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Sierra high country in October?

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Sierra high country in October?

Postby markoboston » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:41 am

My recent hike in the Sierra has inspired a buddy of mine here in Boston to consider a Sierra trip. Unfortunately, he can't go until October. I told him I thought that there was a good chance of heavy snow above 8,000 feet in October based on memories from life in California some years ago. (I remember finding snow outside my tent in Tuolomne Meadows one morning in like the 2nd week of September.) However, now I'm wondering if that's right, and I want other opinions. Would my buddy need to plan for winter conditions in the High Sierra in, say, mid-October? Thanks.



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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:49 am

Last year we had a snowstorm in mid-October that briefly (for a couple days) shut down Tioga Pass. So yeah, I would not go into the high country without being prepared for winter conditions.
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby rlown » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:56 am

where is your friend thinking of going? That might play a big part in comments. The major part of an october trip is that you sometimes can't drive in and park after a certain time of year, determined by the powers that be. That means either someone has to drop you off, or if it does snow, you may have a really long hike out if they close your access road.
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby rayfound » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:56 am

I would Say yes. Consider that by November, we have members here who are SKATING on the lakes, if memory serves me right.



That's not to say you mightn't have a nice time with nice weather... but its getting to that time of year when the Sierra is a place that can throw you a lot of different conditions.
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby BrianF » Tue Aug 17, 2010 2:43 pm

I have been several times in early October between 10,000 and 11,500 and peak bagging, with mixed results. I have never had to deal with more than a few inches of snow, but that is not a given. The nights are long and cold (in the teens) and the afternoon t-storms are snow flurries, but you will see virtually no one. If there have been recent storms you'll find snow coverage lingering on the north facing slopes. I was once treated to a harrowing talus field at Alpine Col covered with just enough snow to make it very slippery and hide some of the holes - no fun solo!. Watch the weather for a couple of weeks before and plan accordingly and be prepared for some snow. As noted some of the access roads may be closed, or not plowed to get out if you are already there. It would be unusual to have deep snow that early, but not impossible. Last time in Humprey's Basin in early Oct. I got an afternoon snowstorm that put 4+ inches of snow all across the basin that melted off by noon next day.
The direction you are moving in is what matters, not the place you happen to be -Colin Fletcher
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby cmon4day » Tue Aug 17, 2010 4:43 pm

Read the fall forecast exerpt from the Mammoth Weather Dweeb Report

"AGAIN....MODERATE/STRONG LA NINA FALLS ARE USUALLY ACCOMPANIED BY AN EARLY SNOW STORM (SINGULARITY TYPE), THAT CAN OCCUR ANYTIME FROM MID SEPTEMBER TO MID OCTOBER HERE IN MAMMOTH, FOLLOWED BY AN EXTENSIVE PERIOD OF DRY WEATHER FOLLOWED BY COLD UNSETTLED WEATHER DEVELOPING IN NOVEMBER. "
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 17, 2010 8:54 pm

None of which necessarily rules out a trip altogether. If you do go, though, my advice would be a) stay relatively low (~7,000 to 8,000 instead of 10,000 to 11,000), b) don't get too far in (make sure you can get out in a day's hike if necessary), and c) be prepared for cold and wet.
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby cahiker » Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:46 pm

Didn't the Donner Party get caught in a late October snowstorm?

As others have said it can be a beautiful time to be in the Sierra, but you should be selective about your route and prepared for a variety of weather, regardless of what the weather report says.
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Aug 19, 2010 6:21 am

Not sure about the Donner Party, but in 2004 a bunch of backpackers were stranded by an October snowstorm. (They all made it out eventually.)
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby oleander » Thu Aug 19, 2010 11:32 am

My first thought was, mid-October: What a prime time to try a *desert* hike!

Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Zion, Canyonlands, Escalante River, Grand Gulch, Grand Canyon...So many possibilities. Mid-Oct is perfect for weather (and colorful aspen trees) in the desert.

I prefer the high-elevation parts of the Sierras (10,000+ feet). So, after Oct 1 or so, I just don't go there anymore. Last year, we got a freak heavy snowstorm the first weekend in October, and though we made it out to the car okay, the car itself was stranded at an unplowed trailhead. A couple years prior, there was another freak snowstorm during the last weekend in September...and the weather forecast had been for 100% sun!

I've also experienced 80+ degree weather backpacking in the Sierras in early October. It's just that you can't count on it.

If you insist on the Sierras, try something at a lower elevation, and from an easily accessible trailhead that will not be closed or subject to the whims of some agency who Might Plow It For You, But Maybe Not. Unfortunately, offhand I cannot think of any trailhead that qualifies...except Yosemite Valley/Happy Isles...or Road's End in Kings Canyon. Maybe try one of those.

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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Aug 19, 2010 12:26 pm

oleander wrote:Unfortunately, offhand I cannot think of any trailhead that qualifies...except Yosemite Valley/Happy Isles...or Road's End in Kings Canyon. Maybe try one of those.

Oleander

Road's End is one I was thinking about. If I were to do a mid-October trip, I'd probably basecamp for a couple days in Paradise Valley (fall color, according to Arnot) and do dayhikes from there. You should still be able to get some solitude, and you can get to some interesting places on a dayhike (e.g., Window Creek basin), but it's a pretty low risk of getting stranded.
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Re: Sierra high country in October?

Postby SSSdave » Thu Aug 19, 2010 1:25 pm

I don't see High Sierra in October as pleasant even on fair weather days. And November is much less so. Days are short, nights tentbound are long and chilly. Every morning ice forms on brown turf and many northern exposures are shadowy all day with remnant white snow dustings from the last early front passing. The sun is at a much lower angle even at noon so it doesn't warm up that much. Smaller streams show dried watercourses often leaving long trail stretches without water. Permanent streams are at their annual minimum flows with ice crinkling and breaking during morning along any shady bank edges. Vegetation is all dried and drab brown leaving evergreen pines and firs the only green. High country terrestrial insects have all long since hatched, lived, reproduced, and died so most birds have left for warmer climes leaving an eerie silence about vast distances. Even rodents stay in their burrows nibbling unseen on their summer larder. Deer have left the high country to eat berries at mid forest elevations. Trout readily gobble any underwater object that wiggles while ignoring the lifeless lake surfaces. Experienced backpackers and climbers are scarce too while a few novices ramble up trails proclaiming how great it is that they are alone even on popular trails. Clear skies give way to growing afternoon clouds. In the evening stars appear then later ominously disappear with a whine in whitebark pines growing each hour. One awakes in the we hours and a new sound is tinkling on one's tent. One contemplates on being really alone and why this is so.
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