Date: May 5, 2000
NOTE: Of the 18 people on the expedition, 6 shared a same first
(what're the chances of that you statisticians ?)... there were two
Bobs, two Brians, and two Johns... "Bobs", "Brians", and "Johns" will be
referred to with a last initial or last name... all other participants
may be referred to by first name only
Hello Adventurers !!!
This is the seventh (and definitely the last) e-mail (in a series),
to help plan and prepare for, but rather to relate what happened on the
3rd Annual Tuckerman Ravine Hiking/Skiing Expedition...
Well... what is there to say ? ... it was ****ing awesome !!! (pardon
asterisks)... those are the words that keep popping into my head, even 3
weeks after the fact...
Where to start ? ... how 'bout at the beginning... we had a great
into Manchester... although for a clear sunny day the landing approach
was quite turbulent... we got some nice views of mountains with snow
covered ski trails but I never could quite figure out which ones they
were (some of the Vermont resorts I would guess but why would we be
flying that far inland ???)... we got our luggage and skis
expeditiously... the "hitchhikers" Greg and Laura had trouble getting a
payphone to work so they could contact C.T. but eventually they got
picked up and were on their way... the rest of us piled into 2 rental
cars with Bob Sagusti and yours truly at the helms...
Three of us had the pleasure of riding in a Hertz vehicle equipped
their "Neverlost" GPS mapping system... it was a source of great
amusement the entire weekend !!! ... first off, Brian Skrenta our
"Neverlost" co-pilot, asked it to find us a place to eat... it kept
telling us about places that we had passed 3 miles ago or that were 15
miles off the interstate... obviously it didn't take into account our
direction of travel... then we discovered that it kept statistics like
average and maximum speed during a journey... well, it hadn't been reset
since the previous renter so we just had to break their record !!! Sorry
Bob, you had no clue why we left you in the dust just north of
Concord... the other quirk of the "Neverlost" system occurred about once
every 30 miles... it would all of a sudden decide that we had left the
roadway and were driving through forests, across rivers, over mountain
peaks, etc, all the while pleading in that mellow mechanical female
voice, "Please proceed to the highlighted route"... what a hoot !!!
We took a rest stop to view "The Old Man Of The Mountain" rock formation
on the south side of Cannon Mountain... Check out the pictures on the
website (http://members.home.net/ablack/tuk3pic.html) and see if you
agree with me... I swear Bob S. and "The Old Man" are twin sons
separated at birth...
Then we motored into beautiful downtown Gorham, NH... it really
nice little town... quaint and untouched in an old industrial/logging
suburb town kind of way (if you know what I mean)... we rendezvoused
with a few people at The Royalty Inn and then went shopping at Butson's
Supermarket (love that name and it's an expedition tradition too !)...
several expeditioneers went for made-to-order subs for their next day
lunch... others of us loaded up on post-Tuckermans party supplies (i.e.
beer)... after Brian S. found a hat (at the outfitters store in Gorham)
it was back to the Royalty and then off to Wilfred's Fine Food for
Wilfred's specializes in turkey and seafood (it makes sense, it's
300 miles north of Plymouth Rock) and quite a few of our party chowed
down on the roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings... almost
everyone enjoyed a local amber ale called "Pig's Ear"... Bob S. made the
observation that part of the New England dialect is to use the phrase
"All set ?" in place of "Can I get you anything right now ?" or
something similiar... maybe you had to be there, but for the rest of the
weekend the endless litany of "All set ?"'s from people in the service
industry set a number of us to snickering and uncontrollable laughter...
amid the eating and drinking and socializing, Bob Walker showed up after
a day of skiing at Killington (he said the conditions were great) and
renewed some old friendships with the Columbia Ski Clubbers present...
then it was off to bed with the weather forecasts looking good...
Saturday morning dawned without a cloud in the sky... after agonizing
about the weather and avalanche reports earlier in the week (and almost
canceling the expedition) I was incredibly relieved... we all assembled
at the door to Birches Restaurant (run by the hotel) and were let in at
the 6:30AM opening bell... Eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, etc. were
enjoyed by all... service was reasonably prompt (for a party of 18) and
we were getting ready to leave the motel parking lot by 8:00AM for the
15 minute ride to Pinkham Notch...
Since we were in a variety of vehicles some of us got to park in
main parking lot and some of us had to park in the auxiliary lot...
well, it's not so bad being in the auxiliary... it's a 3 minute walk to
the visitors center... big deal... everyone milled around the visitors
center for awhile, meeting each other, adjusting gear, and getting that
last modern toilet stop out of the way... Brian V., Kim, and John W.
couldn't wait and headed up the trail before 9:00AM... the rest of us
got ready, had our group picture taken by Barb (who spent the rest of
the day across the valley skiing at Wildcat) and started on the trail 5
The trail surface this year was decent... it wasn't quite as fast
last year but definitely better than the first year we did it... the
first half mile was packed dirt and rocks... then dirt gave way to soft
snow with the occasional hidden ice patch underneath... ski poles were
definitely the key to an easier hike... someone remind me to tell any
non-skiers next year to bring some poles... some of the first timers
were surprised by the unrelentingness of the slope... we veterans tried
to assuage their fears by saying, "it gets flatter pretty soon" or "I
think this is the flat spot right before HoJo's"... then we'd go around
a curve and it would just keep going up...
But soon enough (after about an hour and a half of hiking) we pulled
into HoJo's (the snow ranger cabin) and had a refreshing break... some
people purchased the long-sleeve wicking shirts (an exclusive design
sold only at HoJo's) as the wind was picking up and the clouds were
rolling in... others read the memorial to the 125 people who've died in
the Presidential Range over the last 150 years... it's a sobering list
although not as scary (in terms of avalanches and ice fall) as you might
think as things like light airplane crashes, heartattacks, car
accidents, and boneheaded hiking/camping decisions are included in the
At HoJo's we got to talk with the snow rangers about conditions
bowl... although all areas were rated at "Low" avalanche danger for the
day, they seemed concerned about hanging ice on the right side of the
bowl (above Lunch Rocks)... they were happy I had already instructed our
group to set up camp on the left hand side of the bowl... I was pleased
to get to shake the hand of U.S Forest Service Snow Ranger Brad Ray
who's been working Tuckermans since the middle 1950's... I highly
recommended that you read a fascinating short memoir he has written
which can be found at:
He da man !!! I'd also like to thank Rangers Mary Anne Webberman
Kai-Uwe Allen who were quite helpful via phone during the (anxious) week
leading up to the expedition !!!
So we set out on the last third of the journey... the winds were
picking up (almost blowing us over at times) and there were more than a
few treacherous hidden ice spots on this more rugged part of the
trail... but at this point we had great views of Tuckermans in our
sights and we couldn't be stopped...
Most of the group arrived at the entrance to the bowl by 11:45AM,
in time to see a real honest to god avalanche set off by a skier coming
down the right hand side of the bowl... luckily no one was below him
when it happened and he himself was able to traverse out above and to
the side of the slide... although the debris pile at the bottom of the
bowl only looked to be about 3 feet high, the ski patrollers said it was
big enough to have swept and burried someone (although with all the
people nearby presumably they could've been extracted pretty quickly)...
there had also been a similiar avalanche earlier in the day right down
the center of the bowl... the backdrop of two avalanche tracks and the
increasing wind and clouds set a rather ominous tone for the beginning
of our afternoon...
The volunteer ski patrollers stopped everyone entering the bowl
a short lecture on how to stay as safe as possible within the ravine...
they stressed being aware of what was above you (i.e. - ice) and to plan
an escape if it fell (i.e. - dive behind a rock) and to always climb up
what you planned to ski down (in case of holes or crevasses which
weren't really too much of a factor this early in the year)... Thanks
ski patrollers !!! ... so with that introduction we set up several base
camps behind various rocks on the left hand side of the bottom of the
bowl... now it was fun time !!! ... after eating lunch everyone split up
into small groups to challenge the ravine...
First timers C.T. Edwards and Bob Walker joined by Tuckerman veteran
Greg Clark made their way
up to the very top of The Chute... they then pioneered a new route for
expeditioneers which went across the snowfields above The Headwall and
down over The Lip at the top of the right hand side of the bowl...
First timer Anne-Marie Shipley and veteran Carl Cherwek climbed
top of The Left Gully, descended without incident, and decided it was so
much fun that they climbed again to the top of The Chute... from there
they did the snow field to The Lip route (see above)... their total of
1600+ vertical feet of climbing and skiing is a new expedition record
First timers Bob Sagusti and Brian Skrenta climbed well up into
Chute where they almost got wiped out by a windmilling head-over-heals
falling skier who drew gasps from the spectators on Lunch Rocks as he
narrowly missed taking out the whole line of climbers... the tumbling
skier had lost his helmet near the beginning of his fall and as it
rolled down the slope someone was heard to ask, "What's that above him
?" to which the deadpan reply was, "I think it's his head."... Bob and
Brian both made their descents in good style... in fact, I don't think
anyone in our group had a fall while in the bowl although yours truly
ended his run with an inadvertent 360 spin after catching an edge on
"the easy part"...
3-year expedition veteran Mark Miller and first timer Laura Gabanski
made several runs in the bowl from the vicinity of "The Big Rock"...
they enjoyed the soft gooey sticky mash potato snow that was infinitely
more skiable than last year's wind-blown frozen crusty crud... that's
not to say that it was easy skiing this year but the snow conditions
were at least "reasonable"... Mark posted a personal best by doing more
than one run this year !!!
Another 3-year veteran, Stuart Miller, vowed to get to "the top"
year and was instrumental in coaxing Bob S. higher up The Chute than he
might have ordinarily climbed... Stuart reached his goal of making it to
"the top" !!! ... and when I got up there a little later on I was
surprised to find him sunning himself on a rock outcropping... we had a
great time relaxing up there, taking in the awesome view of the summit
of Mount Washington, and chatting with the folks down below on the radio
(or were we just scared to start down !?!)... I held a ski up and waved
it back and forth and got a visual confirmation from the folks down
below... Stuart was experiencing some muscle cramps in his leg and
consulted via radio with his brother Mark who's a physical therapist
before heading down... we also witnessed a guy who dropped one of his
ski boots and watched it slide and roll 100 feet before stopping just
short of "the edge"... he literally tip-toed down to retrieve it for
fear it'd start moving again and drop into oblivion... then who shows up
out of the blue but Anne-Marie (on her second ascent)... what a fun time
!!! ... after all that, yours truly descended all 800 vertical feet of
The Chute (3 or 4 turns at a time) while Stuart and Anne-Marie chose the
route across the snowfield and over The Lip that was quite popular this
year (see above)...
Kim Vogel and John Whalley (our resident snowboarder) made successful
climbs and descents on the slopes of Tuckermans... but the exact
locations and circumstances are unknown at this time... Kim's now a
2-year expedition veteran !!!
The people who chose not to bring their skis up kept busy too...
year veteran Brian Vogel brought along a camcorder and got some great
shots of the action and atmosphere of the bowl... can't wait to see the
video !!! ... John Vranich acted as "the sled carrier" and always had
words of encouragement for the rest of us challenging the bowl on
skis... In addition to their encouragement, Tim and Kathi played a
crucial role by hiking down the trail early and getting the party
started in the Pinkham Notch parking lot !!!
Tuckermans is really so much more than the hiking and the skiing
though... the watching and the listening and the meeting people are key
ingredients too... before and after our ski runs we were treated to some
extraordinary entertainment... we saw some daredevil leaps off The
Headwall that were simply incredible !!! ... how did they even get to
some of those places between the rock cliffs and the hanging ice ?!? ...
one guy must have flown 80 feet and windmilled his arms 4 times before
landing and careening across the bowl to massive applause from the
spectators... and more traditional freestyle skiers were using the
natural jump formed at the end of one of the avalanche debris piles to
pull off daffys and backscratchers... and there were quite a few
non-skiing characters to enjoy as well... The venerable,
brightly-colored, white-bearded "A. Climber" (pronounced A. Climbah)
comes to mind... if you missed him this time don't worry, he'll probably
be there next year...
And all afternoon we were treated to the coolest musical "soundtrack"
you can imagine... the "Mystery Sax Player" over in Lunch Rocks played
non-stop, never repeated a tune, and tailored his music to what was
happening in the bowl... if a skier fell and was tumbling
head-over-heals, he'd smoothly transition from whatever melody he was on
into some of the knarliest, Charlie Parkerish, tumbling head-over-heals
riffing that you ever heard... way incredibly cool !!! ... and the
acoustics of Tuckermans just can't be believed without being there...
there are no non-natural sounds at all (i.e. - a backdrop of silence)
and the bowl shape just allows human generated sounds to carry
forever... 800 feet above the floor of the bowl that sax was clear as a
bell... I couldn't believe it !!!
And it should be noted that although the afternoon started out very
cloudy, windy and cold, by 1:30PM the breezes had calmed and sunny skies
and warm temperatures took over... it was a glorious day and for the
first timers it was a good introduction to Mt. Washington weather... as
the rangers like to say, "The mountain makes it's own weather"...
Many thanks to Bob Walker for bringing his cheapo red plastic sled
all to enjoy... and our sympathies go out to him as it was ultimately
sacrificed for the success of the expedition... here's the saga of the
After arriving at the base of the bowl I quickly found everyone
group except for part of the Massachusetts contingent consisting of John
V., Kathi, Tim, Anne-Marie, and Carl (and of course they had the sled -
Thanks John for carrying it !)... I walked over to Lunch Rocks and
checked from top to bottom but couldn't see the sled or them... Since I
had only very briefly met Kathi and Tim for the first time that morning
I wasn't exactly sure whom all I was looking for... I asked one nice
looking blonde, "Are you possibly Kathi ?"... she answered back, "No...
but I can BE Kathi if you want me to." ... I declined the offer (maybe
that's why I'm still single)... eventually, I ran across the folks with
the sled... and while most of us were skiing, Kathi was sledding...
later in the day when Bob Walker started to hike down he reclaimed his
sled only to have to abandon it when it became too cumbersome to deal
with while skiing the Sherburne Ski Trail... a later group skiing the
trail noticed a red plastic thing in the woods and we all said, "Gee,
that looks alot like Bob's sled"... well it was... maybe it'll still be
there next year !!!
And that leads us to the hike (and ski for some) down... what can
say... it's way easier going down than going up... some of us did
experience a bit of a "rush hour" trail backup at one point where the
rangers were chopping up some ice... and when we got to HoJo's we had
the option of skiing part of the Sherburne Ski Trail... it basically
lived up to it's reports this year... the trail was open for skiing but
it was very spotty... we'd ski a couple hundred yards and then have to
pop our bindings and walk a little bit, then another couple hundred
yards, etc... it was actually kindof fun dodging the rocks and dirt...
and it got us alot farther down than I expected before we had to change
back into our hiking boots... nonetheless, in the competition that
started from HoJo's, the hikers beat the skiers to the bottom...
What a relief to reach the bottom... what a feeling of accomplishment...
Congratulations to everyone !!! ... and we just had to weigh our packs
on the big meathook scales outside the visitors center... Stuart "won"
with 52+ pounds... rumor has it that the average Tuckermans pack with
skis and boots is 46 pounds (which matched Anne-Marie's kit right on the
nose)... and it was also time to buy some souvenirs and books from the
very unique selection in the visitors center
After the last of us had reached Pinkham Notch and done our shopping,
found that two celebratory tailgate parties had already broken out... in
the auxiliary parking lot, Bob W., C.T., Greg, and Laura were hosting...
Bob's cooler was well stocked with a variety of fine beers... and Greg
provided a bottle opener which was part of the promotional pocket knife
he'd gotten for subscribing to Outside magazine... here's the executive
summary: Outside magazine good, pocket knife bad... it literally only
opened one bottle (mine thank you !) before it broke !!!
In the main parking lot, Tim, Kathi, John V., Anne-Marie, and Carl
hosting... again, there were many fine beers to choose from... and Mark
broke out the expedition's traditional bota bag filled with martinis...
Stuart called it "rubbing alcohol" but that didn't seem to stop him (or
any of the rest of us) from indulging...
The party continued in room 110 back at The Royalty... many beers
quaffed... a bottle of Goldslager, compliments of C.T. and Greg, was
added to the mix... hockey was on the tube (to the disappointment of the
curling fans in the room, we greatly enjoyed watching the Canadian
Curling Championships on last year's expedition)... things started
getting fuzzy... then we trekked to the hot tub... and what a hot tub it
was... The Royalty's hot tub isn't some "we'll keep it lukewarm so we
won't get sued if someone has a heartattack" hot tub... this is New
Hampshire, the "Live Free or Die" state... it's the real (hot) deal !!!
... we maxed it out with 14 simultaneous bathers... a few expeditioneers
with sturdy constitutions cooled off with a dip in the adjoining pool...
we all left feeling really relaxed...
After a quick rinse off in the shower we made our way down the street
Mr. Pizza for a feast... Tim weighed in with the 26 oz. prime rib (a
very impressive piece of meat)... others dined on anything and
everything from Mr. Pizza's extensive menu (despite the name, they
really do have an extensive menu)... and the waitress made sure that
everyone was "all set" at all times... at one point she was circling the
table removing salad plates preceded by the requisite "All set ?"...
when she got to me (the world's slowest eater), I responded "I'm all set
with keeping my salad plate and my soup bowl right now."... her jaw
dropped open and her eyes bulged out as she went into terminal brain
lock... she retreated to the kitchen to ponder this unexpected turn of
events... a few pitchers of Tuckerman Pale Ale were ordered and drained
before we left... and for most people that was the end of the night...
zzzzzzzzzzzzz... but some of the Massachusetts contingent (you know who
you are) kept right on partying into the wee hours (Ice Station Zebra
was on the tube, now how would I know that ?)
Sunday morning we all slept in to varying degrees (it's rumored
some were still zonked out when the 11:00 AM checkout time arrived)...
10 of us journeyed to Sunday River to get in some more skiing... we
found reasonable spring conditions as was expected for this time of
year... there was enough terrain still open (50+ trails and 7 lifts)
that we didn't need to repeat any trails if we didn't want to ... but we
did yo-yo on several of our favorites (White Heat and Obsession in
particular)... alot of the trails had sections that required navigation
across narrow strips of snow running between bare spots... since the
skiing ability of our group was quite high, most of us enjoyed the extra
challenge (especially Brian Skrenta who went out of his way to find
interesting lines down the slopes sometimes literally jumping over dirt
patches when he came to a deadends in the snow)... Mark and Stuart
Miller had fun on their SnowBlades (those really short skis) as well...
then it was off to Manchester...
And since this letter is getting so long I won't go into too much
detail... suffice it to say that it is possible (and maybe even legal)
to pass an overfilled ragged plastic shopping bag stuffed with leftover
beer and munchies through the security x-ray machine... and for the
second straight year Mark and Stuart were stopped by the elderly
gentleman at the checkpoint (we think it was the same guy both years)
regarding the crampons (sharp pointy things) in their carryons... the
flight was delayed about an hour but we had everything we needed to pass
the time (beer, munchies, and sharp pointy things)... and in the small
world department, we ran into Columbia Ski Clubber Alexa Bedwell in the
Manchester airport (next year bring your skis, Alexa)... and that's all
Before I go here are a few more "thank you's":
Thanks to Don King, owner of The Royalty Inn !!! ... it's the best...
the facilities and the people can't be beat... and thanks for the group
rate... we'll definitely be back !!!
Thanks to Bill Schrodel of the Columbia Ski Club for lending us
of FRS radios !!! ... they were invaluable in helping us stay (somewhat)
together both during the day at Tuckermans and also at Sunday River...
Thanks Bill... and you, Axelsson, and Strack are definitely expected
next year... put it on your calendar now !!!
Thanks to Ken Sall, Bob McCune, Gary Prestianni, Meryl Sonon, Bill
Eskew, and Richard Krell of the Columbia Ski Club for their promotion of
the expedition through the club's website, activities list, newsletters,
and meetings !!! ... Thanks guys... who's up for next year ?!?
We'll finish up with a few post-expedition observations sent in
Anne-Marie Shipley... I hope these were supposed to be for publication
1. When you forget a wine, it is often replaced by a whine.
2. The bowl is steep. No kidding. It's steep. Really, really steep...
3. Friends who trek down the mountain early to ensure cold beer
4. Martinis probably won't make the Tuckerman's website as an advised
replenishing fluid after a hard day of hiking/skiing.
5. The staff at the Royalty will also good naturedly hand you your
when found in another room. They discreetly down play the fact that the
person who found them couldn't identify the owner.....
6. As the years (and martinis) pass, shopping in Conway the day
Tuckerman's becomes increasingly more appealing than a day of skiing
That's all for now... As always if you have any comments or questions
to e-mail or call me... and don't forget to check out the pictures at:
and the website for next year's expedition at:
See Ya Next Year (or hopefully sooner),
P.S. - Here for the first time ever in print is Mark Miller's Tuckerman
Mantra... he's been using it to ward off pain and exhaustion for 3 years
now... other verses are rumored to exist but are not refined enough for
publication at this time... feel free to come up with your own
extensions and let me know what they are so we can consider their use
for next years' expedition (you just never know when you're gonna need a
good mantra)... here's the first verse:
I'm Hot, I'm Cold
I'm Tired, I'm Not
I'm Climbin' Up Tuckermans
With All I've Got
(repeat ad infinitum)