Tuckerman Ravine Revisited

Lilo and I hiked up to the Hermit Lake shelters on a warm day in January. Our trip pics kicked off a chorus of I-want-to-gos on Facebook and Krista of Paws of Peaks bravely attempted to marshal the troops for a group hike past the shelters to the floor of the ravine to watch the skiers. As happens, many folks were very excited initially and then mysteriously elsewhere when trip day came…but Krista, friend Linda, and I — and three dogs! — had ourselves a glorious hike on — and I know I keep saying this, but it’s because it keeps being true — a very fine winter day.

(It was probably just as well that we didn’t have a big crew, since eeryone in the world was at Pinkham Notch on Saturday. I ended up in overflow parking on the road because the lot was full!)

The Tuckerman Ravine trail is relatively gentle by White Mountain standards. It even has that greatest of local novelties: switchbacks! The grade is moderate but steady and I was kicking myself in pretty short order for having resisted the temptation of a short-sleeved base layer. It’s a hard trail to photograph, being heavily shaded, which does mean that the surface at this point remains mostly ice (both gritty granular stuff and boilerplate). All three pups handled it comfortably, as did the humans in microspikes and light-duty crampons, but barebooting is not yet advised.

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Tybee is a magical fairy of not putting up with your human nonsense.

We made good time up to the turnoffs for Harvard Cabin and Lion Head summer and winter routes (as of today, Lion Head winter is officially closed) and finally to Hermit Lake shelter, where quite a crew of skiers and snowboarders had gathered.

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Safety first!

After a quick breather and adjustment of layers — we were now at 3,900 feet, with 530 to go to reach the floor of the ravine — we pressed on. The trail was briefly deceptively flat passing Hermit Lake and then very decidedly not, steepening abruptly as the terrain dropped away to our left and the sun turned this exposed section’s footing to slippery slush. It was a pretty wonderful spot to take our time; I was especially captivated by the sun glistening on the snow off Boott Spur to our left and by the power of the Cutler River, obvious even from a distance.

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Eyes on the prize!
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Boott Spur.
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Look back to the Wilcat ski slopes.
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The ridge of which Lion Head is a part.
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Snow on the ground equals Tango in husky heaven.

And of course the great benefit of hiking with dog people is that they understand the need to stop and pose the pooches on every scenic rock along the way…

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She’ll strike a majestic pose with the other dogs, but not with me. I see how it is.

As KB noted on the Bondcliff post, this has been a really dry and mild winter and parts of the trails already look an awful lot like they will in the summer months. I enjoy the warm weather, but I was kind of hoping not to see the return of rock-hopping quite yet!

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Shortly before reaching the ravine, we passed the first aid cache that sits as a vivid reminder of the power of these beautiful places. As the Mt Washington Avalance Center notes, “Even the location of the first aid cache is exposed to avalanche hazards.” We were there on a low-probability day, but there were apparently two airlifts from the mountain for due to unspecific “life-threatening” injuries associated with “long sliding falls” (not avalanches) over the weekend. I’m fascinated by the balancing act of safety and adventure, as some of you know, and I’m so grateful to be able to play in these places that make both so very real.

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At last, we reached the floor of the ravine under a vibrant bluebird sky. The wind was stronger here, but intermittent, and we made ourselves a little camp not too far from Lunch Rocks and settled in to watch the skiers play. I like to think of myself as pretty game, but I cannot imagine being hardcore enough to climb up the headwall and ski back down again repeatedly!

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Train of skiers heading up…
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…this gully.
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I never figured out what this group was doing. There was supposedly an avalanche/mountaineering training class in the ravine at the time we were — maybe this was them?

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And of course snacked!

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So lucky to have a group of dogs who are happy to peacefully coexist around food. They know we always have plenty for everyone!

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Lilo wasn’t sure what to make of the skiers; she ignored them at a distance but couldn’t stop staring when they came close. Made it hard to take a nice staged pic of us both, so we improvised!

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Tango would have stayed up in the ravine all day, but the wind eventually started making the shorter-haired girls a little antsy, so we packed up and headed down again.

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We ran into many, many more skiers and boarders on their way up and at one point Lilo and I found ourselves camped out on a rock off to the side of the trail for a good 10min while we let first one dog, then a big group of people, then another dog, then another big group, all go by on an especially steep and narrow section. Everyone we met all day, with two legs and four, was in a great mood and happy to share the trail. Lilo met several dogs very nicely and let herself be fully distracted by cheese while several others passed. She also desperately wanted to play with a young Lab that I’m pretty sure she thought was her dear friend, Amanda‘s pup Arya…!

We finally had clear trail below and headed downhill at some speed hoping to catch the rest of our group — I ended up doing some inadvertent butt-sliding, which is one way to get down quick! — but it turned out that I needn’t have worried about holding them up. Lilo and I rejoined them at the Hermit Lake shelter where Tango and Ty were being photographed like rockstars with a bunch of adoring fans who were part of the AMC Youth Opportunities Program. The kids and their group leader were fantastic; it was a delightful addition to an already delightful day.

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Last look at Boott Spur shining in the sun.
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Back to the ravine past the Hermit Lake shelter deck.

The hike down was mostly uneventful except for one short side trek that I made to follow some postholing bootprints for a look at a gorgeous(but too shadowy for my phone camera to handle) narrow cascade. This also brought the biggest surprise of all: Lilo followed me!

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She’s a gem of a trail dog but has historically preferred to stand on terra firma and tell me I’m crazy when I move off into deeper snow. This time she left the crew, found herself chest-deep in snow, and just kept on going until she got to me. On the one hand, I’m not sure I should encourage her to go along will all my stupid ideas, but on the other, I was really touched!

The hike down was uneventful and I’ve intentionally left the next couple of weekends wide-open, so I’m not sure where we’ll end up next. I did see that the river trail in our local (heavily scare-quoted) “downtown” is finally free of ice, though — so that’ll be on the docket at some point soon!

If you haven’t had enough of Tuckerman yet, please go check out the Paws on Peaks post about this outing, which includes a charming picture of a certain pit bull using me as an armchair.

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4 thoughts on “Tuckerman Ravine Revisited

    1. I will defer to the people who actually ski! I know at least a few of ’em have “gully” as part of the name (the creatively-named Left Gully and Right Gully), but that’s all I got. 🙂

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