Exploring a new slide path

The final days of October 2017 brought over 6 inches of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Philippe to Mount Washington which resulted in major flooding all over the Saco River Valley (which had risen to 14 feet above flood stage!). It also apparently ripped a nice new slide path near Burt Ravine on the west side of Mount Washington, only 10 minutes from the Cog Railway.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The 10 minute bushwhack to a 500 foot new slide path

I came across this path a couple days ago while exiting Burt Ravine and noticed it looked quite fresh but didn’t really put it together that it was only 5 months old until I got home and did a little research. While I’m sure a local or two has likely quietly grabbed the first descent I needed to get back and put a run in on this new path pronto, and this morning I made it happen.

Here’s the skinny…

I skinned up the Cog reaching Waumbek Tank in about 30 minutes. At 3,920 feet I picked up our skin track from a couple days prior and contoured/bushwacked back to the slide path (ten minute bushwhack). This skin track enters the slide at mid-path, so I set in some kick-turns and climbed up to about 4,200 feet, the high point on the path.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Skinning up the young slide path with the Jewell Trail ridge across the way

From here the run drops 500 feet to the south most tributary of Clay Brook, the main brook fed from Burt Ravine.  The average slope angle was 30 degrees with a max pitch of 34 degrees and is an almost true NW aspect.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Details from the top of the slide path
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The run, courtesy of CalTopo
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking back up the path from about mid-path
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The lower half of the path. There is a split that goes left out of frame that had a set of tracks in it that continued down Clay Brook

I skinned back up to the established bushwhack and exited back to the Cog, reaching the car in amount 2 hours and 20 minutes from departure.

Given I waited about 20 or more minutes for some friends to arrive before dropping I would say this would be pretty easy to hit car-to-car in 2 hours. It’s a really nice little run that is super accessible (though it costs $10 to park at Marshfield Station). New slides like this are so exciting. While extreme weather can have devastating effects on life & property the power of Mother Nature can also open up new ski terrain from time to time, and this little shot in the woods is well worth the effort.

Next time I head there I will try the bushwhack from the Switch House along the 4,200 contour so I can come in from the top, though the lower traverse would still be the easiest way out. I also want to go ahead and ski out Clay Brook to the Jewell Trail but I’ll be doing that on a day where I don’t have an early turn around time set.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Trip Report- Burt Ravine (3/28/18)

Yesterday I got to ski a new-to-me ravine on Mount Washington, Burt Ravine, the one just to the left of the Cog Railway when viewed from the west. We skinned up the Cog and reached the top of Airplane Gully in 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The view from Jacob’s Ladder, elevation 4,760 feet, into Ammonoosuc Ravine with the southern Presidential’s beyond

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The top of Airplane Gully, elevation 5,470 feet, with The Great Gulf below and the Northern Presidential’s beyond

Jordan, who had climbed up from the east side of Washington via Pinnacle Gully and was meeting us on the ridge, dropped into nearby Turkey Shoot while Benny and Nick sent Airplane Gully. Conditions were stiff but edge-able wind-board. Brit and I made our way over to the top of Burt Ravine and dropped in.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Two skiers on the skyline skinning up alongside The Cog

I would find out later through Facebook that this was likely Marty of Alpine Endeavors, who sent me a pic of us from his vantage…

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
You can see our tracks and if you look closely find us!

Burt skied pretty well with a variety of snow conditions as you can see in the video below. Once we got to 3,800 feet I found a skin track leaving the drainage that appeared to be heading back to the Cog. Consulting the topo made it look like it might contour back to the Cog around Waumbek Tank, and be quite a fair bit easier than the 1.2 mile low-angle thrash to pick up the Jewell Trail and exit. We decided to commit to it. It climbed about 150 feet with a few switch backs then crossed a really enticing new slide path.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking up the new slide

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking down the new slide path

The upended trees and dirt made this new path look quite fresh and the rumor is it formed during the Fall 2017 weather system that brought massive flooding to the Mount Washington Valley.

The skin track seemed to stop on the other side of the path so I continued following our contour and intersected with the Cog about 300 feet above Waumbek Tank. It only took us about 30 minutes of bushwhacking to get back out of Burt and from what I hear that is much better than trying to negotiate the lower drainage.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Burt Ravine GPS Track (accidentally paused tracking where the line is straight on the descent)

We exited down a still pretty firm Cog run and called it a day. Mileage was just over 5 miles in 4.5 hours with 3,264 elevation gain/loss. It looks like the Higher Summits Forecast isn’t to appealing for the next few days. Let’s hope the weekend brings some decent Spring skiing weather for the last avalanche course of the season!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


 

Trip Report- Gulf of Slides 3/25/18

Yesterday we wrapped up our AIARE 1 Avalanche Course with a field trip into the Gulf of Slides on the east side of Mount Washington. The weather was fantastic and looks to staying that way for the next 48 hours. I’m catching up on some home chores today but will be heading back into the alpine tomorrow! Here’s a quick run-down of our tour yesterday.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
AM Trip Planning Session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Skinning past the Avalanche Brook Ski Trail while heading up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
The main gully. Instead of booting up our intended run we skinned over to the South Snowfields and then traversed back to the main gully at 4620 feet.

The skinning was good until about 4400 feet where holding an edge on the traverse got a bit tricky. I was happy to have my Dynafit Ski Crampons along and will be posting a thorough review of those very soon!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Heading up the South Snowfields- photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Small old cornice at the ridge top
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Making some snow-pack observation. We mostly found pencil-hard slab with low propagation potential (CTH, Q2, ECTX) See field book pic for more info.
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
CTH or CTN results
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Our pit location, UTM, altitude, angle, and aspect courtesy of Theodolite app!
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Little bit of fun on the way down! – photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
My field notes…

It wasn’t too crowded, we saw perhaps 20-30 people up there. The 48 hour forecast is for more low wind bluebird conditions so I’m heading back out tomorrow with a plan to ski from the summit. Hope you can get out and enjoy! I think our Spring ski season is going to be quite good this year!

New to Back-country Skiing? I do teach the following courses

Introduction to Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Ski Touring

Ski Mountaineering

Former AIARE students of mine get a 10% discount on these courses! Just message me directly through Instagram or Facebook for the discount code and let me know what date you want to go!

Upcoming Reviews

I’ve recently upgraded and added to my ski mountaineering gear and upcoming reviews will be focused on ultra-light gear designed specifically with back-country skiing and mountaineering in mind. Look for these reviews to come out soon!

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Petzl Leopard FL Crampons

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

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Trip Report- Skiing The Flume

I’ve been thinking about skiing The Flume in Crawford Notch State Park for close to a decade. I’ve climbed it dozens of times as an excellent early season moderate ice route (one memorable trip report here) but avoid it later in the season when it fills in with snow… until today. My friend and co-avy-instructor Benny texted me last night that it was looking prime so we decided to skin up the Webster Jackson Trail and give it a go.

Skiing the Flume, Crawford Notch
The route
Skiing the Flume, Crawford Notch
Skinning up Webster Jackson Trail

It did not disappoint! I brought a bit of technical gear in anticipation of 2-3 rappels and we only needed it for the one pitch that goes into the ice cave, which usually marks the end of the interesting climbing when the route is in early season ice climbing shape.

 

In hindsight, and under current conditions, I would only take a 30 meter rope as opposed to the 60 meter one I lugged up there, and if one wants to avoid visiting the ice cave you could probably find a line to skier’s right… but rapping into that cave was kind of a highlight! That and the waist deep POW we kept hitting from there down!

Logistics

Park at the height of land parking lot on the east side of Route 302 just south of Saco Lake.

Cross the highway and head north 200 feet the Webster Jackson Trail. Follow that about .8-.9 miles to a pretty obvious stream bed. (Took us 50 minutes)

Drop in and reach the top of the “ice cave” in about 400 feet. Either navigate through woods around the cave or rap in (30 meter rope would work).

Enjoy a few nice pitches of skiing back to the road. Walk back up to your car (took us 2 hours car to car).

Disclaimer: This is a Grade 2 ice climb. There are more than a few 40 degree drops that could produce size-able (D2) avalanches. Bring your A-game and assess the snow constantly.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review- Avalanche Safety Gear Part 2: Avalanche Probes

For the second part of a multi-post series on avalanche safety gear we will take a look at avalanche probes and answer some questions to help you pick the right model.

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Ortovox Avalanche Probes Review
Avalanche Probe Reviews- photo by Cait Bourgault

An avalanche probe is so much more than just a rescue resource! In fact it is one of my most used tools to make snow-pack observations, both formal and informal.

For example, tracking average snow depth over the terrain helps me better understand the high degree of variability in our terrain. By “gently” probing I can feel for denser layers over weaker layers (possible slabs) and get a sense of how complex the snow-pack I am traveling over is, including the number and prevalence of melt-freeze crusts in our snow-pack, which often are quite relevant to assessing snow stability.

When taking the time to look more closely at the snow-pack via digging a snow-pit the probe helps me identify the depth of any questionable layers. Finally the probe must deploy quickly and reliably in the event of an avalanche accident and provide that critical piece of info, burial depth, once you get a “probe strike”. For all these reasons I would suggest you think critically about what probe you should carry, and below I will help you narrow the field to the model that is right for you.

Aluminum vs Carbon vs Steel

Aluminum probes are likely the most common out there. A solid balance between weight, durability, and affordability. Carbon probes are gaining popularity. Ounce counters will justify the higher cost to save a couple ounces. Steel probes are the choice of organized rescue teams around the world, trading extra weight for long-term durability.

*One experienced reader (@whats_thematterhorn) has pointed out that those who spend a lot of time in glaciated terrain might avoid carbon poles… frequent probing through glacier hard snow/ice to designate “safe areas” and assess snow bridges can lead to pre-mature wear or failure of a carbon probe. In addition a longer probe might be more beneficial in big mountain terrain (Alaska) than in our lower 48 BC terrain.

Length- 240 cm, 280 cm, 320 cm?

Avalanche probe length can vary, with the most common length for recreational users being 240 cm. Considering the average burial depth is 1.4 meters this gives us an extra meter in length over “average” to account for deeper burials. Longer probes do allow one to probe deeper without having to bend over but are best suited for professional rescue where weight/pack-ability isn’t at a premium. The extra length, unfortunately, is more for “recovery” rather than rescue as someone buried over 2 meters deep has a very low chance of survival.

Let’s look at some of the Ortovox models and who they would be best suited for…

Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe $39.95

Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe- 200 grams (7 ounces)

A “budget” choice but one that really beats any other model at this price on the market. 5 cm depth markers, a high visibility first section combined with a visible 1 meter mark and quick lock system all make this a very fine option at a bargain price point.

Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Avalanche Probe $59.95

Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Avalanche Probe

A significant upgrade in the Ortovox Aluminum line the 240 PFA model adds a faster assembly system, a strong and light steel tensioning system (instead of the thin rope used in the Alu 240), and a better top hand grip for precise control during a systematic probe search. This would be my best recommendation for the majority of recreationalists!

Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Avalanche Probe $89.95

Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Probe
Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Avalanche Probe- 185 grams (6.5 ounces)

The lightest probe in the Ortovox line this is the model of choice for those who like to shave ounces from their kit, yet it still has great durability and the quick lock assembly system as well as the “visual guide system” that is a feature of all Ortovox probes. If you like to streamline your kit this is the one to look at!

Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe $99.95

Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe 355 grams / 12.5 oz

Longer than the 240 cm models and extendable (can be extended with another probe) this model is the choice of mountain guides and rescue groups around the world. Light weight carbon with a high strength steel tension system and the rubberized top grip make this a solid choice for, ski patrol, rescue, and mountain professionals everywhere.

Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Probe $109.95

Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Avalanche Probe- 670 grams (1 lb 7.6 oz)

The biggest and most robust of the line-up, the high weight of this work-horse really lends itself to professional rescue and the back-country snowmobile crowd where an extra pound of weight will not be noticed.

Practice

No matter what probe you have it is imperative that you practice with it regularly. From my experience of teaching avalanche courses for over 10 years I can say that most people, even those who have owned a probe for a few seasons, have not practiced with them enough. How should you practice? Consider running “deployment” drills where you must remove your backpack, access your pack, and deploy your probe correctly, all under a stopwatch. Race your friends and touring partners. Make it a game. You will be surprised how much people can fumble and struggle with the locking mechanism on their probe. The bottom line is in an avalanche rescue every second counts and a lot of time can be lost if you are not efficient at deploying your probe. Take the time to get proficient!

Pro-tip

Don’t take your avalanche probe storage sack into the back-county. Leave it at home and use it for home-storage and travel. Taking it into the field slows your ability to deploy your probe quickly and they often get blown away and lost in the lightest of winds.

Summary

I hope you’ve found this post informative and educational. At the end of the day there are a ton of great probes on the market these days from quite a few different companies. I obviously love the Ortovox line and I think when you objectively compare features and get some hands-on time with any of these models you’ll feel the same way.

Training

Consider upgrading your rescue skills with the all new 8 hour AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course! This is a fantastic addition in the field of avalanche education and something you should consider if you’ll be spending time in avalanche terrain in the future! If you haven’t taken an AIARE 1 course yet, or maybe it’s been awhile, it’s not to late to get in on a course this season! See what dates we have left here! (Use promo code “DavidNEM” when booking)!

Purchase

All of these models can be purchased directly from Backcountry.com here. A small percentage of your purchase will go to Northeast Alpine Start to support creating content like this. Thank you for your support!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Affiliate links above support this blog. Author is an Ortovox Team Athlete and so received any product mentioned at no cost.

Mid Winter Season Check-in

I hope you have all been having a great winter so far. For me the early season ice climbing was great with a couple Black Dike ascents getting it off to a good start.

ice climbing black dike cannon cliff
Early season ascent of The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Then we got 82 inches of snow in December followed by another foot the first week of January and it appeared we were about to enjoy an epic snow year. Then between January 11th-13th we received 3 inches of rain and lost over two feet of our snow-pack.

avalanche courses new hampshire
January 10th. Green is over 2 feet of snow
avalanche courses new hampshire
January 14th after 3 inches of rain

A highlight of this event was a massive wet slab avalanche that was larger than one recently retired Snow Ranger saw in his 10+ years of service there! Standing out on the debris with students two days after the slide one could not help but be impressed by the power of Mother Nature. It made regional news headlines and I saw quite a few people trek up to the floor of the ravine just to get a first hand look at it!

avalanche course tuckerman ravine mount washington
Students of an AIARE 1 course checkout the scale of the massive wet slab avalanche that occurred around 1/14/18- photo by Cait Bourgault

January failed to recover our snow-pack finishing the month with a total of only 29 inches (12 of which were washed away during that rain event). That is less snow in January in more than 10 years!

While it seemed a bit devastating the bright side was we started seeing ice form in strange places and ephemeral routes like Gandolf the Great and Hard Rane came in FAT!

Ice climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Benny Allen follows me on a rarely fat Gandolf The Great- Photo by Ben Lieberman

All this ice was great for the 25th annual Ice Fest and despite a burly cold first day of the event folks seemed to have a great three days at the event.

Avalanche Courses

We’ve been having another great year for our avalanche courses with 6 AIARE 1 courses behind us, an Avalanche Rescue course, and an AIARE 2 course that just ended yesterday (with ski conditions that signaled ski season is definitely back!)

avalanche course tuckerman ravine mount washington
Making snow-pack observations during an AIARE 1 Course- photo by Alexandra Roberts

We only have one more AIARE 1 Course that isn’t sold out

NEW: March 3-5

One more Avalanche Rescue Course:

March 16

One more AIARE 2 Course:

March 17-19

Here’s some footage showing our last day of our AIARE 2 course which should get you stoked for the rest of the ski season!

 

If you do book any of these courses be sure to use “DavidNEM” in the promo/notes box to be entered into a drawing for a free guided adventure.

Gear Reviews

I have been testing a ton of great new gear this season from companies like Petzl, Sterling, Black Diamond, Kailas, Arcteryx, DPS, Dynafit, and many more. Expect to see a lot of new gear reviews posting in March and April as I find time to give these products honest and detailed reviews.

ice climbing Cathedral Ledge
Testing the Kailas Entheos II Ice Tools and clothing- photo by Peter Brandon

Looks like another nice dumping of snow (totals up to 14″) is coming Wednesday so I’m really looking forward to this weekends avalanche course! Hope you get out and enjoy the snow and thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A Year in Review, 2017

As usual New Year’s Eve has snuck up on me with uncanny stealth. My general lack of calendar awareness certainly helped with my last minute realization that another year has gone by. What hasn’t gone unnoticed is how amazing this year was and I’d like to share some of that here.


Employment

Without a doubt the biggest change of the year was leaving Eastern Mountain Sports after 24 years of service. Anyone close to me knows that this decision at the end of 2016 was one of the toughest I’ve ever had to make. Leaving a big corporation to work for a small, relatively young, guide service felt risky and uncertain. However within weeks of working for Northeast Mountaineering I discovered that the owners, Corey and Brett, had created a culture that celebrated mountain life, guiding, stewardship and social responsibility. It was the perfect place for me to land after a seemingly major career move.

Every guide and ambassador I would meet and get to know over my first year working for NEM seemed to share the best possible qualities you’d want in a co-worker, climbing partner, or friend. The encouragement, support, and positive stoke at just about every turn has made this past year as memorable as it is.


Avalanche Courses

Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine
Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine, photo by Alexandra Roberts

Despite being the first year that Northeast Mountaineering had an in-house avalanche course program we hit close to 100% capacity in the 9 courses we ran. A great snow year allowed us to do a ton of actual ski touring. Along with my excellent co-instructor Benny we had classes tour full length routes in Huntington and Tuckerman Ravines, Gulf of Slides, Ammonoosuc Ravine, and Monroe Brook. Personal highlights of the season were investigating the extent of the historic Gulf of Slides avalanche, seeing my first legit Rutschblock 2 result, and meeting the awe-inspiring Vern Tejas who observed and contributed to one of our mid-winter courses.


Ice Climbing

Drool of the Beast
Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher

2017 was a solid year for my personal ice climbing. I was able to climb more Grade 4 and Grade 5 routes then I’ve been able to get on in the last few years, partially due to fatherhood and a really busy avalanche course schedule. By the end of the season I felt I was climbing as well as I was pre-parenthood, and that accomplishment felt pretty darn good. I have a few lofty goals for 2018 and can’t wait to get after them (in-between teaching avalanche courses every weekend and family life!)


Skiing in Iceland

Skiing in Iceland
Skiing in Iceland, photo by Matt Baldelli

In April my first international trip in about a decade brought me to the beautiful country of Iceland where I spent just over a week touring and experiencing this amazing place with one of the best groups of people I could ever hope to spend time with. Visiting this country re-kindled my desire to travel after feeling somewhat sedated after experiencing so much of the world in my early twenties and I am really looking forward to repeated trips back there starting with teaching an avalanche course there this March!


Rock Climbing

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Guiding Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, photo by Peter Brandon

Cannon, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle speed climb, Rumney, and a half dozen “Wednesday Sendsday’s” have re-ignited my passion for rock climbing that has always been there since I first tied into a rope in 1994, but getting to see others close to me fall in love with this sport on an almost weekly basis has fueled my desire to train and challenge myself to higher levels of performance above what my typical guiding requirements demanded.


Cascades

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West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

In July I was able to fulfill a climbing trip dream I’ve had for over ten years by guiding on Mount Shuksan and Forbidden Peak and climbing Rainer with a friend and intern guide, Peter Brandon. This trip is something I’ve been training clients for for so many years and to get to spend time in this terrain with so many cool people was pretty much the greatest opportunity I have had second to becoming a father in the last 20 years. Seriously mind-blowing conditions, weather, and climbing made this a life time memory for me.


Ambassadorship

Skiing Mount Washington
Best powder day I’ve had on the West Side, photo by @cfitzgerald

I am super excited to join DPS Skis, Ortovox, and Revo for a second year of ambassadorship. I still wonder how I was lucky enough to hook up with these amazing brands. I can go into product details in reviews and debate minutia fabric issues until the end of the internet but without any shame I can say these three companies “get it”. They make stuff that people like me want. Cutting edge ski design, forward thinking avalanche safety gear, virtually unmatched clothing design, and best eye wear, sunglasses and goggles, I have ever experienced. If you want top-notch gear, have a look!


Blogging

It’s been a fantastic year to blog and share these adventures along with reviewing gear for some of the best companies out there. I love sharing my experiences and opinions and really want to focus on more travel guides, in-depth gear reviews, and how-to skill videos this upcoming year. If there is one thing I’m certain about it’s I love sharing my passion with everyone that shares these feelings in the mountains. Spending time in these places with good people is so vital to our sanity, and blogging gives me a slight escape when I’m not able to just head out the door on my next mountain adventure.

I’ve met quite a few readers in person over the past year. I’m so grateful for those of you who visit here, ask questions, post comments, click “like”, share, or even just mention briefly at the coffee shop you are happy with the boots you bought from my review. Keeping this blog going is a fantastic mix of fun, stress, guilt, reward, doubt, and confirmation.


I wish you all a fantastic 2018 and hope you have some amazing mountain adventures this year. I want to thank my family, especially my wife, for helping me experience my own adventures while still raising a family.

I hope to see you all out in the mountains soon shredding, sending, and tapping on shovels (and possibly tossing back a post epic pint at The Moat).

Happy New Year,

Northeast Alpine Start