Trip Report: Tuckerman Ravine
Photos Dan Brown, Joe Gaetani
Joe G. Serious Splitboarder, backcountry explorer
Steve A. The Veteran: has ridden backcountry BC and Colorado,
Dan B. The Lens: Dan is a photographer from Kapitol Photography
Me: Backcountry rookie.
8.5 miles climbed
4200 vertical feet
Weather 45-60 degrees with rain, fog, sun, and cold winds at elevation. A mixed bag for sure.
My first trip to Tuckerman Ravine was an overwhelmingly unpleasant experience. I went on a busy weekend a few years ago and saw people doing unimaginably stupid things. Riding in marked high risk avalanche zones-and triggering big slides. Sledding on pool toys in runout zones. Letting their kids play in slide zones. The list continues. My day culminated with an undignified slide ¾ of the way down the Chute on my back.
Tuckerman’s is perhaps the most famous of East Coast backcountry zones so when the chance to return on a mellow weekday came up I was stoked on the opportunity to experience it on a “good day” to see what it was all about. It turned out to be one of the most memorable days of my season.
Our day started off in the rain down at the Pinkham Notch visitor’s center. The rain passed quickly and our crew made the hike up to Hermit Lake in about 1.5 hours. To our disappointment the entire ravine was socked in with fog. The forecast called for afternoon sun so we waited it out with a few other skiers and riders for about an hour and sure enough the fog started to clear and the bowl loomed over us in all its glory in the distance.
Snow conditions up in the ravine were good. We found bumped up soft spring snow with low avalanche danger. Our safety concerns were undermined snow, crevasses, and the potential for falling ice. Left Gully looked like the best call so without much hesitation Joe, Steve, and I started the long climb up. Sure enough a skier climbing ahead of me punched through some undermined snow and fell in up to his waist. It was an awkward affair getting him out but a good lesson for me to stay on my toes. Shortly after that Steve strapped in and rode down. From there it was just Joe and I making the steep climb up past the choke point of the gully.
We reached a point where climbing further wasn’t feasible so we decided to strap in and ride down from there. This was where the question of “how do you strap in on a 45 degree slope?” reared its ugly head. Joe has a lot more backcountry experience than I do and he coached me through the complex dance required to accomplish the task without going for an unpleasant slide. Ok ready to shred? Eh not quite. My first run was unquestionably shaky. I was stiff, nervous, and my snowboard felt all kinds of awkward underneath me. As I made my way down I started to relax, let the board run a little, and by the bottom I was enjoying my turns and feeling like I had exorcised some of the demons from my previous visit.
After lunch, Joe and I hit up Hillman’s Highway where we found the best snow of the trip. My legs were feeling shot but I pushed up most of the way before tapping out. While I rested on a relatively comfortable shelf Joe climbed the last few hundred feet to the top and rode down to me. From there we cruised together down super fun peel-away spring snow on Hillman’s. Those were some of the most memorable turns of my season and I will be hanging on to that throughout my snow-free summer in NYC.
We made it down to the visitor’s center at 6 pm. Tired and content, I limped into the parking lot hating my snowboard boots which I had hiked the whole 8.5 mile day in. Steve (who had come down earlier,) welcomed me with the victorious Viking sounds of Amon Amarth exploding from his car…how could I not laugh? We celebrated with a beer and all agreed that the day was a success. For me it was great to experience what the backcountry can and should be like, rather than the circus I saw my first visit. No crowds, no stupidity, just a few good friends. I’m definitely looking forward to more backcountry adventures with this crew. Check out a few photos comparing my two trips to Tuckerman Ravine on Flickr.
Note: This trip was also an opportunity for me to test out some outerwear from Homeschool Snowboarding, a new technical clothing company based out of the Pacific Northwest. I put a hard day on those clothes and they performed great. Check the review out Here. Pics for the trip Click here