A First Timer's Take on Tuckerman's

Tuckerman's Ravine


Tuckerman’s is a right of passage for some, a yearly tradition for others and considered the closest equivalent to big mountain backcountry on the East Coast by all. Having gone to Tuckerman’s for my first time ever on Wednesday, I can now confidently say it’s all three.
 
Mateusz at the scale
I’ve been wanting to make the trek up to New Hampshire to shred the ravine for a few years now. Three years ago I wasn’t sure I was ready. Two years ago scheduling with friends didn’t work out. Last year a couple friends and I were able to decide on a weekend in which we would camp at the lean-tos and get two days in the ravine. We geared up and had to pull the plug a few hours before heading up when a brutal rainstorm with high wind gusts dominated all forecasts.
 
This year I was determined to make it happen. I sent a shout out on Facebook that I was driving up to North Conway Tuesday, hiking into Tuck’s Wednesday morning and hiking out and driving home the same day. Aside from a few nibbles from friends, only a couple were able to commit. They were two of my college buddies from Schussmeisters Ski Club at UB that I hadn’t seen and had barely talked to in over a year, Matt and Nader. I sent them a link to TGR’s “The Bucket List: How to Ski Or Ride Tuckerman Ravine" and told them that that was everything they needed to know about Tuck’s.
 
Tuesday had arrived. I woke up to an Instagram post by Ski the East of Tuckerman’s and it looked GOOD. The stoke level was up for sure. After running a few errands in the morning I set off around 2 pm to pick up Nader from the train station and then we hit the road to New Hampshire. We arrived at the Eastern Inns(I would highly recommend it since they have a Crazy Taxi arcade game) in North Conway around 9:30 to find that Matt beaten us there. We checked in, cracked a beer and after catching up took a look at the forecast.
 
Matt hiking up the trail
The forecast called for a high in the 20s, a wintry mix with trace to 2” of accumulation and wind gusts of up to 75 mph dying down to around 45-55 mph by the afternoon. At first, there was silence. No one wanted to admit serious concern for the day ahead. After the initial pause, and contemplating what plan B would be, we eventually agreed that we’d wake up, have breakfast and take a look at the forecast again.
 
The morning came, we had our Belgian waffles and coffee and cracked open my Macbook again. The forecast had changed but not for the better. Now it looked more like the stat sheet of an MLB pitcher with gusts up to 95 mph at the summit and potential for some nasty precipitation. Again we paused and looked to try to gauge each other’s thoughts. We happened to be on the same page and decided that we had driven this far and that we had to at least head over to Pinkham Notch to check it out.
 
We loaded all of our gear into one car and made the 20 minute drive to the visitor center. We arrived to overcast but only a fairly calm breeze and temps that were bearable. We knew that this was not a fair indicator for what weather lied above us and got a little worried when we noticed the parking lot was pretty empty. We didn’t expect huge crowds midweek but we thought there would be more people. Our nerves were calmed when we saw a single person heading towards the trailhead with skis strapped to his back. “At least we’re not the only crazy ones”, we thought to ourselves.
 
Mateusz hiking up the trailWe then geared up and made our way towards the trailhead. We were told it’s tradition to weigh our packs at the entrance to Tuckerman’s Trail and so we did. Matt and Nader are two plankers with heavy boots and skis and their bags weighing at the 35-40 lb range made my 25 lb pack seem like a feather. It also helped that I was able to hike in my snowboard boots. Disclaimer: I was able to do just fine hiking in my snowboard boots but must admit that a good pair of hiking boots would have been more comfortable and would have prevented wear and tear on my snowboard boots. The tradeoff is that you then have to carry around an extra pair of boots all day, which not only ads weight to your pack but also takes up space.
 
Matt and Nader at the Hermit Lake Lean To'sWe departed up the trail just before 10:00 am. Not surprisingly, it was no walk in the park. The trail up to Tuck’s is a rugged trail made mostly of rocks and snow and with plenty of streams from the runoff. Nader found out first hand that if you’re not careful when walking on the snow you can fall through and find yourself in a few inches of running water.
 
Nader and Mateusz at Hojo's HutI thought we were keeping good pace on the way up but turn out we were slow pokes. What few other people decided to make the hike that day passed us on the way up including a two guys with a pair of skis and a snowboard on their backs which was just the encouragement we needed to keep going. After a few water breaks, some stops to readjust gear and plenty of selfies we made it to Hojo’s hut.
 
After signing the logbook we started making preparations for the final leg of the hike. We saw that there was good snow coverage on the trail ahead so Matt and Nader decided to change into their ski boots and leave their hiking boots behind. Boy was that a mistake. The welcoming snow trail quickly turned into a never ending Aggro Crag all the way to the base of the ravine. For me, it felt like I was competing for the gold medal on GUTS and for them it felt like hell. We should have asked one of the volunteers at Hojo’s hut what their opinion was as they would have been much better off keeping their hiking boots on.
 
Mateusz with a waterfallThe footwear mistake aside, this part of the hike was breathtaking. As we made our way up we were able to hear water rushing by in the river on our left and at points you we were standing over rushing waterfalls. On the right we had the summit of Mt. Washington towering over us with huge rock faces looming. Being that it was a foggy overcast day, this part of the trail was when we got our first glimpses of Tuckerman’s Ravine itself. As the wind pushed some of the cover out of the way the majestic headwall would poke through. As we got closer and it began to clear up we saw more and more of the ravine until we saw it in its entirety. I have to admit it’s intimidating. The sheer size, the pitch, the ruggedness and the setting all hit you at once and all of a sudden you realize you may be in over your head. Nevertheless we pushed on and eventually we reached the base of Tuckerman’s.
 
Mateusz at the base of the ravineAfter taking a moment to take in its glory we quickly started pointing out all the runs we had only previously seen in pictures. “There’s Left Gully! There’s Sluice! There’s the Lunch Rocks!” we said with the giddiness of a schoolgirl. Once the excitement had subsided it was down to business… choosing a line. Upon closer inspection of snow cover and conditions we had made our decisions. All of the looker’s right runs were off the table due to the potential of falling ice. The center looked sketchy at best with school bus long cracks across the face. After some deliberation we made our choices. The Aggro Crag took it’s toll on Nader in ski boots and he decided to take the safe route and follow the bootpack as far as he felt comfortable into The Chute. Matt and I wanted to reach the top and could see that following Nader wouldn’t allow us to do so. Although we couldn’t see up passed the first turn our best bet was to climb up Left Gully and hope the snow went all the way up.
 
Matt climbing upWe climbed the first hundred yards as a group until we got to the bottom of Left Gully where Matt and I wished Nader luck and told him we’d meet him at the big rock at the bottom for a cold one. There was no boot pack up Left Gully and since Matt was already hurting from doing the last leg of the hike in ski boots I led the way kicking the toe of my boot into the crusty ice to make footholds with every step. With winds whipping down the face at us the goal was to stay low so that we didn’t get blown off. With my snowboard essentially being a kite strapped to my back I almost penguin slid into the rocks below a few times. Needless to say the climb was not easy. Every 40 feet I had to take a minute to let my legs cool down before they melted off.
 
Mateusz climbing upTwo thirds of the way up we saw that Nader had already taken his run. Matt decided that it was far enough for him. His legs were spent and there was a real chance that he could slip on his next step and slide down into the rocks below. I looked up, saw there was good coverage all the way to the top and had another one of those ‘I made it this far so I can’t give up now’ moments. I was determined.
 
Nader climbingThe last third of the climb was brutal at best. With the crust hardening up as I got higher it took substantially more effort to kick through to get a foothold. I was now resting every 15 feet and questioning whether it was really worth it. I started telling myself that if it was easy, everyone would do it. I called myself every expletive in the book and pushed on for another 15 feet at a time. I made it to the final chunk, the last 15 feet before the snow ended. I couldn’t rest, adrenaline took over and I huffed and puffed until I was off the snow and on solid rock. I stood up, looked down, shouted to Matt and gave him a fist pump… I had made it.
 
Matt selfie oneAfter catching my breath I took an express train to Selfie City while doing a quick exploration of the ridge. Don’t judge me, I had earned it. Once I was satisfied that at least one of them had to be Facebook profile picture worthy I got my gear ready for the descent. I took one last sip of water before strapping in. I looked over the edge and saw that Matt was not where I left him. He was by the big rock at the bottom with Nader nowhere to be found. I was slightly concerned but couldn’t worry about it at the moment.
 
Matt and I exchanged fist pumps of approval from afar and I dropped. The first hundred feet were as I had assumed… too solid to hold an edge. I held on for dear life as I snow plowed until I could regain control. After the initial Tokyo Drift maneuvers I was able to control myself with careful jump turns for the next section. Eventually I had enough edge hold to make some real turns while making sure to dump speed on each one. As I approached the bottom of Left Gully I had gained total confidence so I decided to take some speed into the traverse back into the main bowl. I had remembered I saw a natural lip on the climb up that looked like it could have some pop. A quick 360 and some big powerful S-turns later I was by the big rock exchanging high fives with Matt.
 
Matt selfie 2Turns out Nader headed down to Hojo’s hut as there was not much in terms of shelter from the wind near the big rock. I strapped my board onto my back and we headed back down. We found Nader at the hut and we had our celebratory beers without much conversation. Not much needed to be said at that point. We knew the magnitude of what we had just done.
 
After our silent beers we made preparations for our hike out and started heading down. With our legs feeling like jelly we felt each and every step in our joints. “I don’t remember hiking that far”, I thought to myself a few times as I constantly looked for landmarks indicating we were almost out. And then it happened, I saw the roof of a building ahead. It was as if I was shipwrecked and saw land for the first time.
 
Matt selfie 3By the time we made it to the car it was nearing 6 o’clock. We changed, loaded up and headed to North Conway for a quick dinner at Delaney’s before hitting the road. With not much energy left for conversation I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience on the drive…
 
  1. I stand behind the notion that Tuckerman’s is a right of passage. Having conquered Tuckerman’s I do feel like I now have bragging rights.  Anyone can ski off a chairlift but to really earn your turns on the East Coast makes them that much better.  It was a challenge and I stood up to the test.
  2. It's funny how skiing and boarding bring people together.  After graduating, the three of us only see each other once a year at best and it's always on a ski trip.  Tuckerman's made it special since we all had to overcome challenges together.  It's the sort of adventure that brings about a camaraderie that's hard to find.  Although my body is telling me to never do that again, the whole experience was amazing.  I will definitely be coming back year after year.
  3. I am no seasoned vet in the backcountry but I did get a few days earning my turns out in Colorado over the past 4 years and even converted a Natural into a split this year to go a little deeper.  As far as terrain and the challenge of getting there go, Tuckerman’s is definitely on par with backcountry out West.  The best part about it is that it's easily accessible to anyone out East. 
Older Post / Newer Post

Comments

Jeremy Jones & Travis Rice

Jeremy Jones & Travis Rice said:

Wow, we are so proud of you!! We could sure use somebody like you in our next adventure. If you conquered Tuckerman’s, we’d love to have you in the next movie!!

Leave a comment