Posts in Category: Cabin Update

Cabin Update – December 19, 2014

December 19, 2014

Seasons Greetings Mountaineers,

Happy Friday! Despite a better then normal December on Mt. Washington, I’ll skip right to the chase. This weekend is going to be one of the highlights of the season! It was a beautiful day in the Mt. Washington Valley, however, things up high are only now beginning to clear, making way for a picture perfect, windless Saturday on the Rock Pile. Warm too, but not too warm! I know most of you are probably just cutting out of work, trying to finalize plans for the weekend. No surprise, I’m going to insist you to make the trek to Mt. Washington.

Sure, I’m biased towards the alpine, but conditions are actually pointing climbers to the higher elevations this December. Plagued with warm temps and plenty of Rain, I’m sure everyone is aware that things are pretty thin down in the valley.

We are happy folks are making their way up into the ravines this December. We’ve seen a lot of familiar faces over the last few weeks. Many helped out with the cabin atmosphere by staying a night or two. Others made a day of it, but were nice enough to stop in and say hello. Always encouraged and appreciated!

Trail and Ice Conditions

The recommended cabin approach is the Fire Road
via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.

If you have any questions ask a Trail Info Specialist at Pinkham Notch Visitors Center.
Do not take the Huntington Ravine Trail!

Everyone will be happy to know that the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and the Fire Road are both sporting full-coverage and are well-packed. Micro-traction or skis and climbing skins will make life a bit easier, especially the latter, but are not required.

The Forest Service did a great job revamping and adding water-bars on the Tux Trail this summer. Water has drained nicely over the Fall months. Sorry if you were looking forward to the usual grade 3 ice problems that are typical on the cabin approach this time of year. That challenge appears to be absent this year.

Traveling above the cabin is actually very similar until you get up into the lower portions of The Fan where you’ll find the talus/boulder field remains. However, snow fields are developing nicely at the base of most climbs. So, don’t let your guard down when approaching the base of your favorite climbs.

As far as a brief run-down of the gullies I’ll have to say that Pinnacle is in it’s usual December condition, Protectable, but thin. Still, it’s seen lots of traffic. O’Dell is typically fat…good Grade 4 fun on the right. Yale is fickal as ever but, has also seen a fair amount of traffic. Though there have been some route finding challenges so far this season given the touchy snowpack.

As far as Central Gully goes, there is snow all the way to the ridge. However, early season snow pack tends to be thin at the exit and rests on pretty smooth, unprotectable rock slab. Overall, I think avalanche danger should keep everyone out of Central Gully this weekend. That said, tomorrow’s solar gain combined with last nights close to 100 mph/160kph winds might have a settling effect, but I do not have any current beta relating.

Damnation and North  gullies have also seen a fair amount of action this week. Thin but, fairly stable conditions make these both worthy objectives for this weekend. Don’t forget your rock gear!

And for you fellow powder-hounds out there, there is something to be said for skiing right now. Depending on your skill and commitment level, I would say there are some worthy objectives for this weekend – Left Gully in Tuckerman Ravine is skiing mostly top to bottom, Hillmans Highway could offer something fun from the top down through the narrows, and the Summit Snow Fields are fresh with some of the coldest snow we’ve seen so far this winter.

With all of this in mind, don’t forget to pay close attention to the past weeks snow data. Catch up by reading daily advisories starting with last Sunday. Find all the latest info at

Stocking Stuffer – Guided Ascent of Mt. Washington

Finally, in case you don’t know. The Mount Washington Valley is jam packed full of amazing Mountain Guides. Some are independent while many work for a guide service. Having done a fair amount of climbing in other parts of the world, I’m always surprised at not only the caliber of northeast climbers, but to a greater degree the high quality Mountain Guides that originate from the region. Is it in the water? I don’t know, but I am confident in saying that some of the best guides in the World come from the Northeast. Many of which call the Mt. Washington Valley home.

Now, I will never be included in this group of elite mountain guides. I’m far too lazy. Still, given the fact that I have a fantastic life-partner and co-caretaker and a money pit of aVan we’ll call home again this summer, it’s been decided that I should once again join the ranks of the gainfully employed. Heck, if I’m real luck I might qualify for the Affordable Care Act that another well-known Harvard Guy thought was such a good idea. Anyway, if all goes well, I will be guiding Mt. Washington Summit Climbs this winter through Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School in North Conway, NH. I’ll be guiding walk-ups from MondayFriday so that I can still maintain by duties at Harvard Cabin.

So, I know you all have friends and family that don’t really understand us climbers, but are sometimes interested. Instead of trying to get them to practice hard-skills on the green grass, why don’t you sign them up for a Mount Washington Summit Bid through the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. Being new to the whole guide thing, I can’t guarantee they’ll get a day with me, but I’ve been really impressed with the guide staff at EMS. More so I am impressed with the idea of a climbing “School” versus a guide “Service”. The quality climbing guides at EMS will surely remain objective, but the learning starts from the first second each clients arrives at the school. So, regardless of what the day brings, never-evers are sure to walk away with new skills, awareness, and a thirst for more.

I’ll just be working on Mt. Washington, in mostly non-technical environments. But, like all the fantastic guides and services in the Mt. Washington Valley, there is something for everyone regardless of skill level. So, go ahead and give EMS Climbing School a call. Tell them the Crazy Harvard Cabin Caretaker sent you.

1498 White Mountain Highway
North Conway, NH 03860

Upcoming Events

New England Ice Festivals
Mountain Fest: January 16-18, 2015 – Keene Valley, NY
Smuggs Ice Bash: January 23-26, 2015 – Smuggler’s Notch, VT
Mt. Washington Valley Ice Fest: February 6-8, 2015 – North Conway, NH

Harvard Cabin History

Finally, I am forever trying to become more aware of the cabin, it’s history, and the details of how exactly the cabin came to be. I’m humbled over and over again by the history of the cabin, the Harvard Mountaineering Club, and the people that that make them both noteworthy climbing institutions. So, this season I’m going to include some fun factoids about the cabin with every update. At least now, we’ll know who’s actually reading these updates instead of working on those TPS reports :)

Harvard Cabin Fun Fact:

Former HMC President (Class of 1963) Rick Millikan helped with the construction of the Harvard Cabin. He is the Grandson of George L. Mallory who vanished near the top of Mt. Everest in 1924. His other Grandfather, Robert Millikan was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics for his oil-drip experiment which allowed him to make the first accurate figure for the electric charge of a single electron.

Think, the famous words “Because it is there.” And, for your engineers out there, Marcia wants you to recall that cool program on your graphing calculator called the Milliakn Oil Drop Program. Well, those must have been some big shoes to fell. But, Mr. Rick Millikan seemed to do okay in his own right. Among other things Rick was on the first team to make an ascent of Mt. Huntington via the Wickersham Wall.

More fun facts in a couple of weeks. Remember the future of the Harvard Cabin depends on you. We hope to see you soon!

Time to get up the hill! Stay Safe everyone…and don’t forget the Bacon!

Rich Palatino
Harvard Cabin Caretaker

      Rich and Marcia
Cabin Caretakers 2014/15

NOTE – Harvard Cabin is not affiliated with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Harvard Cabin 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

Cabin Update – April 10, 2014

April 10, 2014Harvard Cabin Mountaineers,The 2013/14 Harvard  Cabin season has come to a close. Once again, a lifetime of lighthearted and often hilarious memories crammed into a whirlwind four months! A great many thanks to all Harvard Cabin guests, friends, and regulars, The United States Forest Service Snow Rangers / The Mount Washington Avalanche Center, The Hermit Lake Caretakers, the Harvard Mountaineering Club, and finally my partner, best friend, and co-caretaker, Marcia Steger!I asked for it and you all delivered. We finished the season strong for our final weekend. With a little help from the Harvard Mountaineering Club itself, The cabin was full and so were all the tent-sites around the cabin. At one point, we had 3 former club presidents and a former caretaker in the cabin. As was the case all winter, we also had a great turn-out from many Alums still active with the Mountaineering Club. While I love the cabinbecause of it’s public-use nature, I feel utilization by active club members is critical for the long-term vitality of the cabin. Especially as caretakers come and go season to season, as often is the case. This year has been outstanding in-terms of club members making their way to the cabin. Good Job HMC!

Herb and Peter – A Seasonal Tradition

As for our last night of the season, Marcia and I were hoping we’d have a count and were pleasantly surprised and very delighted to spend it with two clowns named Herb and Peter from the Boston area.

It was only a couple of days before, amidst a jam-packed cabin, that I was lamenting that we weren’t going to see Herb and Peter this season. Being the eternal optimist, Marcia hadn’t given up hope and sure enough they showed up for the final night of the season! What you have to understand is that these two guys claim they’ve paid a visit to thecabin every season for the last 30+ years to scoff at all the fancy, ultra light-weight hi-tech gear, freeze-dried food, and cheap beer…oh and to take a photo with the caretaker(s). I can vouch for the last 5 seasons! These guys are high-up on the list of favorite cabinregulars and I’m sure glad to have spent  time with the jovial pair again this year!

Herb and Peter, thanks for the memorable finish to the season. We can’t wait to see you again soon!

Click to Enlarge
Click Photos to Enlarge

Accidents and Incidents

I’m very relieved that there were no “major” accidents  this  season…a  few  scary incidents, a daring above treeline rescue completed by the USFS Snow Rangers andThe Mountain Rescue Service and one rather disturbing close-call I witnessed in the form of quite the unusual avalanche on the summit cone of Mt. Washington over closing weekend.

Having just topped out via a Escape Hatch in Huntington Ravine my partners and I decided to head in the direction of the summit for some warm, blue bird, snowfield skiing off the summit. We were transitioning back to skis and skins on the Alpine Garden Trail when we heard and observed the large release on the South East Snowfields. There were many backcountry travelers in the vicinity with ski tracks, boot ladders, and evidence of other users visible in the start zone. All making for a very, very scary situation! Quick as I could, I alerted the snow rangers via radio and headed over to commence a beacon search. Luckily, parties closer began searching immediately. The debris was impressive…big blocks about 25 Feet deep near the toe. With the variety users in the area, beacon search was only one tool needed in the aftermath. Surely not many folks on the summit cone that day were beeping. In the end,  No victims! Really miraculous. Nearly two weeks later, I still find myself thinking about how terrible a human toll that slide could have taken. Once again, I was humbled by our “little” mountain. For a full summary of the avalanche, Click Here!

Season Summary – Wet, Warm, and Wintry!

It was a weird weather season on Mount Washington. Despite the cold, snowy winter that effected most of the country, I believe we had a warmer then normal season on The Rock Pile….quite wet too. I remember cursing as hundreds of thousands of people shoveled feet of snow in places like Alabama and Arkansas while we watched water run over rocky trails in New Hampshire! The great “polar vortex” was even less dramatic in the higher elevations. The massive cold weather system came in low, slow, and super-dense pushing warmer air aloft! I remember one day in particular when the mercury rose higher on the summit of Mt. Washington then it did in Atlanta, Georgia!

Despite the weird winter, there was plenty of powder skiing to be had all the way through! March proved itself once again and the ice was superb starting in November! All and all, it was actually not too bad a winter in terms of skiing and climbing. Truth is, while thecabin is closed for the season there is still plenty of winter recreating to be had in the Ravines.  Stay Safe everyone!

If not on the warm rock somewhere, we’ll see you all back at the cabin again next year! Until then, Marcia and I are hitting the road in our Sprinter Van. We’ll be trending towards the Canadian Rockies by next Fall. We hope to share a pitch or two with some of you as we travel across the continent!

Thanks for a great season,

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

Cabin Update – November 27, 2013

November 27, 2013
Seasons Greetings Harvard Cabin Mountaineers,It’s that time of year again! No….not super long e-mails from a crazy winter caretaker. I mean, it’s time to evict the mice and swing open the doors at Harvard Cabin! Sunday, December 1, 2013 will be our first day of the new season! I’m sure everyone is looking forward to another winter filled with exciting alpine endeavors in the New England backcountry. We hope many of the alpine gullies of Mt. Washington are included in your list of objectives for this new ice and snow season!  Despite current weather, it is looking like it is going to be a cold winter! Snowy too…I hope!We talked about better aligning opening day with the weekend, but with the American Thanksgiving Holiday landing on Thursday we decided it was too much to balance. For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, at least now you won’t be tempted to stuff the turkey and the sleeping bag at the same time. Sit back, relax, enjoy the game and some extra time with your friends and family. Earn a few extra brownie points and maybe we’ll get to see you for Christmas or New Years!

Rockpile Turkey Trot anyone?

Planning to be in the Mount Washington Valley this weekend? Marcia and I will be hauling gear and supplies up to the cabin beginning Saturday (and into next week). If you are interested in assisting in the annual transition up-hill reply to this message to coordinate.  I had knee surgery (ACL Reconstruction) this summer and, unfortunately, it will be a slow start to the season for me….at least until the trails are snow covered!

Typical Early Season Trail Conditions Expected

Speaking of trails – like much of the eastern seaboard, we are getting quite the dousing here in the White Mountains. It started out as a wintry mix last night, but along with the low pressure system came some warm air from the south. A classic Nor’easter.  Unfortunately, after a week of very blustery conditions, the mercury rose fast and furious. As I type here about an hour after sunset, the temperature at the Summit of Mt. Washington remains at 3 degree Celsius and the rain continues to fall. No worries though, the temperatures will head back in the right direction overnight. Towards morning, the potential exists for some heavy upslope snow showers on the higher summits. Snow showers will taper off later in the morning, cold, dry air will move in, and hurricane force winds will once again slam into the summits. All said and done, over 2 inches of the wet stuff in 24 hours!

So, after the great sending season we had in New England this Fall, Gimpy here was looking forward to dry, ice free trails for hauling loads up to the cabin. Then last week, a very small part of me was thinking maybe I’d be able to use a sled to haul pantry items, gear, and supplies up to the cabin. I could only hope! Alas, it looks like the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is going to be in its usual early-season condition. So, if you are heading up soon…be sure to pack the micro-spikes, yak-tracks, stabilicers, or what have you. Needless to say, ice formation in technical terrain will continue to be good! It’s already been a great season across all ravines and notches. Tuckerman to King Ravine, Franconia to Crawford Notch, Picks or Sticks, New Englanders has been getting after it this Fall.

Cold, Calm, and Cautious

As for the rest of the season, I’m hoping we can avoid the Yo-Yo effect that we had for much of last season. Though, if another March like last year could be guaranteed, I’d take it! As things stand now, NOAA is reporting average ocean surface temps at the equator which will make for a stable atmosphere, indicative of this years relatively quite hurricane season. The best I am hoping for is consistent cold weather for this winter. It’s looking like that might be the case. More importantly, I am hoping for everyone’s safety. Last season was far too spicy, scary, and sad for my liking.

Staying at the cabin…

Finally, I’d like to remind everyone that the Harvard Cabin is a public-use cabin operated by the Harvard Mountaineering Club on a first-come, first-serve basis. Everyone wishing to stay at the cabin must register at Pinkham Notch before heading uphill. The HarvardCabin Register can be found at the Trail Information Desk at the Visitor Center during business hours and downstairs in the pack-up room after hours. The cabin sleeps 16 people per night. There is also room for 16 additional campers outside at the Harvard Tent Sites. Rates are $15.00 per person, per night inside, $10 per person, per night outside. US Currency Only. Be sure to read ALL instructions when signing-in so that you arrive prepared and able to fully enjoy your time at the cabin!

If you have any questions you can e-mail or speak to a Trail Information Specialist at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

Upcoming Events

December 7, 2013 – Reel Rock  8
Join the AAC and International Mountain Equipment for a showing of the REEL ROCK 8 film tour on Saturday evening, December 7 at 7:00 PM at IME in downtown North Conway, NH. Tickets are $10 at the door.

New England Ice Festivals
Mountain Fest: January 18-20, 2014 – Keene Valley, NY
Smuggs Ice Bash: January 24-26, 2014 – Smuggler’s Notch, VT
Vice Fest: January 24-26, 2014 – Franconia Notch, VT
Mt. Washington Valley Ice Fest: January 31- February 2, 2014 – North Conway, NH

Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop – Continuing Education Series
A new program offered by the USFS Mount Washington Valley Avalanche Center and the Friends of MWAC. Free and open to the public the talks are geared towards recreational backcountry users who’ve already taken an avalanche course or who have significant experience traveling in avalanche terrain. Held monthly at IME and spearheaded by USFS Snow Ranger Jeff Lane. For more details Click here for a flyer (200 Kb).

See you on the hill! Think Snow,
Rich Palatino
Harvard Cabin Caretaker

NOTE – Harvard Cabin is not affiliated with the Appalachian Mountain Club.Harvard Cabin 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.

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