Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuckerman Ravine

Tuckerman Ravine - A right of passage for the East Coast Skier

Tuckerman Ravine is the most well known back-country skiing destination on the east coast. Located on the south-east side of New Hampshire's Mt. Washington, it is somewhat of a right of passage for the hardcore east coast skier. Although it is ski-able throughout the winter, the primary time to ski Tucks is in the spring, after all but the most northern ski resorts have spun the lifts down for the season. On a nice spring weekend hundreds of skiers make the 3.1 mile hike up to the head wall, all to be able to say "I've skied Tuckerman Ravine".

The atmosphere of Tucks is unlike almost anything else, and certainly unlike anything I personally have experienced. Crowds of people sit on the rocks scattered around the base of the bowl drinking beers and cheering loudly as intrepid skiers and snowboarders attempt to conquer the various routes. The bigger the line, the louder the roar from the crowd, and nothing gets the crowd going more than watching someone tumble several hundred yards after missing a turn or failing to stomp the landing after dropping off a cliff. Many people seem to seriously under-estimate how steep most of the terrain is, with most of it being somewhere around 40-45 degrees, topping out at 90 for a decent over the center head wall. Needless to say, there are plenty of crashes to watch all day long.

As most of you probably know, this was the last stop on the Grand Tour of New England Skiing (although not the last post, my piece on Gunstock is still to come). To celebrate the last stop on the tour, I figured I would try to make the last stop also work as a Newschoolers meetup, as there had been plenty of interest. Despite my best efforts through the forums, I failed miserably at bringing us together. I will blame the complete lack of cell service, but to be honest, it is incredibly hard to plan these kind of things. I was not alone on my journey though as not only did I have several of my friends with me, but hundreds of fellow skiers to make the trip with. Only one of my friends would be riding Tucks with me, while the others came along for the scenery.

We arrived at the base of the trail around 7:45 in the morning. As much as I hate getting up at 4:30 in the morning to do anything, I was super excited to be back at Tuckerman Ravine. I skied about half the sluice once way back when I was 15 or so, and have not been back in the decade since then. We put all our gear together and started the brutal trek up the mountain. Normally a 3 mile hike is no issue for me. I try to hike frequently during the summer to help stay in shape, but starting off the hiking season with Tuckerman is just brutal. Between a majority of the trail up still being snow covered, and the 40 lb pack loaded with skis, boots, water, food and beer, it takes a toll on you. It really made me realize how out of shape I am. A couple hours later we arrived at Hojos, an AMC hut located a little ways away from the head wall, and got our first look at the ravine itself.

After a brief rest, we made the rest of the hike up to the lunch rocks at the base of the head wall. The trail between Hojos and the head wall is probably the most difficult part of the hike (other than ascending the head wall it self). The trail is extremely narrow and rocky and to top it off, covered in snow. I learned a hard lesson about the downsides to diagonal ski-carry, as I was frequently slamming the tails of my skis into rocks, and the tips into trees. Once you break from the treeline into the base of the bowl, you are rewarded with one hell of a sight. The scale of Tuckerman really cannot be conveyed through words, photos or even video. It is massive. There really is nothing else like it on the East Coast.

After a good long rest and lunch, my friend and I started the final part of our ascent. The hike up the remaining 200 yards or so is extremely brutal. The slope you ascend is extremely steep, to the point where you can often touch the ground in front of you while you are standing upright in places. The bootpack up was soft, and often gave way from beneath my ski-boots, causing brief moments of panic before I managed to regain my footing. At several points on the way up we had to traverse around crevasses 15 to 20 feet deep to continue the ascent. Falling on the trip up is a very real danger, and we saw it happen to one particularly unlucky individual near the end of the day. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of falling before you even get to ski.

Upon reaching what we deemed the 'top' of our particular line, we sat down collected ourselves, and started putting our gear on. We had decided we were going to ski 'The Lip' which is one of the more open runs, and tops out with a pitch of 45 degrees. Before the grueling hike up  the head wall, I was hell-bent on skiing the chute as well, but by the time I got to the top, I was simply too tired to make the hike again. This would be my one run this year, especially considering it had started sleeting.

After making a few turns, we stood atop the head wall. The view from up there is daunting, with the terrain falling away from you so quickly you really cant see what is ahead of you. This is where something extremely distressing happened. A guy, whom you will see in the below video was hiking down the head wall. He was wearing ski-boots, no skis and was with what looked to be chocolate lab. Now I cannot imagine how hard it would be to hike down the head when wearing appropriate gear, let alone for some unknown reason trying to do it in ski boots. Of course the inevitable happened, the guy slipped, fell, and almost took the dog with him. He proceeded to slide several hundred yards to the base of the bowl. Now the dog was stuck, alone on a 45 degree base most of the way up the head wall. My friend and I stood there as we watched the owner abandon his dog, and walk off down the trail to Hojos. After it became apparent that the owner was not returning, we decided the best course of action would be to alert the ski-patrollers to the issue, as trying to ski down carrying a 75 lb dog would probably not end well. Please let this be a lesson to you, if you want to bring your dog up, please do not bring him up the head wall itself. As we were leaving, a group of 5 or 6 people had made their way to the dog and seemed to be starting to bring him down.

Tuckerman Ravine - The Lip
(Sorry it is not the most exciting video, I did my best to take out the long pauses, and for some reason lost the audio while I was at  it.)

As for the skiing itself, I absolutely loved it. I happily jump turned my way down, stopping to admire the waterfall coming over the center head wall. I also attempted to retrieve someones gear who had fallen in front of me, with little success. Skiing Tucks is unlike anything else on the East Coast, and really makes me want to go out west (like I didn't already want to go). My friend also made it down with no issue. I have to say, it was not the hardest terrain I skied this winter. Although the Center Head wall may be harder, I feel like Paradise at Mad River Glen is a technically much more difficult trail. Having nothing to hit really takes some of the stress out of it.

Exhausted, we packed our gear quickly (as the temperature was beginning to fall, and it was still sleeting/snowing). We started the hike out and alerted ski-patrol to the stranded dog. The trail down from the Head wall to Hojos was particularly harrowing, as a line formed as people tried to navigate the steep and icy terrain without falling. More than a few people fell. At Hojos most of the crowed disappeared down the Sherburne trail, skiing all the way to the parking lot. Because we had several non-skiers with us, we hiked our way back down.

This final day on the snow marked the last day of my ski-season; a season I will not ever forget. For those of you who consider yourself to be an extreme east-coast skier, you owe it to yourself to come ski Tuckerman Ravine. It really is nice to be able to say "I've skied Tuckerman Ravine".

Keep an eye out for my final piece on Gunstock Mountain, my home mountain coming out soon. Sorry it is taking so long, video editing takes time! For those of you who still have snow...

Keep on Shredding NS.

Here is some relevant info on Tuckerman if you are interested in doing it!
Routes down Tuckerman Ravine
Weather at the headwall elevation
Warnings, advisories and general info.

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