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Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

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Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby tterrall » Mon May 16, 2011 9:52 pm

Hi, this summer I am doing a large section of the PCT, from the Southern Sierras to the Columbia River. I am planning on starting in late June or early July. I am still undecided on whether to do North- or South-bound and am looking for information on conditions in the Southern Sierras in early July. I live in Oregon and am fairly unfamiliar with the Southern Sierras. I am fairly experienced with snow travel and have mountaineering experience in the Cascades, along with good naviagtion skills. My main questions are:

Will an ice axe with lightweight hiking boots or trail runners be sufficient in early July?

I am thinking of starting at Mt. Whitney, are there other suggestions for a good starting point?

Will the scenery and conditions be better in early July in the Southern Sierras if I go North compared to September if I start in Oregon and head South?

Any help would be greatly appreciated, along with any random comments or suggestions relating to travelling on the PCT.

Thanks a lot!



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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby Mike M. » Mon May 16, 2011 10:27 pm

Unless you already have a permit to start your hike in the Whitney zone, forget about starting your hike at Whitney Portal. There's a lottery system in place and permits are snapped up right away. A good alternative is to start your hike out of Horseshoe Meadows and go over either Cottonwood Pass or New Army Pass, both just south of Mt. Whitney. Cottonwood Pass is easier but the route is less scenic. New Army Pass is likely to have a nasty cornice up top early season. Follow either pass to Crabtree Meadows, where you pick up the Muir Trail coming down from Trail Crest. You can day hike up to Mt. Whitney from here.

Keep in mind, this has been a very big snow year for the Sierra Nevada. Nobody knows for certain, but most observers expect the snow melt to be 10 days to two weeks behind schedule. This is high country -- your first seven passes are above 11,000 feet. Expect snow on most passes until early August. You will need a good pair of boots, as well as gaiters.

Sierra weather is much more dependable than what you are used to in the Cascades. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, but storm fronts like you experience in the NW are rare, especially in early summer. You can almost count on waking up to a bright blue sky every morning.

Starting out in late June this year will get you in terrain that looks like this:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=5093

If you're up to hard hiking over rutted, snow cupped terrain, you will have a blast.

Mike
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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby quentinc » Tue May 17, 2011 4:51 pm

Mike provides a lot of great advice. I would just add that September has it all over July when it comes to being in the Southern Sierra. No mosquitoes (as opposed to absolute swarms) and relatively few people (as opposed to absolute swarms). Passes will be snow-free on the JMT. Also, in my experience at least, there seem to be fewer afternoon thunder showers (snow storms are possible, but unusual). The only thing you miss is wildflowers, but they probably won't be at their peak until August, given how late this summer is shaping up to be.
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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby SPeacock » Tue May 17, 2011 4:56 pm

Since you are looking for miles, you could start at the beginning of the Northern California section at Walker Pass and CA 178 (east of Lake Isabella) or even earlier if you would like to check out the Mojave. It will be a tad warm there by July, however. That is close to the geological start of the Sierra.

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=35.6656 ... &type=topo

You wouldn't be over 11,000 until you get to Cottonwood Pass and your first snow problem would then be Forester Pass a day+ later. By the time you are there it may well have been trampled well. Except for a brief respite going down Rock Creek a few miles, the next couple of weeks or so past Cottonwood stays mostly above 10,000'. You might get a Whitney ticket from the west side. If you don't get one, you should forget sneaking up to the top. They do check. You might tag along with another group you meet there with a spare opening.

You will miss the Kern River since the PCT stays to the east of it. Too bad as that is a spectacular trip for the last 20 miles or so of it.
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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue May 17, 2011 6:00 pm

Since you are not doing the Washington Cascades (early season snow and avalanche problems), if you were to go north-to-south from the Columbia, you would be doing the snowy part in your own backyard- you would be familiar with conditions and are closer to vital information. You may even be able to cross country ski a portion. You would then hit the Sierra and "unknown to you" and higher altitude sections later when conditions would be better. As for mosquitoes, I do not think you get a free pass on them! It is a matter of do you want to deal with Mosquitoes in Oregon or the Sierra. You also have to consider river crossings at peak snowmelt. Late June to early July is going to be difficult here in the Sierra. Since I am not familiar with early season trail conditions or rver crossings in Oregon, you will have to evaluate that. Also from a permit aspect, it is easier to get a permit for the Sierra once you get to the Tahoe area.
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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby quentinc » Tue May 17, 2011 7:35 pm

Ask five people and you'll get 5 different answers, but with all due respect to SPeacock's post, if it were me I wouldn't dream of starting from Walker Pass in July. And starting south of Walker Pass would be akin to entering Dante's Inferno (only the devil would be on a dirt bike or, more accurately, 1,000 dirt bikes), particularly if you were to start in the Tehachapis (which might be politely described as "austere").

If you do want maximum miles, starting at Kennedy Meadows wouldn't be too bad. That way you'd have only one day at lowish elevation (and sagebrush).
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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby oldranger » Tue May 17, 2011 8:18 pm

Given conditions in Oregon Cascades I wouldn't expect snowfree travel until after mid july--not much different than Sierra except snow will be significant down to 5,500 feet or so near crest.

Mike
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Re: Need advice for starting PCT hike in Southern Sierras

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed May 18, 2011 6:06 pm

There is going to be snow all along the route early. My thought on north-to-south was he may be better off with the "snow he knows" vs the "snow he does not know". Having not hiked in Oregon (except climbing Mt Hood 45 years ago in June) I cannot compare. The Sierra early snow is going to be at a lot higher altitude. Slogging through snow at high altitude may be worse than in Oregon. I would guess that there are more steep passes in the Sierra section of the PCT than in Oregon. He needs to read some of the trail journals of last year's south-to-north PCT hikers. Pretty brutal conditions and this year could be worse.

There is a also discussion and photos on the Whitney Portal forum regarding the conditons around Whitney.

http://www.whitneyportalstore.com/forum ... d=1&page=1
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