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Condition Reports

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.

Condition Reports

Postby oldranger » Tue Jun 03, 2014 9:32 am

I and others have been posting information concerning conditions such as mosquito levels, snow level, and water levels at stream crossings. For those of you relatively new to backpacking in the Sierra please remember that conditions change rapidly early in the season and a report made a couple days ago may no longer be valid. For example I reported no Mosquitos above 9000 feet e. Of the Ritter range last week. My bet is that is not true this week. Similarly I reported snow on n. Slopes above 9500 feet. I'm sure that is still partly true. Water levels are dependent not only on the amount of snow but on temperature and recent precipitation. Most of us with considerable experience have easily crossed a stream but a couple of hours later that stream was not safe to cross.

More importantly just because conditions are not ideal does not mean you should not embark on a trip but it may mean you need to adjust your travel plans. For example as I dropped down the mostly snow covered PCT/JMT going n. Down from Island Pass I could tell that many people went over that section of the trail in afternoon as there were deep postholes in in the snow. I traveled in the late morning and walked carefully and did not break through at all. Steep snow does provide serious challenges such as the risk of a fall and long slide into rocks at the bottom of the slope. I generally wear heavier, stiffer soled boots capable of kicking steps in the snow, use trekking poles and know how to use the poles to self arrest if I were to slip. Also if you are the first one over a snow covered trail navigation can be an issue so you need to be able to read a map and figure the general direction of the trail.

My point is that as an experienced backcountry traveler I find that early season travel has many advantages--few or no mosquitos, few people, ample opportunities for slushies, good fishing (if the lakes aren't frozen). However it is especially important to adjust your expectation to the conditions if you want to have fun and travel safely. I often caution people not to do a route early in the season, not because the route is not doable but because they do not allot enough time for the route and it is obvious if they are going to keep their schedule they are going to tackle the critical snow covered pass at exactly the wrong time of day.

So, remember that as the season progresses, snow conditions generally improve, most years stream flows peak in mid June (this year likely to be an exception and except for a rainfall event not likely to be an issue), mosquitos will get worse and generally will stay at peak levels for about 3 weeks except around meadows and other damp places where they can hang out all season, and in big snow years. Most importantly know your limits and as you gain experience you can gradually extend your limits. Do not be afraid to say no or to adjust your plans because conditions are beyond your comfort level.
Just because someone says you should be able to do a route does not mean you should blindly follow their advice. Ultimately you are responsible for yourself!

Finally, ranger reports in the office are almost always outdated. Always ask when the information was provided, a few days can make a huge difference.

Have fun out there but be carefully and learn as much as you can about the potential hazards of early season travel.


Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!

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