I guess it has been a while since my last entry…September of 2016. A lot has happened since then! Got a new job, bought a house, adopted a kitten, and got engaged. We did two big trips in Greece and the Alps in the last two years and I didn’t even to think to write about them here. I’m going to let old bones lie, and try and get back into the swing of things, but no promises.
This weekend I took part in a 3-day AIARE Level 1 avalanche awareness course with Northeast Mountaineering. I came out of it with a lot more questions than answers, but I feel more confident about planning trips with experienced friends in the future. There’s a ton more to learn and practice, but it was good to become introduced to the gear, travel techniques, and understanding how to analyze the snowpack and weather. Our instructors were Dave Lottman and Grant Price, who both did a fantastic job but also had different perspectives and styles which was nice.
I wanted to get three days of skinning in for the weekend so I met up with Kam and Kyle at Pinkham Notch for a dawn (yawn) patrol. Kyle was a little late but hooked us up with some chocolate baguette, so all was well. The 5:00am alpine start (with a 3:00am wake-up in Durham) was well worth it though as we had the Sherburne trail to ourselves with 8″ of fresh snow from the day before. Then I headed down to Jackson for the first day of the course, which was mostly spent in the classroom with some companion rescue practice in a snowy field. The second day we spent the morning in the classroom and then headed out for an afternoon ski tour below Hillman’s Highway to dig some pits to analyze the snowpack. We found a reactive slab above a layer of graupel snow which was cool to see. We also explored the debris field from a recent large avalanche which had snapped an 18″ diameter tree. The powder cloud was able to rip branches off 15′ up.
The third day was spent entirely in the mountains, and both groups in the class chose to explore Gulf of Slides. The forecast called for mild temperatures, low wind, and 1-2″ inches of snow throughout the day. When we headed out an inch of fluffy snow had already fallen and was coming down heavily. It slowed down as we started skinning but we ended up picking up more than expected over the course of the day; between 4″ and 6″, so everyone was in high spirits. Careful though, don’t want to let the powder panic take over in avalanche terrain!
A great example of the low-density stella flakes coming down.
Grant was our guide for the day. We learned a lot about backcountry travel techniques from him, and the importance of starting out small and being conservative with decision making in avalanche terrain as a beginner.
Here we had to spread out as we crossed an avalanche slide path.
Examples of large avalanche activity at the base of the southern snowfields. This was at least half a mile away from the ridge, which shows just how far avalanches can run.
The sun started peeking out which made for some pretty interesting lighting, though it made me want to invest in a good pair of sunglasses for days like this. The combination of reflective snow and flat light made it difficult to see at times.
Here’s a great view of the slide path. The previous shot of the snapped trees was taken very close to the base of that, where it flattens out.
Lane, a fellow UNH mechanical engineering graduate (I knew he looked familiar) making his way up to the ridge.
Skirting the ridge to access a drainage with less convex rolls and trees (possible trigger points).
I should probably mention that we were on a ridge, in the Presidential Range, in the winter, with almost no wind. Perhaps some 10mph gusts here and there, but otherwise very calm. Days like this are rare!
The first pitch was around 30°, and had a firm (but not icy) base with a few inches of fresh powder on top, which was a joy to ski. Grant went first and posted up as a spotter on the edge of a roll where you couldn’t see below it. This an importance technique to use because it means someone is always being watched while they are skiing, so if they fall or there is an avalanche someone will be aware. Here’s Maryann laying down some nice tracks as the terrain flattened out. It was her first time ski touring, but once she got going downhill you could tell she was an excellent skier!
Jeremy (another UNH ME) slashing some snow (note the custom 3D-printed powder baskets).
Grant came down last but kept it stylish.
As we got back on the skin track we caught the last light coming over the ridge. An amazing view to end an incredible run, a run that doesn’t come around very often in the White Mountains! I may have only put my skis in downhill mode three times in three days but it was one of the best weekends of skiing I’ve ever had. Thanks again to Dave and Grant and Northeast Mountaineering, it was a great experience and I’m excited to learn more and practice so that I can travel safely in the backcountry.