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Mt Washington State Park, March 19th, 2012

Posted on by Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park

By the calendar this past week was still officially ‘winter’ but it definitely felt spring like on the summit of Mt Washington. We had all sorts of weather from light snow to rain to fog

to stunning undercasts where the clouds are below the summit. Our summit weather stations’ web camera network caught some interesting glimpses of these undercasts. In Jackson it was socked in by clouds

From Jackson

when at same time the summit of Wildcat was bright sunshine.

From Wildcat
Ice & Undercast

The unseasonably warm weather has melted the snow near the base of the auto road so much that the Muddy Paws Sled Dog Team summit attempt, scheduled for last Wednesday, had to be postponed until next winter which hopefully will be snowier than this past winter. We are now driving our pick-up trucks up to the start of the 5 mile and only using snow cats for the upper mountain.

The snow on the mountain is beginning to turn into ‘corn snow‘ which takes several freeze/thaw cycles to produce. Corn snow is stable even in avalanche prone slopes and is very fun to ski. But watch out, sometimes during a thaw cycle or heavy rain, once stable snow can become unstable when running water and dammed up by snow drifts creates slush pockets that can produce dangerous slush avalanches. This type of avalanche comprises a fluid mixture of snow and water in which water is predominant. Slush avalanches may occur following a major snow melt or strong rains on the snowpack. In such conditions it is advisable not to assemble in brook beds or where large streams flow into the bottom of the valley. Slush avalanches may be triggered with a gradient of less than 30 degrees (as low as 0 degrees) and may have a range that is far beyond the 20 degree rule.

Slush Avalanche Drawing

When slush starts to build on the auto road our snow cats can easily get stuck so we try our best to put in water bars to help drain water off road and push the slushy snow away

before it can build into huge slush traps. Fortunately for spring skiers there is no heavy rain in the 5 day forecast but plenty of sun!

This past season, more and more¬†serious winter hikers have completed an amazing endurance feat which is to hike all 48 of NH’s peaks that are over 4,000′ from December 21st to March 20th. According to Park Ranger Guy Jubinville, last year when he completed the ‘winter grid,’ he was one of only 15 to achieve the feat and he thought that was a lot of people. This year Guy says there were over 30 hikers who completed the winter grid including blind hiker ‘Zip’ Pierce and his Seeing Eye dog Quinn! Maybe next year this hiker will be the first to try to do all 48 peaks in winter on stilts!

Stilted Hiker
Tuckerman & Huntington Ravines on March 16, 2012
Wildcat
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About Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park

I've been working atop Mt Washington for past 30 years so you can guess I like it above the tree line! After all these years I still never tire of the beauty of our NH White Mtns and consider my employment an extreme honor and privilege to work for the State Of NH and serve its visitors. When not on the summit you can find me enjoying the rock & ice climbing one of the many beautiful granite cliffs we have in Franconia, Crawford or Echo Lake State Parks. I have taken these climbing skills learned at our NH State Parks to climb in Alaska, Andes, Canadian Arctic and Himalayas. I live in Gorham NH with my wife Diane Holmes. View all posts by Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park →
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