Tuckerman Ravine: Because It’s There

Tuckerman Ravine from the First Aid Cache

The lifts have long since stopped turning but the east coast ski season is still far from over. After two years on the late season disabled list, it is with great pleasure that I am able to extend my season through spring and into summer.

I often wonder why I do it. Why punish myself for a few short runs totaling less vertical than that hiked to and from the skiing? Some might answer for the love of skiing or the passion of earning turns. But that rings hollow to me. There is something much more primal at work in this regard.

The truth is that there is no reason nor logic. There is no concrete premeditated thought process driving me to ski to the bitter end. There is something unconscious and primal pushing me towards such things. I do it because it’s there. And because I can.

MadPatSki on Tuckerman Ravine Trail

MadPatSki and I hatched plans to ski this weekend. I was working on Sunday and thankfully the weather cooperated for Saturday. After a leisurely start, we made good time up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. In the ultimate jinx, during the switchbacks I commented on how pleasant it was to hike bug free. By the time we reached HoJos, two dozen bite marks spotted my legs.

MadPatSki Arrives at HoJos

I was enormously pleased with the snow coverage in the bowl. Easily twice as much vertical as typically found in late June or early July with half the ravine’s vertical covered in the Sluice area. Broken snow was lingering in Hillman’s that was not worth the effort. Intrepid spirits could easily make the cross over into Left Gully where a respectable amount of snow remained. Below the Chute and looker’s left of lower headwall both had enough snow for turns but both looked like far too much effort for far too few turns. The majority of skiers and boarders ascended looker’s right which offered the longest vertical drop down to the ravine floor.

MadPatSki Starting the Climb

A solid booter was already put in with occasional rekicking of steps required due to skier and rider wash out. Sliding dangers were relatively limited with a narrow bottleneck providing the only major concern. The biggest danger was first time Tuckerman skiers and riders and hikers both ascending and descending the closed Tuckerman Ravine Trail. While in the boot ladder, I spied two hikers on my left opting to cross the snow instead of retracing their steps and selecting an alternative hiking route. I quickly made double time to get above the hiker precariously kicking steps across the snow pack. Had the snow been slightly firmer, the hiker would have slid into a cravase and required a rescue.

Once above the traversing hikers, I clicked into my skis and awaited what I thought would be their certain death. But luck favored the foolish today and no Darwin Awards shall be given (just yet). But above and to my left, I hear boulders crashing downward! Two hikers hell bent on hiking a closed trail failed to understand that the reason the Tuckerman Ravine Trail was closed was that the trail was cut off by a glacier of snow. The hikers attempted to ascend the 40-50 degree Sluice headwall area and were forced back down. Thankfully their folly and loose rocks did not kill any one.

MadPatSki Under the Waterfall

Back on the snow, amateur day continued with many first time Tuckerman Ravine sliders in far over their heads. Ranging from deathly afraid and timid to frighteningly fearless, the amount of fatal near-falls in decidedly no fall territory was sobering. But not all the first timers put on a show for all the wrong reasons: I witnessed a switch pseudo-butt naked for the first time and it was done with style. Obama might suggest that brothers need to pull up their pants. But pseudo doesn’t count if you really want those gnar points.

Snowmonster Skis Around a Cravase

My skiing ranged from tentative to overpowering. There is something eerie about clicking in and preparing to make a first turn in no fall terrain. Having never brought my Dynafits to Tuckerman before, clicking into “dynafiddles” on a narrow shelf had me on edge about making those first few turns. I have said in the past that Dynafits are more bomb proof and better on the down than Freerides. It is one thing to make such a boast but another thing to trust your life that you correctly clicked into fiddly bindings on a narrow platform.

The upper section was too variable and undulated to be fully enjoyable whereas the lower snowfield was wide open and a blast. After two top to bottom runs, I opted to boot up only three quarters and ski from the choke by the cravase opening. This was much more enjoyable despite the lower angle and I returned to the three quarters mark for a fourth and final run.


Top of the Run

Every time I down hike the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the bowl, I ask myself what possesses me to suffer through the torture. And every time I later find myself forgetting about the torture and only remembering the turns and the people I shared the turns with. I keep forgetting faster and faster every time. To the point that by the time I unshouldered my pack and sat in my car, the only question was how many more times I was going to do it again this season.

4 thoughts on “Tuckerman Ravine: Because It’s There

  1. Excellent report. The best adventures always have elements of fear & commitment (clicking in in a no-fall zone) and suffering through discomfort. So yes, because it’s there, but also because there’s a great deal of satisfaction in meeting the challenges. Plus it’s a hell of a lot of fun and the scenery doesn’t suck either.

  2. The “fiddly binding” comment reverberates in my mind. I’ve put telebindings on in tough spots before, but never in a spot that would give an experienced alpine skier pause.

    I’d always knew at some level that Tuckerman was busy, and that a certain percentage of people who were there, probably weren’t ready for it. Is the number of newbies in the raving on the rise? And what are the questions a Tux virgin should be asking himself?

    Dig your spring TRs. When there’s no pow frenzy, you take more pics. Nice one River.

  3. Stepping into the binding on the perch really was not that bad. Perhaps I over stated it in my report. It was just the mental aspect: I had never had to click into that binding in a weird situation. It is just different and I am not used to that transition in exposed areas. I have certainly experienced far more precarious click in situations than in this TR which actually featured a very nice and well defined perch. So it wasn’t the situation that gave me pause but just not having done it with that binding before and a general trust factor.

    Who knows about newbies in the Ravine. I could care less. Welcome all to the BC, I was a newbie once myself. Everyone should be a Newbie at Tucks at some point, if only that many skiers were that committed to the activity. My concern wasn’t newbies but inexperience. More specifically expert level proficiency inexperience. It is not a forgiving place if you are right on the edge of falling constantly. Tux has always had that type inexperience, but I was surprised to see it in June.

    Thanks regarding the pics. I brought up my new E-PL2 and had a ball using it. While it certainly is the photographer and not the equipment, the pictures taken by the E-PL2 are definitely a step up in quality from any other point and shoot I have ever used. I just love the color and saturation. I shot both RAW/JPG at the same time but I usually just work with the JPG as it is just so good out of the camera. I need to bring my telephoto lens next time.

  4. Great report and pics, Steve. It’s always great to ski with you and to read your insights in your blog.

    I also question myself and ask why I put myself through all this suffering to ski just a tiny patch or to ski in either marginal or dangerous conditions. Part of the answer is that it is there. However, for me, it’s also because it makes me feel like a man. Suffering builds character — and all that stuff they said in high school which I’ve been raised to believe. At least, for a day, I can shed off this urban professional persona and these modern comforts which have made me soft and return to working with my hands and struggling against nature like my ancestors did. Yeah, I think I’ve watched the Fight Club more than I should but there’s something about getting back to basics that I crave. Of course, there’s also the freedom of the hills. In Tux, you are free!

    As for newbies in the Bowl, I was a newbie not too long ago and I always appreciated the guidance of skiers who knew better than me and would pass along their knowledge. I try to pay it forward by helping those newbies get the lay of the land or help them down. I tried to talk Tigger into getting down and gave neck brace girl some tips and helped her with her photos. Show newbies the wonders of our sport and you’ll help grow the skier community. Of course, some of the crap that some newbies can pull can be downright dangerous. All the more reason to teach them good habits instead of bad.

    Chears to the Snow Way!

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