Thursday, May 24, 2012

5-24-12 Tuckerman Ravine: June 17, 1969

I want to go back once more and briefly to Tucks because Memorial Day weekend is upon us and it is THE iconic holiday celebrated faithfully and for decades in Tuckerman Ravine. To be able to ski over the Lip on Memorial Day is a marker for an exceptional, truly great snow year. I don't have statistics handy to list the years when it was possible to ski over the Lip this late in May, but the photos below are from mid-June 1969, which was a record snow year on Mt. Washington and it was possible to ski the Lip into the first week of June. The first two photos, the one above and the one below, were taken in April 1984. The first one is of Tuck shelter by moonlight with Boott Spur in the back ground.
This photo of the bowl was taken a few seconds after the one above. It was bright enough to hand hold the camera while I exposed the Tri-X for 1 second.  

This is what the bowl looked like on 6-20-69 from the First Aid Cache. The quality of the following black and white photos is not great. I took them "on assignment" for the Associated Press (AP). I'd finally graduated from college and had my first full-time "real" job as rookie reporter for a great newspaper, the Rutland Herald, in Rutland, VT. and I conned my editor, Harry Levins, into letting me use a Herald news car to report on the record snows on Mt. Washington which, in reality, was an excuse to head to New Hampshire and play in the Ravine for a day. The negatives were developed in the newspaper's darkroom (43 years ago!) so not developed archivally and haven't held up well. They weren't wiped either so have a lot of spotting.

The December 1969 Appalachia contains a long, well documented chronicle of the 1968-1969 snow fall which was remarkable in many respects. It began in November with unusual heavy snows all over the north country. The total for November at Pinkham Notch was 35 inches with 66.5 more inches falling in December. In February 130 inches fell creating a total on the ground of 164. At the summit, the Observatory, measured 49.3 inches of snow that fell in one 24-hour period on February 24th. That storm continued for another 91 hours dropping a total of 97.8 inches, another record (for a single storm). Guy Gosslin, Chief Observer at the "Obs" at the time wrote, "beside providing the necessary snow for the rerunning of the American Inferno, the storm caused avalanches on many trails and slopes including Tuckerman Ravine, Ammonoosuc Ravine, Lion Head and Great Gulf." (Guy's remark about the American Inferno is similar to the remark I made in the last blog piece that an Inferno was run in 1969, but, if memory serves me correctly, they changed the name before the race was held. I may be wrong, though.)

There were three of four people skiing in the center of the headwall. Left Gulley had no run-out. The snow was decent; worth the trip, but my guess was that they're motivation was more about them being able to brag they skied in June.  I brought my skis up from Tuck shelter and took a couple of last runs for the year. There was still patches of snow here and there at the beginning of July that a few people tried skiing on.
Looking straight up at the Lip from Lunch Rocks with sizeable crevasses opened and more starting to open as the snow slipped down the headwall. The Lip actually looks like you could ski it in this photo but after I climbed up closer you could see where the crevasse edges were crumbling so I decided discretion was the better part of valor.
The Lip looked a bit ferocious when you got right up to it.
Dead jay that probably got lost in a storm and froze to death.
The run out was in excellent condition for June; long and wide.

In another blog entry this month I noted that in the 1960s it was permissible to camp in the lower part of the Ravine specifically around Hermit Lake and behind the shelter but not in the Ravine or near any of the ski and hiking trails. The restrictions were loosely enforced. You can see a small tent city in the lee of the trees on the shore of the lake.
Looking up at Boott Spur with Hillman's Highway running diagonally down right to left and Dodge's Drop coming down the center of the photo from the ridge.

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