These past few weeks we have received a few feet of snow in the White Mountains which has made for a solid base on the backcountry skiing trails with the few inches we received this weekend has made for some great skiing and hiking conditions in the wooded areas. We are also expecting more snow over the next few days which will make for some great skiing in the backcountry as well as the local resorts!
Because of the bitterly cold weather conditions we received yesterday we changed our original plans of heading up the Cog Railway to heading to Mt. Hale in order to be in a more sheltered area; the Mount Washington Observatory recorded a peak wind of 105mph with sustained winds around 55mph yesterday and a low temperature of -35F. As I am writing this right now the summit is receiving winds of over 130mph!
This past weekend I took an AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Course instructed through Eastern Mountain Sports. This class is crucial in analyzing snow stability on top of choosing good terrain options. If you head into areas to backcountry ski especially those that are not forecasted (Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines are the only areas forecasted by the Mount Washington Avalanche Center) I highly recommend taking both AIARE Level 1 & 2 for safer and more enjoyable travel in the backcountry.
In order to get to the Hale Brook Trailhead, Mt Hale (4054′) one of the 4,000 foot peaks, you start at the Zealand Campground parking area off of Route 302. The brings you up the Zealand Road (FR 16) The ski in was beautiful, the road was well packed down with a couple of inches of fresh snowfall. You can also use this road as an access point for the Zealand Falls Hut as well, which makes for a great base camp for a multiday trip for backcountry skiers and hikers.
You follow the Zealand Road for 2.5 miles until you hit the trailhead for Hale Brook, and then it is a moderate 2.2 miles up to the summit with a 2,300′ gain. Although the top of Mt. Hale used to have a fire tower at the summit over the past 4 decades since the fire tower was removed the trees have been steadily reclaiming the summit, we still chose not to summit due to the strong winds and the lack of views.
The trail was decently packed out by snowshoes, which made skinning up the trail quite nice, we just had a couple of inches of fresh light powder to break through. We came across a great drainage area about a mile up the trail right before you get to the segments of switchbacks. We had also gone up the trail a little bit further to see if there were any other good entrances to the glade section, since there were not any that we could see we went back to the original location and dug some snow pits to analyze the snow conditions before heading into the drainage.
The skiing was great, it was untouched powder for at least a foot! There isn’t a lot of information about Mt.Hale’s backcountry skiing, however there is in one of the earlier editions of John Goodman’s AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast. This book includes a lot of great information in regards to the backcountry trails, including Doublehead located in Jackson, NH where the upper picture was taken.
Go on Mount Washington Observatory for the latest weather conditions and be sure to check in with Mount Washington Avalanche Center for avalanche bulletins.
As always you can check AMC Conditions for the latest report from the snow stakes and/or call us here at Pinkham to see what we’re seeing out our windows and for the best trail advice we can give you!
The AMC also offers classes and chapter trips for ice climbing, skiing, snowshoeing winter mountaineering and avalanche classes.
All of our programs for the ’14/’15 season can be found on our Activities and Events Page.
For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To Make Reservations
Please call AMC Lodges and Huts, at (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm.
Backcountry Information Specialist
AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center