Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A postmortem to Winter 2012

High Peaks from West Crane Mountain
January views of the High Peaks from the summit of West Crane Mountain. The photo is deceiving, as there was only about 7-12in of snow on the ground, much of which melted in the following days of warm rain.
March and April are historically the biggest snow months at elevation in the Northeast, and over the last few years winter hasn’t really stuck around until Presidents Day weekend, chiefly because of arctic highs forcing moisture snow) south into the coast and southern mountains. However, unlike this year, we’ve had a few false starts in those years. Plenty of snow, then a warm rainy spell with it's accompanying meltout. Enough that snowshoes and skis would have seen some justified use by Presidents Day, even if skiers and climbers weren't completely happy with conditions. 

This year, despite snow in the High Peaks and lower elevations right on schedule, it’s been pretty much shoulder season conditions since the start. It hasn’t been typical Northeast extremes keeping us in a state of perpetual November, just consistently mild weather. No record highs, but lots of 40 degree days with rain.

Looking at the climbing logs, it looks like it’s been a decent ice season for people putting up free climbs I couldn’t aid with a bolt gun. Some very ballsy and serious routes have gone up all over the Northeast. But Scottish mixed climbing has existed in conditions like this for decades across the pond, even if it is just now making a renaissance in the Northeast USA.

Skiers, on the other hand, haven’t had much to choose from. Unlike ice climbers, skiers -as a general rule- don’t get masochistic pleasure from finding the worst possible snow conditions and skiing.

While I’ve gotten a few trips out on ice, to date I haven’t actually needed my snowshoes. Granted, I haven’t needed them largely because lower elevation conditions are so poor I just haven’t wasted the fuel to get to the North Country’s 1000m+ elevations where snow can be found.  Uncharacteristically, I’ve yet to take a trip to Vermont or New Hampshire either. Often they have better conditions at various times of the winter. In the Adirondacks, above 2000ft there begins to be some sign snowshoes could be necessary, and I hear wonderful reports of snow upwards of 20-30 inches at 4000ft.

I haven’t really needed my winter gear at all. It’s been mild enough most days that I’ve worn my base layers and soft shell pants. Other than wearing my insulated boots because they are required for ice climbing/steep crampon terrain, I haven’t needed those either.

The lack of snow also has meant my camping gear has pretty much been mothballed. I love snow camping and winter backpacking. Pound out a perfectly flat tent pad where ever you choose, and sleep like a king in the quietness of a forest sound proofed by fresh snow. Camping on the solid sheets of ice that has replaced snow cover or the forest floor is a lot less fun.

Crampons, or rather the necessity of crampons, are a completely different story. These are standard gear from car to summit and back during 2012. Even in the Southern Adirondacks, where there was almost no snow at all on Super Bowl Sunday, we needed crampons the entire two miles back to the car, hiking on a moderately graded low elevation trail.

The most depressing fact is that looking at the NOAA CPC long range data, I can’t say I am particularly optimistic winter is going to start anytime soon. NOAA says that we will continue with above average temps into April, along with normal precipitation. Neither of these factors scream big snow systems or extended cold.

No doubt we’ll get a blizzard in April to muck up spring hiking and rock climbing season. Other than that, I don’t see our recently historic trend of 8 grand weeks of winter beginning in late February.

I suppose the silver lining is I didn’t fork out $220 on those Tubbs Flex Alps I’ve been eyeing since last winter. Maybe I’ll score a used pair over the summer for a bargain price. I’ve also driven 75% less than a typical winter, which is good for the wallet, good for the odometer, and good for the environment.

All that said, I like living in this part of the country because of our four “over rated” seasons -as Left Coasters and Gulf Coasters like to put it. So no matter what the benefits, it still sucks to completely miss out on the most unique of those seasons.

Winter 2012, you had so much potential, but you never really stood a chance in this cruel world!