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Cabin Update – March 27, 2014

March 27, 2014

Harvard Cabin Mountaineers,

Hello everyone and Happy Spring! Good News…Winter is just getting started! Bad News…the final weekend of the 2013/14 Harvard Cabin season is on-tap! Thanks to everyone for another fantastic season! It’s hard to believe it’s over…again. The season seems so short…it feels like we just got here! Many thanks to all of our mountain friends/Cabin Regulars and to all of those new friends we’ve made this season. We’ll look forward to seeing you, if not this weekend, on the rock or at the cabin next season! The last night of operation for this season will be Monday March 31, 2014. Please, don’t let us finish with a zero-count!

Snow, Snow, and MORE SNOW, Please!

I do hope it was more appreciated then not that last week I tried to distract you with a “heads-up” about an “out-of-this-world” event you probably didn’t see coming. I would have missed it too had it not been for my chance encounter with Tony Flanders of Sky and Telescope Magazine who was marveling at the wonders of our universe by enjoying a pleasant, bluebird day in and around Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines.

Had the weather cooperated, those of you in a rather narrow geographic corridor (NYC and points directly north thru Ontario) could have witnessed quite an unusual event. At least in the sense that I believe it was the first time we humans were able to calculate such an event and stand ready to observe. Thanks to guys and gals like Tony Flanders who keep a steady tally on the night sky. Unfortunately, atmospheric conditions didn’t allow for viewing the occultation of the star Regulas. I must say, as a casual but regular observer of the night sky, cloud cover is often an obstacle. However, at least the annoyance factor this time was mitigated by a more common and much more enjoyable phenomenon -SNOW!

Last weeks snow event was quite interesting, while we received about 4″ (12cm) on new snow at the cabin, surrounding areas south of Pinkham Notch received upwards of 18″ (45cm) over the same period of time. The creamy 4 inches of new snow laid down on the Rock Pile as a thick, warm, soft blanket over very hard-packed, cold trails. It was a welcomed sign…especially for my late night sled-haul, one of my last of the season.

In the three hours it took me to travel from Conway to the Harvard Cabin, 8″ of new snow had fallen in town. I once again felt like Mother Nature and Jack Frost were conspiring in dropping a foot of heavy, wet snow where it isn’t as useful or much appreciated. While the meteorology of it all was quite interesting I”m sure, I’ll keep to my superstitions and recognize that in the end it would seem Mother Nature and Jack Frost decided to reconcile their mischief by providing Mt. Washington with 3-days of upslope snow showers totaling some 25″ (60cm) of cold, dry, surf-able snow!

Snow and Ice Conditions

What has all of this meant for conditions? Well, just what you might expect! We’ve come so far in the last 3 weeks and it seems like it just keeps getting better. While the ice has been hanging around for months, access has often been difficult. Now it is so easy it is laughable. With a pair of skis and climbing skins it’s not taking very much more then 20 minutes to get from Harvard Cabin to the base of The Fan. We know it has “The Fan”, but to give you a sense of how good it has gotten, Huntington is feeling a little bit more like the “Bowl” that we know and love over in Tuckerman Ravine.

This “bowl” effect is created by the convergence of nearly all avalanche run-out paths in Huntington Ravine. Old, hard debris that filled the bowels of the Huntington talus field can still be seen very close to the top of the fire road. This is most noticeable under South and O’Dell Gullies, near the old site of the Albert Dow Rescue Cache. All of this means that snow and ice ripping loose from areas above the fan will very quickly make its way to the bottom of the ravine. Oh, and when Spring does finally arrive the same would be true for rock fall. So, as always safe travel techniques and a strong situational awareness are critical skills, especially if there is active weather occurring.

Regarding ice conditions, it really doesn’t get better then this. Odell and Pinnacle are damn near unrecognizable. Both are incredibly thick. For those interested, Odell’s is even offering up some legitimate stretches of Grade 4 ice. South and Escape Hatch are offering some very scenic snow climbing and even better skiing! The Northern Gullies are offering their usual late season alpine splendors and really shouldn’t be overlooked. So, as the season progresses consider alternatives rather then waiting for our number to be called over in Pinnacle. Keep in mind, falling ice, snow, and rock can be hard to avoid in North and Damnation if there are parties above.

The snow pack in Huntington is providing a very bootable surface making for quick and easy travel towards your climbs. However, cold temperatures and regular snow over the last couple of weeks have rarely brought the ravines below a avalanche rating of MODERATE. As for Huntington Ravine, it seems that this rating is called for in the lower sections of many of the gullies, mainly in narrows or lee areas at the bottom of gullies, but still above the approaches to many climbs. This requires a close analysis of snow pack as you travel. Travel options do exist and for those with even a basic understanding of snow and avalanche science (like myself), the snow would be quite interesting to observe.

NOTE TO SELF/TEAM – It feels good to turn around if you see something you don’t like or don’t understand. Also remember not to let your guard down until you are CLEAR of avalanche terrain!

Please Join Us for our Final Weekend!

Well Friends, this is if..if you haven’t made it up yet this year, the time is now! The winds raged last night and this morning brought about a picture perfect day on the Rock Pile. I’m kicking myself for not recreating today, but I had to spend some day down low to prepare for cabin closing. It looks like it could be a messy weekend as you travel towards the mountain, with the potential for some mixed precipitation types even in the higher elevations, but I’m hoping things will stay mostly frozen. Certainly, we can handle a little bit of liquid if it does happen to fall from the sky. Still, I think it won’t be that bad of a weekend….warmer for sure!

So, consider making it a long-weekend and get here early and stay later. It is going to be busy at the cabin so be sure to register at Pinkham. Throw a tent in the car, just in case! After a slower then normal season, help us finish strong. As a bonus, for those of you spending Monday Night at the cabin, Marcia and I will be heading over to Wildcat Ski Area bright and early on Tuesday, April 1st to take advantage of $9.00 lift tickets. Happy April Fools day, we hope you’ll join us!

Rich Palatino
Harvard Cabin Caretaker

      Rich and Marcia
Cabin Caretakers 2013/14

NOTE – Harvard Cabin is not affiliated with the Appalachian Mountain Club. HarvardCabin is maintained by Harvard Mountaineering Club for use by the general public. The cabin is operated under a special-use permit granted by the USDA Forest Service. Cabin space and tent-sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis between December 1st and March 31st each year. Specific instructions for staying at the cabin can be found online at http://www.HarvardMountaineering.org

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