch parking lot, and we gathered at a picnic table to debrief our experience and figure out how to move forward with our new found knowledge.

Ultimately this course was a huge success and a great wrap up to an amazing winter.

To the 8 participants in this first of its kind AIARE course… Thank you!  Your contributions through-out the course were much appreciated, and we look forward to implementing changes for next season based on your forthcoming feedback!

To the gracious staff of the Mount Washington Observatory… THANK YOU! Your support allowed us to provide one of the most experiential and educational experiences in avalanche education I have ever been a part of. We could not have done it without your help and are incredibly grateful!

And to my regular readers, thank you for following this blog. I plan to fill the next few “quiet” weeks with quite a bit gear reviews of extensively tested gear from this season. Over the next couple weeks there will be detailed reviews on;

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons (3 different models)

Black Diamond Snow Saws

BCA Beacons (2 models)

EMS & Black Diamond higher-end clothing

And much more… so… if you’ve read this far why not subscribe? It’s right up there at the top right… or like NEAlpineStart on Facebook.

To winter 2014/15, thank you! That was awesome. To Spring/Summer/Fall rock climbing season…. LET’S DO THIS!

-NEAlpineStart

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