Tuckerman Ravine Ski Trip - 29/Apr/2001

By David Metsky

This year has been a very good snow year.  My gang of friends have been doing a great deal of telemark skiing this year, managing to get several excellent powder days at Mad River Glen, Sugarbush, and some backcountry.  With a year like this, we were all pretty psyched to try another trip to Tuckerman Ravine, the culmination of any New England ski season.  All of us have been improving our tele skiing, and buying plastic boots and new skis, which we planned on putting to the test at Tuckerman.  I managed to put a trip together with Lafe, Ching, and Andrew for a Friday night drive north and an early Saturday morning start.  We gathered at my house near Boston, loaded up the car with all our gear, and headed north at slightly above the speed limit, settling into our rooms at the Royalty Inn in Gorham, same as last time.

After a fine buffet breakfast at 6:30 we drove to Pinkham Notch by 7:30, where the main lot was full but we were one of the first to park in the overflow lot.  The lot was filling up rapidly as we decided on our footwear for the hike up.  I chose to wear my Garmont Veloce ski boots, Andrew wore is Scarpa T2s, but Lafe and Ching wore their hiking boots and carried their ski boots.  All of us carried our skis and poles, making for some ungainly packs.  There was a huge crowd at Pinkham, of course, many skiers but also lots of hikers and folks just there to see the scene.  We did the usual, checking out the snow conditions and warnings and dangers, then started up the trail.  There was hard packed snow from the start, causing some foot slipping, but for the most part the footing was fine.

Ching and Andrew fell back a bit, and I was struggling to get my out-of-shape form up the trail.  It was a little disheartening to see a snowmachine go past, soon followed by a snowcat shuttling rangers up to the ravine.  We stopped occasionally to drink water and enjoy the view, and soon things settled into a rhythm, punctuated with pauses.  It took us about 1:30 minutes to make it up to Hojos, the ranger station just below the ravine.  This is where you get the first excellent views of the Bowl and Lion Head, also of Hillman's Highway, a slighted less used run below the main part of the Bowl.  Here there were big crowds, as skiers and hikers got their gear together and rested before pushing up the final half mile to the Bowl.  The snow rangers milled about, answering questions and keeping folks from doing stupid things.  A fellow came up to me and said he recognized me from this website.  I knew him from the AMC Website and Views from the Top as SherpaKroto.  Hi SherpaKroto!  Some folks who wore their crampons the whole way up (?!) asked me to go into Hojos and buy them AA batteries for their camera, but the camera was dead anyways.  Bummer.  But who can complain too much?

Andrew and Ching caught up, and we used the outhouses, drank water, ate a Powerbar, and loaded our packs for the climb into the Bowl.  The trail narrows quite a bit here, and people travel single file.  There were a lot more rocks showing through the snow and the trail is steeper here, so the pace was a bit slower.  After about 30 minutes we arrived in the Bowl.  It's hard to represent in photos the massive size and grandeur of the Bowl in winter.  From the floor, 1000 foot walls rise on three sides(2.3 meg movie), huge snow and ice covered chutes and gullies, interspersed with rocks, scrub trees, and a multitude of skiers, boarders, hikers, and dogs.  Directly ahead are the Icefalls and Lip, frighteningly steep and sheer.  It was still early, just around 10:00, so there weren't too many people skiing yet.  In the morning, especially after a cold night like the previous one, the snow is hard and crusty, making any type of turn into an adventure in edge control.  Lafe headed up to the Lunch Rocks, the place to observe, cheer, and plan routes while I continued to take pictures and video of the scene.

It's surprisingly steep up to the Lunch Rocks, and we followed the stream of skiers and riders up the steps kicked into the snow.  Even cutting across the slope to the rocks was a bit unnerving, but the plastic boots made kicking steps easy.  As we settled into our chosen spot on the rocks, a guy headed out onto the lower slopes of the Lip on an inflatable lobster.  The cheers went up for Lobster Boy, who made it about 30 feet before the inflatable punctured and he slid to an embarrassed stop.  We were all pretty tired from our hike up, so we settled in for a rest and took in the scene.  I pulled out my Crazy Creek chair, put on the sunscreen, drank some water, had a snack, and watched the early risers climbing up the Left Gully, Chute, and Lip.  As more and more people streamed into the Bowl and up to Lunch Rocks, we began contemplating our ski routes for the day.

Both Lafe and I were interested in going above the Ravine, to the Snowfields above.  We decided that the Right Gully was the best route, being directly above us and relatively easy, as if anything in Tuckerman can be said to be easy.  Ching and Andrew were going to hang out at Lunch Rocks, skiing if they felt like it but generally enjoying being there.  Lafe and I started up, kicking steps into the steep hard snow.  Everything in Tuckerman is deceptively steep, and Right Gully is no exception.  There were quite a few folks headed up without skis, headed for a hike to the summit.  Carrying skis and poles made things a bit hairy, but after a rest halfway up we both made it to the top.  Lafe was feeling ill, probably the flu or something like that, and the hike really took a lot out of him, but he wanted to go to the Snowfields.  There's a small trail leading from the top to the Lion Head trail, which had quite a few bare spots where the rocks and mud showed through.  We found some open ground(3.1 meg movie) and took a rest, and I took a panoramic photo of the land above the trees.  Lafe lay down and basked in the sun, I started up the snowfields.

There were lots of hikers headed up to the summit, enjoying the perfect weather and firm snow conditions.  Unfortunately for skiing, the snow was a little crusty still, with pockets of soft stuff to trip you up.  I watched some much better skiers and boarders go by as Lafe climbed up to my spot.  I was really feeling the exertion, having started hiking over four hours earlier, and still hadn't skied an inch.  This was to be our high point of the day, about 1000 feet below the summit.  I put on skis and started down, taking a few turns in the crust and corn, then headed right, towards the approach to the Lip.  As you get closer to the Lip you realize just how scary it must be to go over.  Everything slopes downward, and you can't see over the edge.  Skiers and riders drop away from you and disappear, and you hope they are doing alright.  There was a good crowd of skiers up there, all enjoying the brilliant sun, warm temps, and lack of wind.  I turned back to the right and skied back over towards the top of the Right Gully, catching Lafe's attention so he would head towards me.  We skied back through the scrub, to the Lion Head trail and worked our way to the top of the ski slope.

I have to say, all the time I was skiing the Snowfields I was thinking about skiing back down the Right Gully and getting nervous.  I skied the Left Gully the first time I was in the Ravine, and this was supposed to be more gentle, but it felt steeper when we were climbing it.  I was a little freaked by it, but I had to get down somehow, right?  We joined the queue of people ready to start the descent, put on our skis, and Lafe started off first.  He was feeling ill, and like me, was a little freaked by the slope so he had a bit of a difficult first turn.  As I followed in his tracks, I did pretty much the same thing.  Jump turns, sliding, leaning into the slope, with cubic yards of corn snow sliding down the slope with me.  We both did several descent turns, and neither of us slid out of control, but it wasn't pretty.  Further down the slope things get less steep, and we both improved our jump turns, eventually ending up at Lunch Rocks(3.8 meg movie) intact if a bit humbled.  Andrew had done some runs partway up the Headwall, and Ching was content to observe(2.2 meg movie) and absorb(3.0 meg movie).

After food, lots of water, and plenty of rest we decided to head down.  Lafe, Andrew, and I all planned on skiing down to Pinkham on the Sherbourne Ski trail, Ching was going to walk down.  We packed up, climbed around the Lunch Rocks to the Bowl and started down to the floor.  This skiing was easier, and the snow was a lot softer and cut up.  The Little Headwall, directly below the Bowl was open water, so we had to carry the first 200 yards, but we put our skis back on and headed down the Sherbourne.  Andrew wasn't used to skiing with a pack, and the trail is pretty much full of moguls.  We cut over to the base of Hillman's Highway, then back to the main trail and crossed the open stream.  Andrew hooked up with Ching at Hojos, and Lafe and I headed down taking our last views back uphill.  We were very tired, and our skiing was pretty lousy, but it was a fun run(4.8 meg movie).  You drop 2000' from the Bowl, an excellent run at any ski area, on a fairly narrow ribbon of snow, with occasionaly grass and mud.  As we got down much lower, there was more mud and you had to choose between carrying and skiing over mud, roots, and grass.  I chose to ski most of it, finally giving up the run about a tenth of a mile from Pinkham.  We sat out in front of the Visitors Center waiting for Ching and Andrew, who had hurt his knee on descent and bushwacked back over to the hiking trail.

Lafe got the car, and was looking pretty ill, and Andrew's knee was hurting, and Ching has a habit of falling asleep as soon as the car hits the highway, so I was forced behind the wheel of the BMW for the trip home.  We left Pinkham around 4:30, truly a full day.  To avoid N. Conway we drove through Crawford Notch, past the Mt Washington Hotel.  Every New England skier owes themselves a spring pilgrimage to Tuckerman.  Even if you don't carry your skis, a day on the Lunch Rocks on a sunny day is an experience not to be missed.  If you want to ski or ride, take it easy and don't bite off more than you can chew.  The Lip and the Chute are to be taken seriously.  But if you have the skills and the nerve, the skiing can be breathtaking.

Nearly everyone who skis or rides Tuckerman drives to the the AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitors Center on Rt 16, 10 miles north of Jackson NH.  Get there early, as the parking lots fill up and you are forced to park at the Wildcat Ski area and take a shuttle or walk back to the trailhead.  The Tuckerman Ravine trail takes you up the the ravine, approximately 2.5 miles to the base of the Bowl, which takes most people between 1.5 and 2.5 hours.  The trail is generally packed well enough not to need snowshoes, but they may be useful after a fresh snow storm.  You can camp at the Hermit Lake Shelters, but you must get a ticket at Pinkham before heading up, and there are no advanced reservations.  The Harvard Cabin in nearby Huntington Ravine is the only other place to stay in the area.  No camping is allowed elsewhere on that side of Mt Washington.  The skiing in Tucks ranges from advanced to beyond expert.  Conditions are very variable, with ice and crusty snow often lasting for most of the morning, turning to corn snow as the sun heats things up later in the day.  Dangers include avalanche, falling ice, crevasses, and rocks; do not take your safety lightly.  Make sure you check the weather forecast for the mountains and the avalanche forecast for the ravines.

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