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Is early July too early to hit the High Sierra this year?

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Is early July too early to hit the High Sierra this year?

Postby Mike M. » Thu May 05, 2011 2:18 pm

I've seen lots of recent posts about the huge snowpack and what that might mean for our summer hikes, which most of us have to plan well in advance given our busy work schedules and family commitments. Some are advising delaying hikes until mid to late August. At this point in time, there is no way to know how quickly the snow will melt. It looks like the high pressure ridge is settling in and the valley is finally seeing some warm weather (90 degrees in Fresno yesterday). My guess (and this is only a guess) is we will see a relatively normal backpacking season, with most passes snow free by mid July.

If you like to hike in July, you'll encounter long summer days and warmer weather (compared to August), tons of skeeters, snow on some passes, and some tricky water crossings. The skeeters are the biggest negative and are why many of us choose to plan trips for later in the season.

In the event we have an atypical spring, with cool temperatures that delay the snow melt, we could very well see snow on the passes into early August. I don't think this is likely, but if it does happen, see this trip report to get a feel for the conditions we might encounter:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=5093

Incidentally, because of the abundant snow, that is one of my all-time favorite hikes. Be safe. Be flexible. Have fun!

Mike



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Re: Is early July too early to hit the High Sierra this year?

Postby scottg1178 » Fri May 06, 2011 9:35 am

I agree with you Mike.....I think a lot of people on here are getting too caught up in the heavy Snow we got earlier in the season. There is a good post in one of the forums on here that suggests that although the snow is at a record level this year....it is also melting at record pace, which kind of evens things out.

I can't remember a winter like we had this year....but I can't remember the last time it was 95 degrees 5 days in a row in late April and early May. If the weather stays like this May through June I think there will be spots above 10,000 feet open the last weekend of June. Last year I hit up Long Lake in mid June and it is above 10,000, had to walk through a little snow here and there but it was managible. I have the same hike set up for June 23rd (which is later then when i took the hike last year).

My concern would be a major storm in May or June would set everything back.....so hopefully that won't happen.

My question is.........What areas will be available first??? What lakes tend to thaw out first? what trails get the most use in June?

Scott
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Re: Is early July too early to hit the High Sierra this year?

Postby SPeacock » Fri May 06, 2011 4:24 pm

For the Southern Sierra there are reports the snow level is above 8-9,000 in some places already. When the kids were young, Father's Day (end of June) was the first big outing in the Sierra. Cottonwood Lakes (even in big snow years) had trail up to 11,000'. From there on there was full coverage. The passes would be an adventure and there was a lot of post holing even in the mornings above 11,000.

I do remember an awesome early July cornice between Old/New Army Pass after a big snow year.

The difference in a couple of weeks is amazing so by mid July it will be an entirely different set of problems - high water in the creeks, but I suspect you can get over most passes (with some guarded consideration) and stay below 11,000' once you do.

Depends where you are going, you could be into some higher Sierra end of May. If the roads are plowed. Just depends how much snow you can tolerate.

A lower altitude hike that I like in mid June is from Symmes Creek up toward Shepherd Pass. A day hike will take you to at least Mahagany Flats snow free. The water coming down is spectacular.

Same with the Bishop Pass trail. You would be on snow from Long Lake on, but you can find your way to the Pass easy enough. Just depends if anybody has gone over the pass to give you some steps.

Even Kearsarge Pass would be in the running first of July. At least you can trundle up there and see how much snow there is on the last 1/2 mile traverse.

All of those eastern trails get a lot of sun and are a bit more south.
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Re: Is early July too early to hit the High Sierra this year?

Postby Mike M. » Fri May 06, 2011 5:47 pm

Here's an interesting link:

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tiogaopen.htm

This data supports the notion that the melt out is highly dependent on spring weather conditions irrespective of the total seasonal snowfall -- i.e., if conditions are consistently warm during the spring, the pass is usually open by early June, regardless of the snowpack. Two heavy snow years (1995 and 1998) brought a delayed opening of June 30 and July 1 respectively; a third heavy snow year (2005) saw the pass open on June 24. 1983 saw a monster snowpack (224% of normal) but the pass was open by June 29. In 1993, the pass opened on June 3 despite snowfall 159% of normal. Interestingly, on one very light snow year, the pass opened later than you would expect (on May 31st in 2003, when the snowfall was 65% of normal).

Time will tell . . .

Mike
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