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Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

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Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby natebottman » Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:44 pm

Every year for the past three years, my dad and I have gone backpacking in Utah for the last week of March. We were thinking of going someplace other than Utah this year, and I thought the Eastern Sierra might be a possibility. Does anyone have any ideas/suggestions/warnings about where to go for a ~5 day hike in the Sierra at the end of March?

Here is some info about our abilities and interests:

* We've both done a lot of backpacking, mostly on trails but not entirely.

* Scrambly terrain is fine, same with glaciers. Not so hot on river crossings.

* My dad is really into photography.

* We're not averse to snow-camping, but we prefer hiking to snowshoeing.

* ~10 miles/day is our maximum.

Thanks in advance!



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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby Tom_H » Sun Jan 12, 2014 1:36 pm

I wish I could help you more, but I think it depends upon what happens with this bizarre weather we have been having. If things continue as they have been, there will be plenty of places you could go. If, hopefully, it does start snowing, there will be fewer places.

If the current pattern continues and you go to someplace that is snow free due to this present pattern, you still risk getting snowed in unless you take appropriate winter gear. Even the most experienced backpacker should never attempt winter conditions unless (s)he is already experienced or in the company of others who already are experienced, and you have the right gear. Are you experienced in snow camping? Do you have tents that can withstand heavy snow and high wind? What temperature rating are your sleeping bags and what insulation do they use? (Late March could dump heavy snow, but it also could bring heavy rain that could make down useless.) Do you have appropriate winter clothing? Do you have and are you willing to take snowshoes and perhaps skis on dry terrain in case it does snow? Will you have GPS, SPOT, sat. phone to use in case the need arises?

If it does snow heavily prior to late March, forest service roads can make a better path than a trail. You can make out the grade and nordic ski or snowshoe on the flat surface.

Since the lower edge of the eastern slope is at altitude (terminating roughly at 4,000'-6,000'), would you consider the western slope (terminating at < 1,000')? This gives you more places that still have mountainous topography, but are less likely to have snow.
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby oldranger » Sun Jan 12, 2014 1:51 pm

Nate

Even if this weather pattern were to continue into march there remains the possibility of major snowfall events into mid April and significant events thru May. So if you plan on such a trip be willing to change plans if the 7 day forecast is even a little iffy.

Mike
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby SSSdave » Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:21 pm

Pretty much what Tom_H related. Utah's higher mountains have the same issue as the Wasatch and Uinta's also usually have significant winter storms well into April. Your comment about backpacking in Utah during March suggests you had done so in southern Utah plateau country where precipitation from such storms tends to be low and either melts or runs off quickly. My favorite time for those areas is during May when vegetation is peaking while weather has warmed up a bit with seasonal streams still running with water.

Here in California, our southern desert parks are usually good choices for March, Death Valley NP, Joshua Tree NP, and Anza Borrego SP. Well March on years there have been rains. And this rainy season has been dry as a bone. Actually the third straight year of drought so severe conditions. Thus California is not a good choice. The prime period for backpacking in the Sierra Nevada is mid July thru mid August. After most snows have melted back, mosquitoes have mostly lived then died, and while all is green with waters still flowing. Utah areas are of course immense, enough to keep one busy for a lifetime. Will suggest investigating something about the east areas of Capitol Reef NP.
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby larry1 » Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:25 pm

Leavitt Meadows TH @ 7,200' hike South on trail along Walker River to Chain of Lakes area. In this area you can keep below 8,500' A option, use Leavitt Meadows Pack Station (if they are open @ the end of March) to book a one way trip. You and your Dad and your gear ride down to a agreed upon area and you're dropped off and hike back. The pack station has a variety of drop off points and I would imagine they would be happy to recommend good areas for photo shoots. This is a beautiful area. Enjoy
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby sparky » Mon Jan 13, 2014 5:41 pm

south fork or middle fork kaweah
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby maverick » Mon Jan 13, 2014 6:03 pm

Hi Nate,

Welcome to HST! If Utah is a no go than go with Death Valley and keep your visit to
the Sierra for the late spring or summer months.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby Tom_H » Mon Jan 13, 2014 9:10 pm

larry1 wrote:Leavitt Meadows TH @ 7,200' hike South on trail along Walker River to Chain of Lakes area. In this area you can keep below 8,500' A option, use Leavitt Meadows Pack Station (if they are open @ the end of March) to book a one way trip. You and your Dad and your gear ride down to a agreed upon area and you're dropped off and hike back. The pack station has a variety of drop off points and I would imagine they would be happy to recommend good areas for photo shoots. This is a beautiful area. Enjoy


That's actually not a bad suggestion if the OP is willing to go in and out by the same route. Rather than Chain of Lakes, you might just follow the West Walker as far as the upper end of Upper Paiute Meadows, then turn around. From TH to there is relatively flat the entire way. If you started in current conditions but took snowshoes and nordic skis just in case of a heavy storm, you would not have many steep descents on the way back out.

I think Mav is right about going to DV. Nevertheless, let me reiterate, if you intend to do the Sierra, do not go to any significant elevation in late March unless both of you are experienced in snow camping, backcountry nordic skiing, and snowshoeing, have 4 season synthetic bags, have appropriate layers, have a winter expedition tent, have a SPOT or other beacon, are fairly young and in shape, and take all the gear I made reference to. I don't think you'd need crampons, but might take larger sized ice cleats in their stead. Do both of you have a good understanding of hypothermia and how to deal with it if the other begins showing symptoms? Also, leave a detailed trip plan with several friends, the sheriff's office and FS, notifying them of your intended return time. Call them to let them know when you are back so no one initiates a false SAR.

The first rule of survival is Avoid Survival Situations. Do not go unless you know what you are doing and have the right gear. This is a lot more involved than just backpacking with lower temperatures.
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby Tom_H » Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:05 am

A couple of more thoughts.

If you go and there isn't much snow, and then it drops several feet, you wouldn't have enough snowpack to cut igloo blocks, nor deep enough banks on hillsides to dig a snow cave. Google Quinzee Hut and familiarize yourself with how to build this structure which is what you'd need to do in those conditions. You need to take an alpinists snow shovel with the other items I mentioned.

Also, I want to revisit the possibility of rain. I would much rather deal with -25 degree dry powder than to deal with +25 following a downpour of rain. Getting everything soaked with water followed by plunging temperatures after a storm system moves out is one of the most dangerous situations you could be in. This creates very high chances of hypothermia. It also could leave a hard sheet of extremely slick ice atop snow if you get snow then rain. I remember skiing down a couloir at Kirkwood named Hell's Delight in such conditions. Atop the ice was like vertical ice skating. After a few yards the skis would submarine below the ice into medium density powder and the very bottom of my shins at the ankle turned into ice breakers. Neither skiing nor hiking in that kind of stuff is any fun.
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:57 am

I find it hard to believe that you would not have snow in late March from Levitte meadows up the river, even in a low snow year. If the snow is in its melting phase, even if not deep, walking that distance through the sloppy mess is not nice. I doubt the pack station would be open in late March. I think they have restrictions put on them early season due to trail damage when everything is wet and muddy. Not sure about that though. As for fishing, the lakes may be frozen yet.

I have done the Lost Coast in April and it was great. I did the entire length in 8 days, although could have done it in 6. The entire hike continues south of Shelter Cove to intersect Hwy1 just as it turns in off the coast.

Grand Canyon is also a great place in March, but permits may be hard to get.

March is still winter in most western mountains. Dry year or not, you have to be prepared for winter.
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby SweetSierra » Tue Jan 14, 2014 5:11 pm

The Lost Coast suggestion by Wandering Daisy is a great one. I did just the first section of that hike from the north and loved it. It's still one of my favorite backpacks. Just the sound of the surf on the rocks all day and beautiful clear pools of fresh water from the King Range to camp near at night. Point Reyes is also a great place to backpack in March. I wouldn't consider the Sierra in March. The Golden Trout from the east side becomes snow free earlier than the high Sierra but not until late April/May usually. From the west, the Golden Trout holds snow longer than the east, like most west side entries.
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Re: Late march Sierra backpacking --- ideas??

Postby natebottman » Wed Jan 15, 2014 12:33 am

Thanks everyone for the info and suggestions! Based on the tenor of responses I think we will avoid the Sierra this March. We're proficient enough at winter backpacking when necessary, but this time we'd rather avoid anything hairy (lots of snow, lots of rain, ...). So we will find something to do in the desert, maybe some more exploring in Canyonlands.

The next time I venture into the Sierra I will come back to this board, it was great how helpful everyone was.
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