Springtime Hazards

2009-03-31 11:45:26.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

Boott Spur in Spring

This time of year for the mountain is one of much change. The temperature seems to have a difficult time making up its mind as to whether to be above or below freezing and the wind has his mood swings as well. Just two days ago we were pummeled with hours of freezing rain, laying a layer of glaze ice on everything. Eventually the temperature climbed above freezing and the precipitation turned from freezing rain to rain, making the summit an eight inch deep pool of slush. As the day drew on, the temperature made a steady decline below the freezing point and by morning all the slush had been transformed to a slippery ice rink. Yesterday the precipitation machine that has been quite quiet for most of this month started up again, this time delivering a few inches of snow to the summit.

Not only does this make the summit a bit more treacherous to travel upon, but it creates other hazards as well. For those looking to lay some tracks in Tuckerman Ravine, it is of great importance to watch the shadows growing long. What was corn snow on the way up can solidify to a seemingly impenetrable concrete before you can say ‘self arrest’. Melt water or rain can undermine the snow pack and weaken previously strong bonds. For those in Huntington Ravine running water can be especially dangerous as it can build behind an ice dam, storing a great deal of potential energy. This can easily be released however with the puncture of an ice pick or the placement of an ice screw, the force great enough to cause a fall. Crevasses are quite literally a growing concern in both ravines and a plunge into these can prove fatal – know the line you are going to take before you drop in. Yesterday’s snow illustrates the effect elevation can have on the weather. Pinkham Notch recorded .06 inches of rain, Hermit Lake recording just under an inch of snow, and the summit recording nearly five inches of snow with winds exceeding hurricane force at times severely limiting visibility with blowing snow. Do not get suckered in by the warmer temperatures and blue skies at the base – conditions can change rapidly as you climb in elevation.

The spring is a great time to play in the mountains. The snow can be soft, the ice plastic, and hiking above treeline very pleasant. Just know that as fast as the sap can stop flowing after a good run, so can nearly perfect conditions on the mountain deteriorate. Let’s all be smart out there so we can sit safely at home or in a tent and reflect on the day’s adventures in the mountains, just like all those whose lights are on into the wee hours boiling, waiting to draw off that last bit of syrup.


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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