Monday, May 3, 2010

4-30-10 Ammonoosuc Ravine avalanche track

Mt. Washington at 9 am April 30, 2010 after another 2 feet, or so, of heavy snow found it's way to the Range. This is a telephoto view from the Base Station Road looking about 4 miles to the base station and another mile into Ammonoosuc Ravine on the right side of the cog tracks.

The base station of the cog railway looks much like it did a month ago with the new mantel of snow. Large April dumps of snow are not unusual in the White Mountains but they're always
exciting, newsworthy events. (To be continued.....)

The first clear sign of the winter avalanche as I ascended the Ammonoosuc (Ammy) Ravine Trail was this debris dam on the river. It's a small amount of debris but a harbinger of things to come.

A hundred yards further up and the amount of debris strewn across the river bed increases exponentially.

I will admit that I was foundering in the deep snow. Even with snowshoes I was sinking in a few feet every step which was arduous to say the least. I was delighted when I saw help on the way in the form of this lad who was with a party of three skiers heading up to the ridge and would be a great assist breaking trail.

The amount of snow on the ground was astonishing. It was in a transition between powder and a wet, medium-heavy snow and not difficult to negotiate by itself, but the depth was difficult as the snowshoes couldn't sit on top of it.

It was very slow going and was like pedaling a bicycle up a steep hill. I'd place my right snowshoe and get a sensory message that it would sit on top of the snow and begin to shift my weight when the snowshoe and my foot would sink down 18 inches suddenly and confound my left foot before I had a chance to shift my weight.

The wind was roaring on the summit. You can just make out the snow plumes in this telephoto. The US Forest Service had posted a "severe avalanche danger" warning on all the ravines on the east side of the mountain and the same conditions existed here in Ammonoosuc Ravine. The skier I was hiking up with were going to be confined to skiing in the upper snowfields and the woods. They continued up the Ammy trying to get as high up as they could to start their run down. I ventured out on to the January avalanche track to get some photos.

You can easily see the difference in this photo to the photos I took a month ago and two months ago. A lot of the base layer of snow has melted and the river has cut through the remaining base exposing some of the avalanche debris.

This is a spruce tree that was already dead when it was snapped off by the avalanche. It's more of a metaphor than a document of the avalanche's power. When I see these trees that have been snapped off, or ripped right out of the ground I wonder about the horrific sounds the avalanche must have made.

This photo is close to the place where I took similar photos in March and early April for comparisons.

This is the far corner the avalanche took as it careened off the ridge and headed down the river bed. Most of these trees, although badly damaged, will probably live.

At this point I was beginning to question the wisdom of walking on the existing avalanche track as it was possible another one, perhaps a little smaller, might be triggered. I had no desire to try and out run one.

I cut straight across the track to get a few more photos and headed up into the woods on the south side of the ravine intending to bushwhack until I found the trail to finish my ascent.

This photo pretty much covers the entire area of the ravine where an avalanche is probably. You can make out several potential fracture lines across the whole section about a third of the way down from the top.

I thought it would be a lark to ascend to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail through the woods but it turned out to be exhausting. It was very steep, the snow slid out from under me and I had to pull myself up using "vegetable holds" (tree trunks and branches) and I got soaking wet in the process. Everything I had in my pack got wet as well as all my clothes. I had to wrap my camera up and stow it in the middle of my pack to protect it from the moisture. I finally caught up with the skiers who were 3/4 of the way up the headwall and climbed with them for a while but reached my turn-around-time well short of Lakes of the Clouds Hut and descended.
Gem Pool located about half way between the Cog Railway Base Station and Lakes of the Clouds.

This shows the depth of the snow as of 4-30-10. There's a good 4-5 feet left aided and abetted by the recent storm.

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