Snow, Avalanches, Reflection, and More Snow for MLK Weekend!

Well that was an intense four day weekend of snow, snow, and more snow. It all started for me on Friday when I taught an AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course for Northeast Mountaineering. The timing of our first rescue course was somber as an avalanche accident made national news the evening before when two young men would die from being caught in an avalanche and many others injured in Taos Ski Valley, NM.

New Mexico Avalanche
From ABC News: People search for victims after an avalanche buried multiple people near the highest peak of Taos Ski Valley, one of the biggest resorts in New Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The avalanche rushed down the mountainside of the New Mexico ski resort on Thursday, injuring at least a few people who were pulled from the snow after a roughly 20-minute rescue effort, a resort spokesman said. (Morgan Timms/Taos News via AP)
new mexico avalanche
People search for victims after an avalanche near the highest peak of Taos Ski Valley, one of the biggest resorts in New Mexico, Jan. 17, 2019. (Morgan Timms/Taos News via AP)

My thoughts and prayers go out to the two young men, their families, and friends who have suffered this tragic loss.

Friday’s rescue course brought 10 students from first year back-country travelers to seasoned vets who teach avalanche awareness classes for the Appalachian Mountain Club. We spent a couple hours in the morning going over rescue gear and methodology before moving to a field location for hands on realistic practice. Towards the end of the day I was partially buried a meter down in the snow while my friend and SOLO Instructor Sue addressed patient considerations, treatment, and evacuation. I thank former USFS Snow Ranger Jeff Lane for showing me the effectiveness of having students try to pull an unconscious 180 pound person out of a burial position.

avalanche rescue
Just my airway cleared and one arm free there is a lot of work to do before proper treatment can begin- photo by Ryan Mcquire

We ended the course just as the edges of an incoming Nor’easter brought some snow fall and by Saturday morning it was coming down steady!

Nor'Easter Avalanche Course
My AM check of the radar showed multiple heavy bands of cold fluffy snow was on tap for all day Saturday

Saturday was the start of a three day AIARE Avalanche 1 Course and with my co-instructor Grant Price we had a full course of 12 students, all ski tourers with various levels of experience, but all eager to learn. After a productive morning of classroom and an afternoon of rescue practice I headed north to the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to present a Know Before You Go presentation. This one-hour program is designed for a broad audience to introduce the 5 steps of avoiding getting caught in an avalanche.

  • Get the Gear
  • Get the Training
  • Get the Forecast
  • Get the Picture
  • Get out of Harm’s Way

Know Before You Go at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Presenting at AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center- photo by AMC Parker Peltzer

In attendance were various guests, visitors, AMC trip leaders, and an AMC avalanche awareness class. After the presentation Q&A took us pretty late into the night.

avalanche education
Some Q&A after the presentation- photo by AMC Parker Peltzer

Driving home around 10 pm I got to see some of the heaviest rates of snowfall before waking early Sunday to get Day 2 of the avalanche course going. We spent a little time inside talking about Human Factors and Heuristic Traps, some of which I had quite recently let get the better of my own decision making, before jumping into some sweet online tools and creating a tour plan for the rest of the day.

avalanche course
“PLAN your trip” is one part of the AIARE Framework that helps us make better decisions in the back country

As soon as we hit the trail we started spotting obvious clues of unstable Storm Slab. Just as we were crossing the first Cutler River bridge we saw this… can you spot the two clues to unstable snow?

avalanche course
From the first bridge over the Cutler River minutes from the Visitor Center

There are two natural “baby” slab avalanches in this picture. One is just left of the rock in the center and harder to see. The one on the right is easy to see. This is evidence of this fluffy “fist” density storm snow has gained cohesion and is sitting on a reactive weak layer… in other words it has formed into a “slab”. We found multiple spots along side the trail where “hand shears” would fail during isolation and informal ski cutting would produce noticeable results, on of the best just off the trail while crossing a small creek and captured by this students video:

 

We continued up to Hermit Lake and took a few minutes to poke in the snow near the Volunteer Ski Patrol Cabin. As we were close to our established turn around time we soon found ourselves enjoying some nice if not a bit bumpy turns down the Sherburne ski trail.

I’d later find out my friend and fellow avalanche educator Ben Allen was out in Bill Hill Glades in Gorham kicking off small slabs there. I could just picture his smile and giggle as he poked around in the snow triggering small inconsequential avalanches. If you didn’t know that is one of the favorite things for an avalanche educator to do! Well, that and shred super stable POW of course…

avalanche course
Skier triggered storm slabs in Gorham, NH- photo by Ben Allen

On Monday, the final day of our avalanche course, our students started trip planning at the NEM Bunkhouse at 8 AM. The Mount Washington Avalanche Center was forecasting HIGH danger for the day. In addition the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast was predicting ambient air temperatures to plummet to the negative teens with wind chills in the -50 to -70 range. A conservative tour was needed, and the group selected a tour up the Cog Railway with a high point of Jacob’s Ladder and  possibly a side trip over to the top of a new slide path.

avalanche course
Using the incredible CalTopo website we created a tour map that highlighted areas that might harbor more risk. Yellow were aspects fully exposed to the hurricane force NW winds coming later that day. Red terrain fit the criteria of areas of HIGH danger, and orange represented some areas of CONSIDERABLE danger.

We hit the trail close to 10 AM with a parking lot temperature of -9 Fahrenheit but surprisingly very low winds. The skin up to Waumbek tank took us just over an hour.

avalanche course
Skiing up the Cog

During a break the group decided they would like to visit the top of the new slide path so we made our way up a few more hundred feet before contouring and bushwhacking over to the slide path.

avalanche course
Top of “Phillipe Path”

Here I could feel the Human Factors tugging hard. The snow looked great. No tracks in it! We hadn’t really seen any signs of unstable snow like we had the day before. No cracking or whumping. It wasn’t as windy as we thought it would be. We had time to ski it. It was cold but climbing back up it would really warm us up.

I thought back to last weeks course when I had let Human Factors have a serious negative effect on my decision making. It was bluebird… no wind… perfect day to gain the ridge and complete a full “tour” on the last day of an avalanche class. The snow down here looked good… it must be good over there? Right? A student was apprehensive of her ability. Basically first time in the back country… My impaired objectivity reared its ugly head. “You can do it” I reassure without any evidence that she could. “We can side slip down until you feel comfortable making turns” I wrongly assumed. “It’s not that steep”… sure, for me, but what about her?

Listen to Every Voice, Respect Every Veto. These are tenants in good back-country partners.

Blue Sky Syndrome, Powder Fever, Over Confidence, and even some Kodak Courage had all crept into my consciousness. I failed to practice what I preach. I was not being objective. We made it down to the trail head just before dark. It took a few days and a formal debrief to really look back on that day for what it was. While I could call it a complete failure I’m looking at it as an ice cold head dunk of a wake-up call. 10 years of teaching these skills and I can still mess up. We all can. It’s how we move forward after making a mistake that counts.

Back to the top of Phillip, we turn our backs on what might be a killer powder run and head back to the Cog. We enjoy great low angle riding in calf deep powder back to the parking lot. We’ve returned way ahead of our turn around time as we listened to each other when we admitted we were pretty cold. No one got frostbite. The ski down had warmed us up enough for a quick round of Compression Tests and an Extended Column Test on a nearby slope.

 

We headed into the warmth of the AMC Thayer Hall for a tour debrief and to close the course. I handed out feedback forms that had been missing since the new curriculum rolled out.

What did you get out of this course?

How could the course be improved?

Where did you feel most at risk or in danger?

How can the instructors improve?

At the end of the day I read through all 12 forms. Small changes can be made based on these suggestions. Small changes lead to better learning environments for students and growth for the instructors.

I’m grateful for every comment and nudge from every student, fellow instructor, or guide I’ve ever gotten. Keep them coming.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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maplevilla

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course and hello Spring!

The last weekend of winter provided one of the most spectacular 3 days of higher summits weather I have ever seen in March! Blue skis and almost non-existent wind led to some really enjoyable ski touring on Mount Washington during our second-to-last American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) course.

Day One

We kicked off the course on Friday with some lively classroom sessions and small group exercises.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Benny discusses identifying avalanche terrain on day 1.
AIARE Avalanche Course
Small groups learn vicariously while discussing a local case study

Day Two

We met early to learn some advanced trip planning skills using CalTopo.com and the Avenza App. The Higher Summits Forecast called for southeast winds around 10-15 mph so we planned a tour on the west side of Mount Washington.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Powerful trip planning software that is 100% free!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Adjusting layers while skinning up the Cog
AIARE Avalanche Course
Small pockets of 2-3 mm Surface Hoar were found on sheltered north aspects above Waumbek Tank but below tree line
AIARE Avalanche Course
Benny demonstrates some snow pit observations near Jacob’s Ladder
AIARE Avalanche Course
Some cool wind effect and cornices nearby
AIARE Avalanche Course
We contoured around the rim of Ammonoosuc Ravine until we could drop the main gully or “Center Ammo”.

We concluded our tour with a debrief at the trail-head before calling it a day.

Day Three

AIARE Avalanche Course
Student led trip-planning session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail
AIARE Avalanche Course
Hermit Lake Snow Study Plot
AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up between Lobster Claw Gully and Right Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Snow-pack Observations

Avalanche danger was LOW and we had plenty of time to spare so we booted up Lobster Claw and traversed over to the top of Right Gully.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Ready to boot up Lobster Claw
AIARE Avalanche Course
Bluebird!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Sherika after descending from pit location
AIARE Avalanche Course
300 pound block of ice came from somewhere

Some video of our descent:

AIARE Avalanche Course
All smiles after a good run!

We wrapped up the course back in the pack room with discussions about continuing to learn about traveling in the back-country. It was a real pleasure having each of you in this course. Thank you all for staying engaged and contributing through out our three days!

Tomorrow, and beyond!

Only one more avalanche course next weekend after a Mountain Skills Course tomorrow and Washington Climb on Thursday. It might seem like the winter season is winding down a little but we are set up for a fantastic Spring ski season! The warm rock climbing can wait this year… I still have a lot of skiing goals to accomplish including reviewing some new ski mountaineering gear from CAMP/Cassin, Ortovox, Petzl, and DPS. Expect a lot of gear reviews to be landing April/May after I get back from Iceland.

Yup, Iceland!  Been awhile since I’ve been out of country so I am SUPER amp’d about this upcoming trip.

Want to try backcountry skiing?

Maybe you just bought a setup or still need to rent a touring package (a few places in town rent touring gear). Maybe you’d like to avoid the maddening crowds in Tuckerman Ravine and check out some new to you terrain ? Consider learning about the joys of back-country skiing with me. The snow-pack we have in the alpine right now combined with more stable Spring weather is a GREAT time to book a back-country ski day!

You can read a bit about the program here but reach out to me directly at nealpinestart@gmail.com to check on available dates before trying to book!

Did you get out this weekend? Whatcha do? Let me know in the comments below!

Well thanks for reading, and welcome Spring!

See you in the mountains!

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.

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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

AIARE 2 Avalanche Course

Yesterday wrapped up the 2nd AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Six Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guides, 3 from North Conway, 2 from The Gunks, and 1 from our Lake Placid location spent the last four days furthering their understanding of the avalanche phenomenon by improving their weather and snow-pack observation skills along with their rescue skills.

After reviewing AIARE 1 information we spend the rest of our first day upgrading our rescue skills with focuses on deep burials, multiple burials, close proximity burials, and rescue leadership. The deep burial scenario required a full effort from everyone as our “debris” had set up like concrete and our target was a life size stuffed Gore-tex full suit!

Digging through 2 meters of concrete
Digging through 2 meters of concrete
It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the "airway".
It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the “airway”.
One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding...
One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding…

Searching in Parallel, Micro-strip Search, Pro’s and Con’s of Marking, and Triage were all topics of that afternoon.

The next day was a heavy classroom day with lots of discussion on Mountain Weather, Online Resources, Metamorphism, and recording observations at the national standard in accordance with the “SWAG”.

We spent the 3rd morning covering the “how’s and why’s” of doing a Full Profile.

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification
Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Despite increasing Spring like weather the snow pack was not iso-thermal, and a very distinct layer of 3-4mm advanced facets about 50cm down made for some impressive CT & ECT scores. (CT12 & 18, Q2 and ECTP 14)

My Full Profile
My Full Profile

From there we went on a short tour up to just above tree-line via the Cog.

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank
Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank
Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob's Ladder
Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob’s Ladder
Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels
Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

After some poking around in the snow and previewing terrain in the Ammonoosuc Ravine we descending the Cog in fairly good conditions. Right before the base the snow that had started falling around noon turned to rain and we wrapped up our day back at the Highland Center.

For the last day of the course we met at Pinkham Notch and planned a tour into Tuckerman Ravine. We zipped up to Hermit lake in short order and had a quick birthday celebration for Ryan before updating our travel plans.

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!
Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

We skinned up a very stable Little Headwall and gathered at the floor of the ravine to make a plan. Our climbers headed up into Lobster Claw and our skiers moved across and up into Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.
Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

With lots of probing and hand-shears we worked our way up below the ice fall to the left of Left Gully and after a brief group discussion decided we could push higher up to the “choke” of the gully.

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations
We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations
Looking down the run I use the "Theodolite" iPhone App to capture some slope info
Looking down the run I use the “Theodolite” iPhone App to capture some slope info (Location/Altitude not reported as phone was on Airplane mode to conserve battery; i.e. No GPS Data)
Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)
Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Just below the choke we get some fairly positive hand shear results but the slab that is failing is quite thin, only about 20-25 cms or so. Two of our group wish to push a bit higher, which seemed reasonable, so the rest of us de-skinned and spotted their last 100 foot climb to just above the choke. From here we all descended, one-at-a-time at first, then with good spacing down below. Turns were pretty soft in most spots with occasional sections of hard scoured surface. The flat light made it a bit tricky to really let it rip.

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on... Where is your shovel & probe?
Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on… Where is your shovel & probe? It is still winter up there.

We gathered at the floor then descended Little Headwall to the Cutler River. The Upper Cutler was great. One of our group had skied the Lower Cutler (below the bridge) a week prior and the majority vote was to continue down it. It was the first I had skied below the bridge so with a smidgen of hesitation I followed the group down. I can’t say it was great skiing, a bit to heavy mashed potatoes made for a few of those “must turn now” moments. One actively collapsing snow bridge with quite a bit of water right at the end made me glad to be exiting out along the Huntington Ravine trail to cut back over to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. I would suggest bailing at the bridge for the rest of the season… unless you are into that type of stuff!

Our run out...
Our run out…

The rest of the Sherbi skied great though the warm snow was a bit slow as we got to the bottom. No complaints though, all it all a great run!

Back at the parking lot we spent almost an hour and a half debriefing the day and the course in general. Feedback on the course was solicited and shared, and an honest look at what’s next was provided by recent AIARE 3 Graduate Keith Moon. Many of our guides are on tracks for AMGA certifications that will require an AIARE 3 Certificate, so links & suggestions for future learning were provided.

This was a really fun course for me. Getting to work each day with many co-workers who I don’t often cross paths with was a great boon. I feel like I know each of them quite a bit better. Their feedback will definitely help the AIARE 2 courses I lead next year improve. And despite a bit of rain the weather through out the course was fantastic. While I have the rest of the weekend off I’ll be heading back up the hill on Monday, and again on Friday. Then a short vacation before our first ever Mount Washington Observatory AIARE 1 Course!

Then, and only then, will I let myself start focusing on the upcoming rock season. Winter ain’t over till it’s over!

Spring is here (Not Really)

The equinox has come and gone and other than a bit more daylight to play in I haven’t noticed much of a difference! Yesterday was one of the coldest days I’ve had this season as we concluded another AIARE 1 Avalanche Course but first lets talk about how awesome the ice climbing conditions are!

Last Thursday, March 19th, I took former AIARE 1 student Kurt out for a day of Private Ice Climbing instruction. Kurt had a couple seasons under his belt (or harness) but wanted to get a jump start on his skill set. We headed out to Frankenstein and covered quite a bit of ground and information in a very fun filled day!

We started with a very big & blue Standard Route (Grade 3, 350 feet).

Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs
Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs

Despite it being a little bit of a PITA stopping in the cave I choose to do so as I think every first timer should see this cool feature. Experienced climbers who have seen it can greatly increase communication by skipping this feature and combining pitch 1 & 2 in a long 190 foot pitch.

Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day
Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day
Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard
Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard

We topped out around 11:30 and made our way back down to the tracks for some lunch, then headed over to the Amphitheater. There Bob’s Delight, (Grade 3+ 100 feet) was still in great shape, though a little soft. After I led the route I lowered off and Kurt took a top-rope lap on it so we could focus on efficiency & technique.

Bob's Delight
Bob’s Delight

One more run up it to clean the anchor and I grabbed a shot of Kurt finishing the route.

Bluebird day!
Bluebird day!

We had just enough time to squeeze in one more route so we hopped over to Cave Route, and finished on that 75 foot Grade 3. Definitely a fun day out I look forward to climbing with Kurt again soon!

The next day began a full AIARE 1 Avalanche Course that ended yesterday. As is becoming custom this winter we had perfect conditions for the course, despite yesterday’s field day being quite arctic we still learned a lot and enjoyed some fresh powder in the Cutler River!

Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway
Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway
Debriefing our Tour Day
Debriefing our Tour Day
My field notes from the day
My field notes from the day

Despite air temps far below 0 and even colder wind chills we had a really good day up there. Today I’ve spent catching up on errands while preparing for an AIARE 2 Course that starts tomorrow.

While the calendar may say Spring I am certainly still in a winter mindset!

Washington, Willard, Washington, Cathedral, and nights thinking about avalanches…

It’s been a fun filled 4 days with two ascents of Mount Washington, a multi-pitch ice climbing day at Willard, and a half-day of ice climbing with the excellent kids of Brooks School from North Andover, MA at the North End of Cathedral. Winter is in full swing and I have a day off tomorrow to attend to the less exciting things in life like laundry & dump runs but I’m looking forward to some multi-pitch ice on Thursday and a booked avalanche course for Sat-Sun-Mon.

Lately every day brings another couple inches of snow to Washington and we have an excellent outdoor classroom to run a course right now. Given the latest headline news of a couple young US Ski Team hopefuls (one quite local)  losing their lives in an avalanche last week in Austria and another recent fatality in Silverton, CO I’ve been thinking a lot about the White Mountain Avalanche Fund set up by the US Forest Service and how I might be able to liaison between EMS Schools and this fund to get some potential “at-risk” high-school students into an AIARE 1 course next winter. Juniors & Seniors at high-schools with strong ski teams are the most likely to be entering avalanche terrain soon after High School and establishing some solid decision making skills at this critical age could hopefully help prevent some of these tragedy’s in the future.

EMS Schools Management is behind the idea so my next step is to find point of contacts at regional high-schools with strong ski programs. Kennett & Fryeburg Acadamy are most local, but the abundance of private high-schools with great ski programs in NH is quite long, and it will take some research to make sure the right people are aware of this educational, potentially life saving, opportunity. My goal right now is to have at-least 1 AIARE Course next winter comprised of 12 high-school students most likely to ski in avalanche terrain in the years following their graduations.

So far this year we have had 4 in country avalanche fatalities, plus the 2 out of county, compared to 5 in country this time last year. The more sobering statistic is we had 35 fatalities last season… there is a lot of winter left! If anyone reading this has the names or email addresses of High School Ski Program Directors in NH/ME/VT please let me know, this recent tragedy can be turned into a catalyst of preventive education if we can connect the right people to the right resources…

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

P.S. Contest running until 1/31/15 for two brand new ice screws. Simple to enter. Like North East Alpine Start on Facebook for 1 entry, follow/subscribe to this blog for a second entry (link is top right).  Winner announced on 2/2/15.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 12/19-12/21

Yesterday concluded our first AIARE 1 Avalanche Course of the season and conditions were great for such an early season course! Two EMS Schools New Paltz, NY guides and one of our North Conway guides joined 8 other aspirant back-country travelers to learn about decision making and risk management in avalanche terrain.

Beacon Range Check at the AMC Highland Center
Examining some Surface Hoar while on our Observational Outing
Do you know how this is formed and why it is important in relation to avalanche safety?
Team Orange conducts a trip planning session in the pack room of Pinkham Notch Visitor Center the morning of the tour day
Team Black & Blue checks the updated avalanche bulletin
Successfully skinning up from Hermit Lake into Tuckerman Ravine
The skier group converses at the first aid cache before entering consequential terrain to make sure they are all still on the same page and to update their observations
Team Orange is high up in the Sluice below the cliff band, you may need to zoom in to spot them
Team Black & Blue spreads out while crossing the lower center bowl
Team Orange visible just to the left of Right Gully while we make our way over towards The Chute
All smiles during our run down the Sherburne Ski Trail at the end of the day
My field notes from Day 3...
My field notes from Day 3… I wish I had better handwriting skillz

What a treat it was to be able to skin all the way into the bowl so early in the season. The Sherbi was in pretty “fast” conditions and is definitely, as I noted in my book, in need of some love. Unfortunately Santa must have thought skiers where a pretty naughty bunch this year as he’s having his friend Mother Nature deliver us a hefty dose of our least favorite precipitation, rain. Personally I would prefer coal but what can you do. Let’s hope to bring in the New Year with some copious amounts of new snow!

To the 11 engaged participants of this first avalanche course of the season, thank you for making this a fun and productive 3 days. See you in the mountains!