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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Snow report, May 1, 2014--The Big Meltdown

We had record high temps last week, from Tuesday to Thursday (May 1).  Thursday saw highs in the Puget Sound region hit 80+ degrees F, so I went up on the North Fork Cascade River to do snowpack analysis and film avalanches.  The local and regional mountain weather forecasts called for avalanche danger either "high" or "extreme" and even the local NWS weather forecasts made mention of the avalanche danger.  Over the course of 30 hours, through the highest temps, from May 1 10:30 until May 2 at 13:00 I was on-station at the base of Johannesburg Mountain, Cascade Mountain and The Triplets.  I was surprised and somewhat disappointed in the lack of avalanches, both in terms of frequency and intensity/size.  The average was about one respectable avalanche per hour, well short of what I've seen in about five of the 25 years I've been doing this, and really at or just below average for my experience over that time.  I did see two big avalanches, but they came off the ramps of The Triplets (about four miles up-valley from camp), thus I wasn't able to film them or enjoy the full effects of these impressive wet-snow events that caused slabs lower down to release and entrain, resulting in massive flows to the floor of the valley.  There was one small period of time, from about 14:45 to 15:30 that saw concurrent avalanches in multiple chutes--a lovely roaring symphony, even if most of the events were small.  Other than that, it was about one per hour, and not overly impressive.

None of the avalanche chutes on my side of the valley (Boston Creek, Midas Creek, Soldier Boy Creek) had any avalanche debris at all, indicative and confirming what I've observed all winter:  no snow at lower elevations (1,000-3,500 feet altitude), little snow at middle elevations (3,500 to 7,000), and about normal snow at the highest elevations.  Thus, the avalanches that did occur started up high, and as they descended through to the valley, had very little material to entrain, resulting in relatively small events.   Oh, and for perhaps the first time ever, there were no avalanches during the night.  None!

As with the past couple of years, the temperature spike in Spring resulted more in The Big Meltdown, and less big avalanches.  I've never seen so much snow turn to water instantly--the area around camp was awash with water--so much that it was noticeably loud as it coursed under, through and on the snowpack.  It was as though it was melting faster than it could percolate and trigger avalanches--layers and strata were overcome with a rush of water.  Indeed, the very hillsides were issuing water--seeps and springs appeared right out of the rocks, dirt and trees (somewhat unsettling, given the Oso event).

Saw a coyote and a mule deer down low on the road, and evidence of coyote high on the road by camp.  Also saw a large (garter?) snake--this thing was about an inch in diameter, nearly two feet long and fast as lighting.  Didn't see a single person the entire time.

Happily, I have found a new Kiddie Dome Tent--on sale at Fred Meyer for $20!  So once again I have a little 3.25 lb. mountain bivvy with woefully skinny poles (at least two of them, and not the dreaded one-pole tent!), a tiny "fly" (in reality a cute little sun parasol) and I barely fit on the diagonal.  Heh heh:  stay tuned--I'll take it many places it was never designed to go!

I'll go back up for at least one more avalanche filming stint--there's still some snow up there to tumble down, and the chance to see Mr. Big is worth every peaceful, relaxing minute.

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