Skiing Tuckerman Ravine: The Blog

We'd been diligently reading the reports coming out of the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center for about a month. Following the snowpack through the high avalanche danger, watching the snow melt off the ridgelines & the Little Headwall transform from a kick ass ski route to a raging waterfall...

But the potential for 80 degree weather for our birthday week was all too promising.

The text went out to all possibly interested parties...

and it was time for TUX!!
Racing out of my shift at 1pm on Monday, we threw the skis in the car, along with ice axes, crampons, camping gear and pretty much every combination of ski gear that you could possibly need.

You never know what to expect on Mount Washington.

After a stop at P&H Truck Stop on 302 for our traditional pre-Mt. Washington grease feast, we pulled up at the campsite under a cold black sky littered with stars. It was a new campground for us, our favorite riverside site having been destroyed - hopefully temporarily - by Tropical Storm Irene at the end of August. We quick set up our tent and nestled into our down sleeping bags with Vespi spread out by our feet.

But it wasn't like we were gonna get any sleep anyways.
We were gonna try and ski Tuckerman Ravine tomorrow!!
The alarm went off at 5:45, about thirty minutes after I woke up...
and we quickly headed out to the starting point of every trip to the
Mecca of East Coast Skiing:
Pinkham Notch
Run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, this place serves as a base camp for skiers, hikers, climbers & mountaineers and has the best all-you-can-eat breakfast around. Quiche one day, eggs to order the next...and my personal favorite:
real homeade oatmeal.
And the more you eat for breakfast, the less you have to carry!!
With our bellys super full and our skis on our backs, we head out on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. As we walk past the signs declaring low avalanche danger in the Bowl, I have flashbacks to the first time I ever made this trip. The complete innocence as to what was to come before me was a complete contrast to my feelings as we began today. That first time was like my third time on skins, i had no idea how long the hike would be, we had bought our mountaineering axes on the drive up
...and we were telemarking.
Not this time.

Now, the journey up to Hermit Lake feels like part of my natural being. I greet the bridges as time honored markers of distance. The steep pitch after that one bend is known and expected. As the rocky work road turns to snow, the skis come off my pack and I switch my alpine bindings into touring mode. I find my stride and I am moving, sliding, skiing up the trail toward what I now know is coming. I see rocks that have served as resting places and trees against which I have laid my pack. I greet the Boot Spur Trail with a giggle of old memories and reminisce about the mountaineering hikes up the now closed Lion Head Winter Route.

As I round the bend, the Bowl comes into view and a smile lights up my face.

I was coming home.
No matter how many times you have hiked or skied up at TUX, there is nothing quite so majestic as coming out of the woods after hiking two hours to look up at the bowl in all its glory. You can't help but be awed as you approach HoJo's (the deck iof the caretaker's cabin at Hermit Lake) and stop for the obligatory rest & a quick snack. The deck is filled with all kinds of people, each focused on their own adventure to this great mountain range.
There are mountaineers in gaitors & crampons making their bid for the summit,
casual hikers overwhelmed by it all & pondering turning around,
young guys armed with sleds & beer in an attempt to make history,
girls in bikinis ready to soak up the rays from the ravine floor,
a myriad of dogs ready for anything their humans can dish out...

And skiers, snowboarders & telemarkers from all walks of life,
there to celebrate the art of glisse
Decked out now in crampons and armed with a mountaineering axe,
we head up the next phase of the trail and into the bowl.
It's a different style of hike this time, with the weight from the skis in our packs making a somewhat difficult venture just a little more treacherous as we head up and into the ravine.
The trail takes a turn up a steep climb and drops off into the abyss on our left.
We get lost in the grandiose view of it all, feeling like we are becoming one with the mountain, heading through a passageway into the very heart of the mountain rather than merely gazing longlingly from afar.
The trees get shorter and the rocks get bigger.
The air begins to feel different, lighter, colder

We have entered the Alpine Zone.
My body starts getting the jitters.
My pulse begins to race.
I am so excited.
I just want to bolt ahead of the group.
I want to run up to the ravine floor.
I have to remind myseslf to focus on my foot placement.
My pack is heavy, but I feel so light
We're so close!
We're almost there!
Suddenly, Vespi realizes that we've somehow lost ourselves in our private journey and stops dead in her tracks to wait for the group.
She jerks me out of my stupor.
I am forced go stop, take a deep breathe and concentrate on bringing my heartrate back down to normal. While Tuckerman's might be famous for the idiotic things people do down the headwall, that was definitely not my goal today.
I do not want to become a Tuckeman Ravine statistic.

Stay Safe
Stay Smart
Pay Attention
And keep going up.

To the Ravine Floor...
and beyond.

Swallowing my fears, it's one foot in front of the other up the worn boot pack up Left Gully. With the entire looker's left full of exposed rock and disintegrating frozen waterfalls, the best recommended root was the gully. I grimace, remembering our epic failure of April Fool's a few years ago to notice the storm clouds rolling in as the snow turned solid.
Would this time be different?
Would we need to rely upon Vespi's dog senses to save our butts?
It was already 70 degrees & bluebird skies in the bowl, but it onlytakesa few minutes for the storm to roll in and the weather to change completely.

You never know what will happen at Mt. Washington.
There's a line of us now, about ten altogether, everyone moving, slowly, step by step up the side of the ravine. Trying to leave enough space between the person in front of you so that when they fall, you have enough time to move out of the way rather than get speared with a crampon in the forearm. Vespi climbs behind me, leaving paw prints over the marks from my crampons. A skier begins his descent and we pause, eyes on the action, prepared to lean into the mountain if he triggers a slide but mostly anticipating our own brush with glory.
Regathering my thoughts, I look uphill, trying to judge the distance to the snowline.
I will make it.
We reach the final crest, hand over foot like climbing a ladder. I am no longer using my axe as a cane, but like an ice axe to hold me onto the mountain. It is not a hike, but a climb now, with my ski ladden pack pulling me backwards off the snow. A short traverse provides some respite and a chance to turn around and...gulp...look down. But I see the rocks ahead, the few people lounging around who have already topped out and are enjoying the view. Another deep breath and I feel like the steps come more easily now. I work my way up to find a spot amidst the rocks, slowly place my ice axe down and sigh a deep sigh a relief as I take my pack off and sit to rest under the shadow of the eerily bare summit of Mt. Washington
Some sips of water, a few bites of GORP and a puppy treat as we settle in to wait for the rest of the group. A team photo, some awkward jokes and lots of bottled up intensity as everyone knows this is not the place to play around.
We don't have our skis on yet.
One slip here and all your climbing won't get you any skiing. Carefully, I take my crampons off, tie them together and strap them to the back of my pack. The ice axe returns to its designated spot as well.
My skis come off my pack.
And we wait for our turn.
As I cautiously put on my skis, I could feel the excitement swelling up inside me.
This was it! This was it!
My body was screaming,
half scared to death that I would tumble into oblivion here in the ravine
but too reved up in anticipation of the ski down to give a crap.

I clicked into my bindings.
Adjust my pole straps.
And a huge grin creeps across my face
Here it was,
the moment we'd been hiking all morning for

I release my edges...
my skis start to come around
a full belly laugh lets out my anxiety as my skis come around for the first turn

It was freaking cream cheese awesome!!!!!!!!!
After a quick energerizing lunch of Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Sandwiches
(and a reslathering of the 100 SPF sunscreen)
we head back up.
We have a different goal this time.
We are going up & over.
Up to the Lawn Cut-Off Trail on the ridge and Over to Hillman's Highway, one of the longest runs at TUX named for the Dartmouth Student who made this trail his second home.

And this is why I have 3- buckle Vibram Soled Alpine Touring Boots.
There is no wind.
The sky is perfectly blue.
And we keep going up.
A gnarly scramble up loose lichen rocks up to the trail,
we were finally able to see over to the other side of the ridge.
Simply stunning.
(and with a little patch of snow for vespi to cool off in)
Of course, finding a snowline that is right under a drop-off is a little tricky when you are way uphill from it. We ended up with a little backtracking and retracking, but eventually we made our way to the top of Hillman's for another bit of skiing :).
I know that you are supposed to hike up what you ski, but we had skied Hillman's the day before and were familiar with the changes that had occured over night.
So no worries :)
By now, we had started to feel quite comfortable up on the ridgeline.
The more you go, the more you know, right?
Our gathering at the top of Hillman's for our final run was a smaller group.
Some had stayed to drop the wet slide ridden Chute, while others had dropped back down to HoJo's to just enjoy the scenery (& the whiskey) and watch the proceedings from below.

But none of that mattered to those of us up on the rock,
waiting to ski down.
All that mattered now was to enjoy our final moments amongst the alpine plants that were budding way too early in the season. It's an indescribeable feeling, being on top of the world, looking down on the mountains beneath you, realizing how very small you are in such a very big world. The earth has some absolutely beautiful and wonderous places, and sitting there, at the snowline for Mt. Washington, you realize just how priviledged we are that we get to experience this majesty.

But we are here to go skiing.
So ski we do.
It's only at the bottom of Hillman's that I realize we are done for the day.
Our time at Tuckerman's has come to an end and it is time to make our way
home on the Sherburne Ski Trail (or what's left of it).
We take a few more minutes at HoJo's to take the required group photos, share stories and play "do you know so and so" with the caretaker before heading down.

No one really wants to leave.

The BF and I procrastinate as long as possible,
hoping to steal a quiet moment after the chaos of the the past two days
and breathe our last vestiges of the fresh alpine air.

This is our time.

Down there, down there is their time.

But up here, amongst the snow and the mountains,
This is our time.
May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
FemaleSkiBum and Vespi

thanks to all the Killing-Ten for a kick-ass trip to Tuckerman Ravine!!