Mount Washington Skiing – Huntington Ravine & Tuckerman Ravine
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
This is harder than I thought it would be, are we more than half way yet?” asked a tuckered out man sitting on a rock on the side of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Becca and I just looked at each other because we knew we weren’t close yet. “We get there when we get there,” we cheerfully chirped.
Sure our packs were heavy, between 30 and 40 pounds, loaded with our ski/snowboard gear, clothing and food and beverages. The tuckered out man’s pack was much heavier because on top of his ski gear he was carrying camping supplies for spending the night at the Hermit Lake Shelters. A few moments later we passed a few of his friends. One of the men had a bloody face; he fell on it when he tripped on the trail. Yikes!
Hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail isn’t easy, but thousands of people do it every spring to reach the snow that has piled up in Mount Washington’s most famous ravine, Tuckerman Ravine. The Dartmouth Outing Club, young Brooks Dodge and the Inferno Ski Race over the Ravine’s Headwall are legendary.
Young adventurers still come to ski in the dangerous mountains where avalanches roll alongside partying college students and older diehards that choose the less steep slopes—I don’t think things have changed much since the 1940s.
As we hiked up the rocky Tuckerman Ravine Trail the snow started to appear and in less than a mile we were walking on hard packed snow suitable for skinning.
Becca and I put on our boots and gear. I use skis. Becca is a snowboarder and uses a split board—a snowboard that splits in half to become like two skis for uphill travel. Removable skins are used on the bottom of our boards to allow us to ski uphill without sliding back.
We decided to turn up the Huntington Ravine Fire Road to see if we could skin up into the Ravine. It didn’t look like anyone else had skied here in sometime. The snow was well packed and in excellent condition even though the Harvard Cabin had closed weeks ago. All the bridges were bare but we just slid gingerly across them. There were two difficult stream crossings but we were able to just get over them by going into the trees.
We were quite pleased that we were able to make it right up past the big boulders and up into the bowl but we couldn’t see much of anything. It was warm but it was foggy. We went up the bowl’s wall a couple hundred feet but decided not to go any further because quite frankly we didn’t know much about skiing here. This was our first time here when there was spring snow. We decided to come back next year.
We pulled off our skins and Becca put her snowboard back together and we made a dozen wonderful turns back down to the bottom of the bowl and then all the way down to the intersection of the Raymond Path.
We put back on our skins and climbed up The Raymond Path to where it connects to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail just below the Hermit Lake Shelters. We found super snow conditions with nice clean snow and again we had the trail all to ourselves.
We arrived at Hermit Lakes Shelters about noon and on the deck at Hojos we shared a picnic table with Arthur. He comes every spring and hasn’t missed a spring in over 22 years. At least it wasn’t raining but the clouds teased us and gave us glimpses of the Tuckerman Ravine Bowl above and nearby gullies of Hillman’s Highway.
People continuously arrived and most chose to continue the half mile climb to the floor of the Bowl.
We decided to head over to Hillman’s Highway. Hillman’s is across the way from the Hermit Shelters, not in the bowl but on the shoulder of Boot Spur and right above the Sherburne Trail.
Arthur had the same plan and the three of us set-off together.
A few years ago there was a big slide and rocks and debris covered the floor of the gullies and we had to get around the pile of rocks by bushwhacking through the brush and small trees. There were lots of trampled branches and tracks in all directions. Thankfully it was a short push to reach the good open snow.
The three of us skinned as high as we could before bare-booting and kicking in steps made more sense. The higher we climbed the wall of the gully got steeper. Becca and Arthur stopped before reaching the top of the lip but I continued. I thought no one was above me but when I got around the narrows I could see a man above me making slow progress. He had an ice axe and set it every step. I kicked my way up like climbing a ladder. I didn’t pass him but we reached the top at the same time.
I was disappointed that I couldn’t see Washington’s summit cone, I know it’s right there! But the clouds parted just enough a few times so we could see the far side of Tuckerman Ravine. I left Bob behind to rest, he would catch up to us later on the Sherburne Trail—as he said, he skis faster than he climbs.
I put my skis on and jumped in and this was the most fun of the day. I made big quick turns down the steep gully.
Becca and Arthur were still waiting for me and I skied down to them. They were ready to get on their way.
We were able to ski the Sherburne Trail most of the way back. The snow got thin and then we struggled to find ribbons of snow and fast grass to slide upon. The rope was across the trail at cross-over #3, about two thirds of a mile from our cars!
From the top of Hillman’s Highway to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center the elevation drops more than 3,000 vertical feet. Yah, it was a good day.