Taos Region

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JBella
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Taos Region

Post by JBella »

While still a thin snowpack for the date, the previous three storms brought some decent base-building material to work with (Sept. 9-10th - 3-4", melted. October 25-28th - 12-25"+, settled and now faceting on northerly aspects near and above treeline, melted on most southerly aspects. November 23-24 - 12-15". November 27-28th, 1-3", current surface).

From https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/nm/snow/;
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November 25th some small skier-triggered soft slabs released below the saddle along Lake Fork's north ridge, and a bunch of individuals found decent powder turns in the gullies and chutes below Wheeler's north ridge.

William's Lake trail is covered and ski-packed. Columbine-Hondo Wilderness trails are likely still thin, but mostly skiable on the higher reaches.

Check out the TAC's new website https://taosavalanchecenter.org/, they've put some work into building a new site that's more organized and has some features that weren't utilized before, and have been posting some useful detailed info.

Some pics from November 25th;
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Marc
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Marc »

Psyched to see the TAC starting to post an avalanche bulletin and hazard this year. Hopefully, they can continue this through the winter and in seasons to come. It's really hard to start an avalanche center, especially with little to no funding. Sometimes this is a USFS position, but with funding so tight it doesn't look like that is in the cards. So, hopefully they will have a good enough budget to work with and can keep it going. Although TAC dropped our classes form their website, BMG still has a full battery of courses as usual.

They are definitely posting some useful information this year as there is projected to be more backcountry users than ever. There were over 100 splitboards sold in a week earlier in October at a local shop. This should also be an awakening that because there will likely be more backcountry travelers than ever, it will be something to very much start thinking about as a community. The exposures to human triggered avalanches from above is now a real concern in the Taos side country, so be cognizant who could be below you when you drop in, and be looking out when on approach up steeper lines. There's no standards on approaches like there are in some other areas, as the access to a line is really quite variable.

Keep the helmet on in early season as although the avi danger rating may be low at the moment, the objective hazard of buried rocks, stumps/trees, and other ankle grabbers can ruin the day. There's a sad case of a fatality about a head injury in early season conditions that was a recent sad story. I'd say objective hazards like these are sometimes the most dangerous thing out there.
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Bob
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Bob »

More backcountry travelers likely means less experience and knowledge.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Region

Post by JBella »

Great points - we’ve already seen significant increase in traffic mostly along the WLT. More than a few not wearing beacons when I checked along the trail the other day. Also while it’s great the TAC is active and issuing forecasts, it’s only another tool to use to assess conditions, and as they advise - dig pits and look for known and unknown instabilities/layers yourself - this is the best advice IMO. I disagree with their current rating that avalanche danger is LOW on all aspects and elevations, specifically near and above treeline - generally a poorly structured snowpack on the higher terrain with stiff slabs sitting atop faceted snow, and what my friends encountered yesterday and Monday - wind slabs near and above treeline on west and southerly aspects, shooting cracks and several small but distinct skier triggered slab releases - all indicate avalanche potential is not low and has been increasing since the Friday-Saturday storm subsided. While the slabs they released yesterday were relatively small and didn’t run far they could easily knock a person over, or bury/injure a dog.

Screenshots of some of these discussion points from an Instagram post yesterday;
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Marc
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Marc »

Shooting cracks in specific areas = low ?!?
Perhaps this was settlement that came before they arrived?
I’d agree with you in questioning that rating in this zone.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Region

Post by JBella »

I haven’t been in the wilderness all week so don’t have first-hand knowledge of today’s current snowpack - reading through the most recent forecast from today certainly seems to create a grainy perspective of what to expect - the pictures of a slab with a crack running across it, a loose slough running down a low elevation shady aspect, and the pic of an extended column test that failed with propagation after 14 taps all don’t seem to indicate a low danger rating, ‘least not to me. The wording is clear, low danger does not mean no danger. Discussing the propensity for trigger points to occur at shallow spots near outcrops and other locations along the edges of slabs is certainly an important point, as is the fact that existing wind slabs where cracks are occurring may be isolated on small areas. I’ve also noticed thanks to social media quite a few locals, who are great skiers but not very experienced with wilderness travel and snowpack assessment, are touring on these same areas. I hope they take all the available info and understand how to interpret what is written, and don’t rely solely on what a danger scale rose conveys.

Screenshots from TAC;
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Bob
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Bob »

Damn, it’s good to see you back here, JBella. Nice posts.
fmarrs3
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Re: Taos Region

Post by fmarrs3 »

Toured to Williams Lake and back today for the first time, dropping down off the Wheeler Trail. Beautiful day, snow was as expected. Hollow wind pillows in spots, and solar aspects are quite crusty, even some spots in the trees. Everything else is pretty sugary and faceted. No signs of instability to report, although I stayed out of avalanche terrain since I was solo.
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Kerry
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Kerry »

22 Dec North of BOW yurt, I skied the E aspect from Gold Hill's S ridge that terminates near the yurt. The pit data is from the top of the run. I found conditions throughout the day to be consistent with the pit implications on E aspects. Although stability is currently very good and bonding of the melt-freeze crust formed 3rd week of Nov is currently strong, the high temp gradient at the same depth may weaken the crust bond in near future--bears watching. The Twining trail to BOW meadow has coverage sufficient for skinning up. Downhill, I walked the lower 1/4-mi, which needs more snow to cover rocks. Likewise the treed E aspect N of the yurt needs another foot of snow to safely cover the deadfall for good skiing.
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Kerry
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Kerry »

22-23 Dec Williams Lake (and greater area) experienced a tremendous wind event. At last light on 22d, I skied into the Talus Field W of Williams Lake on the approach to LFP. The Talus Field had sufficient coverage for fair skiing, wind was Strong, intermittently Extreme, sno blo was Moderate in all visible areas. Two hasty Compression Tests found the same mid-pack layer identified on TAC with CT18 RP and CT21 RP at 65cm up from ground in 105cm HS on a 30-deg N aspect at 11,240' at TL elevation.
Returning the next morning, 23 Dec, I found tree debris and fresh downfall littering the snow, wind crust from the TH up with scattered breakable crust <TL, widespread breakable crust @TL, mostly supportable crust >TL near Sin Nombre. I observed a 30-mtr+ wide R2D2 Wind Slab Natural Avalanche with about 1' crown (best I could tell from about 400-mtrs away) on Kachina's SE aspect that cut across the main run from the summit on SE aspect and a little into the next run skier's right, in the lower edge of rock band, about 40-45 degree slope; it ran about 400' to the trees below. The E and NE side of Kachina at the same elevation had a handful of Dry Loose Natural Avalanches in D1-1.5 range from below the same rock band elevation.
The Talus Field lost about 8" of snow from about 75% of its area in the wind event. Skiing in the Talus Field is now good uphill, but a very sharky proposition for downhill. I had planned to enter the NE bowl of LFP based on previous day's observation, but cancelled that plan due to exposed rock. Headed for TL below Sin Nombre...
Talus Field after wind event
Talus Field after wind event
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I observed a R1-D1.5 Wind Slab Natural Avalanche on a SE aspect on the ridge extending E from LFP. This is on a generally S aspect of LFP's SE bowl. The crown appeared almost 1' tall and about 15-mtr wide, ran about 200', pictured below.
R1D1.5 on SE aspect of LFP's SE bowl
R1D1.5 on SE aspect of LFP's SE bowl
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The centerline exit from Icy Spider (E aspect coulior end of LFP's E ridge) was wind scoured to ground and has two relatively deeper slabs on both sides...could make for a trigger point on basal facets after next slab development. Likewise, the NNW flank of Sin Nombre has multiple areas scoured to the ground; seems unique to me as I normally expect this area to load heavily during such W wind.
Exit from Icy Spider
Exit from Icy Spider
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Sin Nombre's NNW Flank. If you don't have an idea about where you want to climb this after next slab development, take your Level 2.
Sin Nombre's NNW Flank. If you don't have an idea about where you want to climb this after next slab development, take your Level 2.
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In the trees, on pitches up to about 35-degrees, I found the breakable crust to be avoidable but the snow was hooky, grippy, somewhat like Styrofoam. The cold, near 0F, and wind had really worked the upper 10-cm. There was much less tree debris in protected areas than along Williams Trail.
Kerry
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Kerry »

On 12/28 in the Williams cirque, at and above TL all aspects saw widespread examples of poor old/new bond and moderate snow blo all day all aspects. Had a wind slab crack 40' late morning at TL. Below TL on pitches up to 40 degrees, saw no issues. Perhaps 6" accumulation by 4 pm. Two CT tests on W aspect, at TL NE of lake were CTV, failed during cut 8 cm down on old/new interface. A CT23 and CT18 Breaks for the mid-pack persistent problem.
Marc
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Re: Taos Region

Post by Marc »

Great reports, Kerry ~ nothing like a right side up cake! Propagation is not as likely across the variable SPX as previously thought, and the hazard seems a shade less than what one might think, but those wind slabs forming could bring some question to various locations, especially in more complex terrain like the bowls, descending ridge lines, and aggregation regions NTL. Looking forward to seeing what this storm produces with "snow showers likely before 11pm, then snow, mainly after 11pm. Low around 13. Windy, with a south wind 25 to 30 mph, with gusts as high as 45 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 5 to 9 inches possible." Wish we had a H2D with SWE report more than at the beginning of the day, remotely. Guess we'll just have to go have a look and see. Keep eyes on lee aspects over the next 24-48...any lee aspect, since the winds of change are upon us this week, especially >TL. The season is primed in Taos...and hoping for the SF region to acquire a bit more heavy density matrix that is presently pretty much non-existent, since it looks like a while between cycles.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Region

Post by JBella »

https://youtu.be/qKZmvT7qSfk

A look at what we encountered December 29th, lower Wildy approach to the bench by the pond below Kachina’s east side chutes. At 10,880’ 110cm snowpack, 35-40cm fresh F hardness, very reactive at new/old interface on compressed precipitation crystals, very distinguishable interface with lots of tree debris from the wind event prior to storm. The fresh layer was developing slab characteristics throughout the day. Results at this interface - CT9 RP Q2, CT4 RP Q2, ECTVP, prop saw failed with complete propagation at 20cm. Also at 60cm down a 4F layer of .5-1mm decomposing irregular facets - after removing upper slab CT19 SC Q3, CT14 SC Q3. Overall snowpack was loose faceted layers, all fist to 1f hardness except one thin stiffer crust at 90cm down above basal facets consisting of 1-1.5mm irregular crystals, this layer was not reactive to any tests we did and was well-bonded to the snow above and below.

Widespread but somewhat isolated areas of collapsing along our ascent route, around boulders, stumps, fallen trees. Small test slopes easily triggered on north - east - south aspects.
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Easterly chutes on Kachina had all slid R2D2 from the middle cliffs, light was pretty grey but we could see debris piled up near where the slopes transition to the lower-angled aprons.
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Riding down 006 - deep snow above shallower, incohesive facets to the new WLT and crossing below El Funko, challenging to maintain float due to the looseness within lower layers. Storm snow on lower angle terrain made for a few nice powder turns, and a close look at how this layer was evolving.
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sody
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Re: Taos Region

Post by sody »

Toured around in the William's Lake Basin. Skied in the trees next to the big Sin Nombre avalanche path. One my way to that, several small collapses around rocks and willows. Saw a fresh small avalanche (3m wide, ran maybe 10 m). Started near some rocks, east aspect. My guess is that solar exposure caused it to go.
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Also noticed on south aspect, sun crust development, around the lake. Might not be important for steeper slopes, but something to keep in mind.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Region

Post by JBella »

sody wrote: Thu Dec 31, 2020 8:00 pm ... Saw a fresh small avalanche (3m wide, ran maybe 10 m). Started near some rocks, east aspect. ...
I know that slope, check out the TAC observation from December 29th, second picture, titled https://taosavalanchecenter.org/pro-obs ... -treeline/
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