Taos Region

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Re: Taos Region

Postby Marc » Wed Dec 11, 2019 9:29 pm

Really great conditions today. Lots of folks out and about enjoying the dense snowpack in the William's Drainage area. Decided to follow the heinous uptrack set to Ring Finger and check out stability inside the trees since we spend a fair amount of time in there and there's almost 1m of snow on the uptrack. There's certainly enough of the rouge October storm lingering at the base of the snowpack to make an eyebrow twitch, but I didn't see any advanced facets or depth hoar in the trees. The trees skied a little drier, bubt just as as well, as the lower half of Ring.

Lots of widespread surface hoar is sitting around, especially in the open glades at and below tree line. I didn't get above TL to check, but it would be good to know how widespread it is. Some grains were up to 1.5cm. There's a system moving in on Friday according to the Fx, so we'll see how well it bonds to the old snow. Could get interesting. The flow isn't as low as the previous, so it may be less dense snow than the +20% that we've been getting here in Taos. Currently, the snow on the ground is sitting about 25%...heavy.

Overall, it's looking like a good start to the season. The amount of SWE is remarkable from the past couple of storms. In fact, there's about 1/3 more SWE now than there was this time last year. Having a bonded rightside up snowpack would be enjoyable, but we'll see.

(Addendum 181219: I see that I somehow didn't get the second form on most of the layers: the 20-66 cm as well as the 67-77 cm layers should show rounds and facets, not only facets. The 66-67 layer should also have graupel as well as the melt-freeze crust.) I can't change the graph, my apologies.
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Last edited by Marc on Wed Dec 18, 2019 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby Kerry » Fri Dec 13, 2019 10:39 pm

Dec 13 tour through the trees above the Bull of the Woods yurt. The east aspect skied better than the south aspect. Coverage is just enough to ski over most dead-and-down at slow speed. BOW trail has plenty of coverage to the parking lot, but is a fast, demanding, luge run.
At 11,400' on E aspect W of yurt: HS 60cm, Boot Pen 25cm, CTH 28 RP 26cm up, ECTX.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby brock » Sun Dec 15, 2019 10:51 pm

We got out a little ways along the Williams Lake Trail toward Wildy Bowl on an east aspect today and cut some snow pits for our AIARE 1 class. Unfortunately my partner was the one recording compression tests in his book, so those numbers are from memory, which I noted in the comments. The snowpack seems very stable, we were unable to identify any concerns. Going forward I will make sure to note grain size and take better notes on tap counts. We also did more tests yesterday on a west aspect between peace chute and middle finger with very stable results. The attached profile is from today.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby JBella » Mon Dec 16, 2019 12:16 pm

Regarding Marc's findings, that same problematic layer was reactive last week on Wednesday at approx. 11,600', west aspect by the treeline on the south side of the Red Rocks area. At the time it was the previous storm's slab failing on a layer of 2+mm graupel.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby brock » Mon Dec 16, 2019 10:40 pm

While we saw some pretty dense snow a few days ago, this last round was definitely more light and fluffy. We observed that in the field yesterday and it's evident from the Taos Powderhorn Snotel station data. I'm showing around 8.5% density. It will be interesting to see if it gets blown around or settles down.

Temps are getting quite cold too (rightmost column of larger table, degrees F).
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Re: Taos Region

Postby Marc » Tue Dec 17, 2019 6:44 pm

After spending that past week in the backcountry in Taos during a really fun Level 1 AIARE avalanche class, the latest storm cycle delivered a nice fresh blanket of snow across the region. Our avalanche hazard is clearly different than that of the Sangre de Cristos of Colorado. The avalanche problem of basil facets remains clearly non-reactive and LOW avalanche hazard at TL and BTL continued into Tuesday. No slab activity was seen from our crew. Our only concern was a possible build-up of wind slabs on lee and cross-loaded slopes, but we didn't see any naturals once the clouds lifted.

If you missed this storm cycle, don't be mad, the cold temps should recycle the latest snow that sits on top of a couple layers of rounds (atypical for NM in the winter) since there's only clear skies for the coming week. So, grab your gear and have a great day in the backcountry while everyone else pays money for lesser snow conditions.

As a side note, we got NO positive tests in ANY of our pits (CTs, ETCs and RBs) ANYWHERE over the past week. It doesn't make for interesting results, but it's great to demonstrate when it's time to open things up a bit. I'm only sad about our bruised hands. Don't be a head-down mule while headed to the peaks and keep your radar for development of NSF development and wind slabs in the coming days.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby Marc » Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:11 am

JBella wrote:Regarding Marc's findings, that same problematic layer was reactive last week on Wednesday at approx. 11,600', west aspect by the treeline on the south side of the Red Rocks area. At the time it was the previous storm's slab failing on a layer of 2+mm graupel.


Funny how that graupel has been a persistent player through the years. I don't really see it as problematic in other adjacent regions (like the greater San Juans), but it's definitely one of those grain types to follow once it's identified. We didn't find it reactive this past week at TL or BTL, but we didn't ski on the East faces ATL because of projected wind slabs with possible natural release from this last cycle. Are you seeing anything showing reactivity and propagation on these slopes aside from the natural sloughs?

I usually have gone to the South of Red Rocks, but this time we came up through the west side. We touched the south face of the Red Rocks area and it was wind packed hard. We didn't get any results through this area with ski cuts, hand shears, etc.. The Northwest side of Wheeler was especially wind scoured from the winds that shifted both ways (N&S) on Sat-Sun. I kind of wish I had more to report, but I have to say that conditions were very stable and there were no significant tests on the previous layers.

Cheers!
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Re: Taos Region

Postby JBella » Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:48 pm

December 17th dug around near 11,400', west aspect on what we call Craig's line between the fingers and hidden chute, along the general uphill route many folks use. Multiple single column tests repeated exact results - snow depth 115cm, CT 2 Q2+ RP at 15cm, CT17 Q2+ RP at 50cm, CT 27 Q3 at about 90-100cm with no exact definable interface (see video linked below for a visual on this), with shear pulls showing a couple other layers separating but not collapsing (one particular I've been finding at about 70cm with shovel pulls and when columns fall and break apart) - no indications in these tests or others that there's a propensity for propagation at or between any of these layers. Overall snowpack consisted of the very dry storm powder above a hard slab above the layer of 2-3+mm advanced basal facets, with a thin crust at that 100cm layer. Discussing findings and obs within our group of 3 and another group of 2 (TAC) it seemed we all were in agreement that conditions were great and there were no dire concerns of triggering an avalanche. Temps were staying cold, barely gracing the melting point in the sun on the south aspect above the Hidden Chute as we headed to the top of the Ring Finger and the other pair of skiers headed higher and across to the Peace Chute, and another group dropped into the Pinky below us. Conditions were great, amazing blower pow all the way down - after skitching through the rocky section at the top we rode the entire chute (not our typical descent style) one at a time and regrouped on the apron. To perspectify how good it was, it was one of the best three or four lines I've ever ridden.

Rj's video is posted here; https://www.instagram.com/p/B6Mg2dFFfsw/

Absolutely amazing day;

December 17 Taos Backcountry.jpg
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After a couple minutes calming down from our truly remarkable line we headed down the trail towards the wilderness boundary and watched the TAC crew make some great turns down the Peace Chute as they skied their lines one at a time, top to bottom. Now back to my thoughts on the snowpack. While we have had a couple weeks of relative stability, aside from some brief periods of storm activity, the faceting process within the snowpack is continuing and the layers which have been failing may be affected. I've seen similar conditions in previous seasons in which we had a great December or January snowpack and were able to ride some steep terrain with confidence, then with several days of clear weather and cold nights the snowpack began evolving to a more active and energetic layer cake. Doesn't mean that will happen now, it's something to consider as a similar situation may progress this week, or the clear and calm days may help further stabilize some aspects or individual slopes while others become more precarious. My main concerns recently have not been the potential to trigger a slide, first and foremost concern is that we generally have a hard slab sitting atop basal facets which may be hard to trigger, but if a slope does release it will be a big one. The CAIC has been using words like "unsurvivable" and destructive when describing this possibility. Second concern is crossloaded windslabs, if you're in the William's Lake basin look around, they're clearly obvious in most of the usual locations and a few slopes which are not usually windloaded are holding some deep drifts currently, such as between the cliff bands on Fairview's east slopes, the middle of what we call the Pyramid. While the persistent layers may not be easy to trigger, the current snowpack structure indicates a deep slab is developing and could become a persisting concern for much of the season.

This video shows the layers I discovered on the 17th, and illustrates some of my thoughts about the current snowpack;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sncrKoe ... e=youtu.be
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Re: Taos Region

Postby brock » Sun Dec 22, 2019 7:16 pm

I had a nice a tour today, snow is getting a bit sun affected, especially near tree line. There's some breakable crust higher up on Peace Sign and the fingers, and signs of wind scouring as well.

I'll post my detailed observations tomorrow morning, but for now here are my compression tests. I did an ECT to follow up on the one by Wildy Bowl but did not get propagation.

Very different results depending on aspect.

https://youtu.be/UWsnGxL1u9U Peace Sign ascent
https://youtu.be/kOyg4nt-DjM foot of Wildy Bowl

Feedback welcome as I'm pretty new at this.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby brock » Mon Dec 23, 2019 11:43 am

More details from 2019-12-22

As stated in the previous post, I dug two snowpits. The first on the ascent to the looker's right of Peace Sign and the second near the foot of Wildy Bowl. I've attached the pit profiles and some photos. Here's the Peace Sign ascent pit:

Peace Sign Chute Asc.-22-Dec.png
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peace_sign_ascent_2019-12-22_obs_wall_rotated.jpg
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As previously mentioned I saw a bit of wind scouring and some sun crust higher up on the Peace Sign ascent and the snowpack got quite thin, 30cm in places and lots of obstacles just under the surface and poking through. As you can see from the temperature profile there was a pretty good temperature gradient at 9am, enough to drive faceting. It looked to me like the warm temperatures had really firmed things up and created a lot of sintered rounds, but the surface hoar, sun crust, and faceting of the rounded crystals could become a problem after this week's storms come through.

Here's the Wildy Bowl pit:

Wildy Bowl Foot-22-Dec.png
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wildy_bowl_foot_2019-12-22_obs_wall_rotated.jpg
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ECT result:
wildy_bowl_foot_ect_rotated.jpg
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I noticed signs of loose wet surface slides in sunny areas and got a bit of snow sticking to my skins over by Wildy Bowl pit. Given the more stable results I'd gotten elsewhere I was a bit surprised at the RP fractures I got near Wildy. I also saw quite a bit of surface hoar, larger near Williams Lake Trail and smaller as I went up in altitude. With my low level of experience and being solo I opted to stick to shallower slopes up into Wildy Bowl but was not super concerned. I did not ascend up the slopes inside the bowl once I got there and was getting to tired to do another pit in there. Some fun looking tracks in the bowl (see pano photo).

wildy_bowl_pano_resized.jpg
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Up into Wildy Bowl the snow was pretty nice on the surface, due to the lack of sunlight I believe.

Here's my track from the day on FATMAP.

https://fatmap.com/routeid/553134/morni ... y/?fmid=cp
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Re: Taos Region

Postby brock » Tue Jan 14, 2020 1:17 pm

I was planning to tour near Williams Lake again on Saturday but I'm concerned about all the loading that may come in with this storm Thursday/Friday. I might just stick inbounds. I checked the Avalanche center, not feeling super informed about the degree of risk from the layers they are discussing. Any recent observations from the folks here?
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Re: Taos Region

Postby JBella » Wed Feb 05, 2020 9:11 pm

Taos Avalanche Center posted this earlier; https://www.instagram.com/p/B8M777jFlGN/

It is unknown if this was a natural, or possibly triggered sympathetically by the Gazex system on the inbounds side of Kachina. Whatever the trigger was, either from percussive resonance, water weight, rockfall, wind or an animal travelling on the slope, these pics and the description convey some of the current instabilities that exist.

I haven't been anywhere in the William's Lake zone since January 8th and don't have any recent specific info about the snowpack there, besides that the two major and few minor storm events since then have dropped significant water on top of a structurally variable snowpack that had been deteriorating with surface facets and multiple slab-facet-slab layers that developed prior to January 8th. Been checking out some areas in Gavilan that I've wanted to explore for several years, and have found some unsettling things over there during the past few weeks. South aspects near and within west Gavilan have deteriorated to pockets of very weak layer cakes, with high temps (low 50's on February 15th) and springlike conditions leading up to yesterday's storm. North and east aspects have been skiing great, while I've been staying on sheltered forested terrain and avoiding the open paths. Every aspect I've dug a pit on in Gavilan up to about 11,000' (including north-east-south-southwest) has shown very unconsolidated depth hoar above the ground with unsupportable layers on top, seems like lesser slab development than what has been reported in the Wheeler Peak area and also TAC's recent obs from Long Canyon. Hoping to get out more this month and will post any significant findings. Intuitively I don't think any slopes can be considered "safe" currently, seems like the period of relatively unseasonable stability we had during December ended weeks ago and the wilderness snowpack is going to be somewhat complex for the near future within and on these mountains.
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Re: Taos Region

Postby Marc » Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:07 pm

210220
Trip up Wheeler Peak and a couple of photos with a brief summary.
Snowpack:
At and below tree line areas have sufficient snow coverage for travel pretty much anywhere, but varies in some locations with over 180cm to others with less than 1m in the Williams area. DH runs around 20cm from the ground, up and is growing with some grains up to 6mm, especially in areas with more diurnal flux. The midpack however, continues to be quite dense and supportive with structural supportive bridging for skiers, riders, and snowshoers. Postholing continues to be problematic for the shoe-footed traveler.

Above Tree Line: Conditions are pretty much the same as at treeline to about 100 to 200 feet above TL in areas that snow accumulates and on lee aspects around LFP, SN, Kachina. Otherwise, wind exposed areas are nearly denuded leaving WC and MFC especially on grassy slopes. The East side of the Wheeler ridgeline from BOTW, Frazier, though Old Mike is very thin from previous NE winds. Although there appears to be good snow coverage, it isn't good enough for the nice skis. Take a helmet and shoulder pads for fast attempt descents ATL off of Wheeler. LFP appears to house more snow and was not as affected by the previous NE winds.

No positive results (formal or informal) to report on. Loads of lines getting done in the range with multiple tracks on all aspects, angles, and elevations where there is snow! Last weeks warming trend started to get a little worrisome as temps were not freezing as solid as I would have liked, but that appears to be changing for the coming week.

The snow from the 21-24 cycle covered what I have written above, and there is still some snowfall currently with 0.9" SWE at the Powderhorn. Snow storm layer appears to be bonding nicely and will hopefully keep avalanche danger levels low to moderate in the coming days. I'd suggest picking lines with homogeneous exposures and expect quick transitions around alternating terrain features for now.
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Wheeler-West-210220.gif
Fairly inclusive photo from Wheeler Summit looking at LFP's East Face
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From Wheeler Summit looking at Old Mike's North Face
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Re: Taos Region

Postby Marc » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:57 am

Lake Fork Talus area to Wildy Bowl 26022020
After seeing the conditions on Wheeler (above post) we were interested in evaluating conditions across the valley to the west in the Lake Fork Basin and Wildy Bowl At Tree Line and Below Tree Line.

No new avalanche activity in the Williams Lake area over the past few days, until later in the afternoon when temps heated up some to produce some S/SE facing point release loose wet slides without any deeper triggering. Old small and localized storm wind slabs at the North ridgeline of LFP were appreciated.

Snowpack data are as shown in our snow pit. No major/significant results were produced from our tests. We did not evaluate the highest alpine terrain. Cornices are starting to build, and we only dug down to 105cm. We were not able to hit the ground with a 3m probe in our pit, so we did not see any DH. All the layers were remarkably hard in the midpack, compared to usual conditions this time of year. Rounds are consistent with the previous storms as cited previously.

Lots of skiable terrain is available in the greater Williams Creek area. Very good skiing conditions on steep terrain after the previous storm. The Fingers area has been getting a lot of travel as well!
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Test pit LFP talus at T
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Re: Taos Region

Postby Marc » Sun Mar 01, 2020 7:43 am

Weather is definitely changing and a warming trend is coming in with temps that appear to approach 50F at 10,000' later in the week. A small squall will move through, but who knows if it will just be "dust on crust" or blow by and keep moving to Kansas with the winds.
Some recent point releases continuing to be seen on southerly faces and aspects. No recent slabs in the Williams zone.
Snowpack results BTL yesterday on northerly aspects were on par with previous reports and and with some CT results giving rise to BRK 30-40cm down. No propagation observed in any tests (about 14 total).
Definitely be watching out for the start of the spring shed in regard to wet slabs if you're getting above tree line, and keep an eye on the snowpack becoming isothermal vs. getting a good freeze at night.
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