We agreed to meet at Pinkham Notch in front of the scale at 8:30, but knowing the history of this group, we were dubious. As we approached the notch, we saw the parking lot was full, and people had just started parking along the side of Rt 16, and I grabbed the last spot in a section just north of the main parking lot. By chance, I knew the people next to us, more connections from the Dartmouth Outing Club. It took Brenda and I about 10 minutes to pack up and we headed over to the visitor's center, arriving exactly at 8:30 where we met two of our party, Lafe and Allison. We hung around there a while, drank water, checked the conditions, and ran into people we knew who were heading up. Just before 9:00 we saw Andrew, who said they had just arrived and were dropping people off before going to Wildcat to park. We decided to head up and meet them in the ravine.
The trip up the Tuckerman Ravine trail was pretty much as we expected. The trail was snow covered from the bottom, but it was hard packed and footing was good. There were hundreds of people we saw along the way, some just hiking up to watch, other with skis, snowboards, tubes and sleds attached to packs in a variety of odd ways. We just charged on, striping down clothes as our exertion made us hot. The sun was out most of the time, but clouds blew by overhead. Lafe and Al just flew ahead of us, with me pulling up the rear, and we arrived at HoJo's at 10:15, just 1:15 from Pinkham to our first view of the ravine. The place was crowded with skiers, and we could see some folks already up on Hillman's Highway and the ravine. After observing the first aid cache and the warning signs we pushed up the final climb to the ravine.
This last stretch took us 20 minutes of fairly steep climbing, opening out to the floor of the ravine. The view was spectacular. We talked briefly to the snow ranger and headed to the left, under the Left Gully to dump packs and set up our spot. There was a nice rock that we climbed up and took in the whole ravine. Most of the skiers were headed up Left Gully, but every run had some skiers. It was mostly cloudy overhead, with the sun poping out every few minutes and lighting the snow up like a flood light. We had a bite to eat and put most of our clothes now that we weren't hiking anymore. We took in the atmosphere of the ravine; Lunch Rocks, the ice falls, dogs running around, and a crop of skiers and boarders coming over the headwall. As more people kept entering the ravine, Lafe, Al, and I put on our tele ski boots and began the trip up the Left Gully. Brenda took my camera and a Crazy Creek chair and followed us up the first third of the way to photograph our adventures.
Brenda stopped at this nice rock, just below the narrow part of the Left Gully. It had a great view of the entrance to the ravine, with the hoards of people now arriving. There were also great views across the ravine to the Headwall, Right Gully, and the Lunch Rocks. The climb up was very difficult, especially in my tele boots which made it difficult to kick steps in the icy snow. Lafe was way above me, then Al who was also out of sight, and I stopped to rest a few times, taking pictures of the incredible telemark skiers coming down. Near the top, where the Gully turns left, we were pelted by falling snow and occasional chunks of ice, kicked down by climbers and skiers. At the top of the climb the bare rocks offer a stable place to put your feet and regain your composure. The view of the summit, and Alpine Gardens were amazing! I wanted to stay up there and explore a while, but I thought the delay it would make it harder to build up my nerve to ski down. Lafe and Al were getting their courage together just below me, so I walked down to them and put on my skis. Then we were ready for the descent.
Brenda, meanwhile, was getting cold waiting of us and watching the skiers on the Headwall. It took me 30 minutes to climb up, and she was expecting Lafe who started up much earlier to be down by now. She witnessed the worst crash of the day while we were in the Gully. A skier came down over the ice falls on the Headwall, aparently backwards, and flipped head over heels repeatedly while smashing into the rocks and ice. Even in the Left Gully we could hear everyone in the ravine let out a gasp. After coming to a halt, the person finally sat up, setting off the biggest cheer of the day. His face was cut up pretty badly but seems to have made it down under his own power.
Just as we started moving, another tele skier lost it at the very top of the Left Gully and slid head first down and out of our sight. Not the best confidence builder. We were on a snowy ledge on the left of the Gully, looking down. It was very steep, and you couldn't see the center of the Gully below us. Lafe headed out and instantly was out of sight. We found out later that after he cleared our line of sight he fell and slid about 100', headfirst, taking (literaly) a ton of loose corn snow with him. He didn't hit anything or anyone, and got back up by the time we saw him again, but was shaken. Al and I made the first turn, slipped sideways a bit, and made it to the center without disaster. I made a few good turns and stopped to take a pic of Al and Lafe down the throat of the gully. I felt good, so I kept on skiing, making it through the narrow section and down to Brenda. I had made my first run at Tuckerman and survived!
Lafe and Al eventually made it down, a little slower but doing just fine. They'd skied Tuckerman before, but never the Left Gully and never on telemark gear. We decided to head into the center of the ravine for a bit more skiing and to see if we could find the rest of our group. We did find them, over on the right side of the ravine below a run called the Lobster Claw. Ed, Ching, Andrew, Erin, and Eric had all made it, but Ed was the only one planning on skiing. After the traditional greeting, he and Lafe headed right back up the Headwall, taking a run from above the Lunch Rocks and did well. The rest of us rested, ate, drank LOTS of water, and watched people ski and fall.
By now, many more people were climbing up the headwall, but the conditions were getting icy. After food and rest, Allison and I headed up to the Chute, planning on stopping just before it got real steep on a big snow ledge. As the afternoon wore on, the snow got icier and more skied off. People were falling in much greater numbers, and the people up on the headwall seemed stuck up there, unable to negotiate turns on the steep hardpack. As Allison and I made it to the snow ledge, a woman snowboarder wiped out coming down the headwall. She fell several hundred feet, her snowboard was ripped off her feet and sent flying, she was tumbling like a rag doll. After she came to a stop, she didn't move for over a minute while the snow rangers ran up to her shouting "Don't move her!" to the other skiers who were nearby. She eventually started moving on her own but was clearly out of it. With that freshly in our mind, and more skiers flying down the Chute completely out of control, we started down the run. Both of us did pretty well, with minor falls in the heavy corn snow but enjoying the run. I lost my hat in a fall, and Andrew ran up to get it, rolling his way back down. Allison had a great run. By then, I was pretty exhausted. We watched Ed and Lafe take another run higher up on the right side of the headwall. Ed took a fall early on and slid down about 200'. He then had to hike back up to retrieve his pole but finished in style. Lafe cut across the ravine to the area below the ice fall and made a nice run down the center of the ravine.
Al tried one last run on the Lobster Claw, a run to the right of the Right Gully. The snow conditions were getting difficult and she didn't go up too far. Then we all started down. Those of us on skis (Lafe, Al, Ed, and I) went down the Sherbourne ski trail, everyone else walked back down the Tuckerman Trail. The Little Headwall, just below the ravine, had some open water so we had to side slip a bit to make it down. Once you get near Hojos it opens up into a 20' wide mogul filled ski trail, with occasional mud. We skied down with our full packs so it was interesting. My legs were doing better than Lafe and Al so I took off and made it to the bottom in about 30 minutes. You had to take off skis before the river crossing and walk the final 5 minutes. When everyone else arrived (with Ken and Karen who got a really late start, as usual) we sat on the porch of Pinkham Notch and reflected on the day. Life is good.
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