Tuckerman Ravine can turn deadly in springtime

Special to the Union Leader
April 28. 2013 9:21PM
This photo of Tuckerman Ravine shows the Lip, the Sluice and (foreground) Lunch Rocks. (Courtesy of Mount Washington Avalanche Center)

PINKHAM NOTCH - Mount Washington is always beautiful and always dangerous, but spring in Tuckerman Ravine, in particular, has meant danger that appears quickly, often with fatal results, even for experienced hikers and climbers.

"The secret to having a fun, safe time on Mount Washington is being here at the right time, with the right equipment, and having flexible plans," said Chris Joosen, U.S. Forest Service Lead Snow Ranger. "Recognizing the hazards, and asking questions of those who work here, will help people make smart, well-informed decisions."

As May approaches, U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers are strongly advising spring visitors to Tuckerman to reduce the chances of tragedy by planning ahead and being prepared.

Visitors should keep firmly in mind that spring brings many hazards to the mountain. Conditions can change rapidly at high altitude, and having up-to-date information is vital. Check the Avalanche Advisory for the most current conditions before visiting: http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org/ or contact the U.S. Forest Service, also at (603) 466-2713.

Visitors are responsible for their own safety, the rangers caution. Upon arriving at Mt. Washington, they should seek out the Snow Rangers, members of the Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol, or Appalachian Mountain Club caretakers to be alerted to that day's particular hazards.

Snow Rangers are on the job daily to determine the level of avalanche hazard, promote safety, and assist visitors.

They offer these reminders about these other spring hazards in Tuckerman Ravine:

-- Ice fall is an annual hazard that has injured and killed many visitors. Each fall and winter, large cliffs of ice form in Tuckerman Ravine. The cliffs come down in the spring, often in pieces larger than an automobile.

--Ice can fall at any time and without warning, especially on warm, sunny days. The center headwall and Sluice pose the greatest threat. Do not linger under ice, rangers advise.

--Crevasses are large cracks in the snow that open up as snowmelt begins and cause "downhill creep" of the snowpack.

These fissures can be very deep and are often hard to spot from above. People can slip and tumble into their depths.

Cascading ice-cold water and injuries from a fall can put victims in serious life-threatening situations. Some of the largest crevasses form around the lip of Tuckerman Ravine to the climber's right of the headwall and the main waterfall. Skiers should climb up in the vicinity of their intended run down, so they can calculate the hazards they'll face on their descent.

--One of the most difficult hazards to spot for the untrained eye is undermined snow. People can fall through thin areas in the snowpack that have been weakened by water running beneath the snow's surface.


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