AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 3/8/13 – 3/10/13

“Spring is in the air” would be a common theme as we hit near record highs during our 8th AIARE 1 Avalanche Course of the season which concluded today. Despite the warm temperatures our snow-pack is certainly still dynamic as we got to experience a wide variety of conditions in the three days we spent together. Day 1 saw some productive morning discussions about different types of avalanches and avalanche terrain in general before heading outside for some great companion rescue practice.

Day 2 was VERY interesting as despite the warm temps it was very cold, clear, and calm the night before… so driving up to the Highland Center I was a bit excited to see obvious Near Surface Faceting all over the place from Bartlett to the Highland Center. I was even more stoked to see aggressive Surface Hoar all over the field right next to our classroom. I realized the warm temps and strong solar radiation expected would destroy it early so I grabbed some pics with my iPhone before class started.

Surface Hoar

Surface Hoar

Surface Hoar

Surface Hoar

Surface Hoar

Surface Hoar

While I have found small pockets before this stuff is a bit rare here in our windy “Arctic Maritime” snow climate and this was the largest area I have ever seen covered in it. Some of them measured 5mm in height, which is pretty impressive. An hour and a half later when we left the classroom to check it our the daytime warming and sun had destroyed it. I was glad to have the photos!

That afternoon we headed south along the east side of Mt. Willard and quickly noticed some huge “pinwheeling” from the strong solar radiation we where getting. I would call it “prolific” as it was everywhere. In some areas it looked like debris, but was just massive amounts of “pinwheels” and “rollerballs”. Some where quite big!

BIG pin-wheel!

BIG pin-wheel!

Other than just indicating strong solar radiation these little features can often preclude wet loose snow avalanches, and possible wet slabs if unstable conditions exist. On a slope covered in pinwheels Keith demonstrated measuring slope angle with his ski poles.

SE Side of Mt. Willard, 1880ft

SE Side of Mt. Willard, 1880ft

Minutes later we wrapped around to the more southern exposure of Mt. Willard and found fresh debris from a small slab avalanche that came down just to the right of Cinema Gully and almost reached the train tracks…

Small debris pile near Cinema Gully

Small debris pile near Cinema Gully

We finished the day looking at some layers on a small NW slope and found some buried Melt-Freeze crusts with free water sitting on top. Compression Tests were rather inconclusive.

Keith demonstrates a Compression Test

Keith demonstrates a Compression Test

Day 3 started at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. After accessing the bulletin we made a trip plan for Tuckerman Ravine.

Setting out from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

Setting out from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

Making some observations at the Hermit Lake snow study plot

Making some observations at the Hermit Lake snow study plot

Our first view of the bowl

Our first view of the bowl

At HoJo’s we chatted with Lead USFS Snow Ranger Christopher Joosen about the conditions and his and his fellow rangers job on the mountain, then we continued up the Tuck’s trail towards are original objective of Lobster Claw Gully.

Ranger chat

Ranger chat

Right side of the bowl

Right side of the bowl

We bumped into Frank Carus, another USFS Snow Ranger who pointed out an almost indistinguishable old debris pile that had come out of Lobster Claw the week before.

USFS Snow Ranger Frank Carus

USFS Snow Ranger Frank Carus

After some group discussion the majority voted to change our plan due to the strong solar radiation and warm temps possibly making things a bit iffy on the right side, and fell back on our more conservative plan to head over towards  Left Gully and The Chute. The decision was made to spread out when crossing the main run-out.

10 meters apart looks differently to some ;)

10 meters apart looks differently to some ;)

We got a good vantage to see the debris and the crown at the top of Right Gully from the skier triggered avalanche the day before.

Crown is hard to see, it is top left of gully and we could see the ski tracks from the skier who triggered it...

Crown is hard to see, it is top left of gully and we could see the ski tracks from the skier who triggered it…

We chose the slope between Left Gully and The Chute to poke around. We got some super positive hand shear results on a 25cm pencil hard slab sitting on graupel that was mentioned in Friday’s bulletin. That got us excited to dig further and we got tons of positive CT results along with a RB4, MB. A student sent me this video of the Rutchsblock.

youtu.be/8WTVJqTuEPE

I’ll upload the hand shears and Compression Tests later.

Avy Course 3-10-13 027

After we descended via Little Headwall and Sherburne we had a good course close back at PNVC. I stuck around for the annual NH Search & Rescue dinner and a great presentation by the Director of Summit Operations, Cyrena-Marie Briede, on her work in Alaska.

Full house

Full house

More to come on this event, along with the videos from the Handshears, CT’s, and Rutschblock tests so please check back!

About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle and son Alex.
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