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Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

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Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby SSSdave » Sat Jan 23, 2010 12:23 pm

Decades ago as a young person I read that the US record for snowfall in a single month was at Tamarack in Alpine County. There wasn't enough information to figure out exactly where that measurement was made. I found Tamarack on the map near Bear Valley per below, a place I was familiar with when driving up SR-4 towards Ebbetts Pass,. However that location did not make sense to be the most snowy location that I thought ought to be at a snowy ridgeline area such as Donner Summit. Occassionally in following years I stumbled upon that information and might dig some more but without success including in the early days of the Internet a decade ago. Of course information is continually being added to the web and what is accessible. So when I crossed the subject again today, I looked some more. Here is what is in Wikipedia:

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Tamarack (formerly, Camp Tamarack[2]) is an unincorporated community in Calaveras County, California, United States. A nearby weather station, located across the Alpine County line, has been the site of United States meteorological records. The community was founded in the 1920s.[2]

Tamarack's weather station owns the national snowfall record for one month: in January 1911, Tamarack received 390 inches (32.5 feet) of snow.[3] It also set the American seasonal snow depth record of 454 inches (37.8 ft.), measured on March 10, 1911.[3] During the winter of 1911 Tamarack was buried beneath a total of 767 inches (63.9 feet) of snow, most of which fell during that notorious January.[3] Tamarack also holds the California seasonal snowfall record of 884 inches.[3]

Tamarack is located at an elevation of 6,913 feet (2,107 m)[4], on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada near Bear Valley and south of South Lake Tahoe.

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Notice the above does not preclude that the measurement was made away from the weather station itself. Note the station's elevation at 6,913. That is at 38.4 by 120.1 degrees lon/lat. Today I found some new information on a lead from this link:

http://www.weather.gov/om/coop/

That shows a station id 048781 called Tamarack that is not at the above location but rather:

048781 TAMARACK
38° 36´N Longitude
119° 56´W Elevation
2458 meters 8064 feet

That weather website also showed:

1 month snowfall: 390 inches (32.5 feet) at Tamarack, Jan. 1991 (US record)

Total winter snowfall: 884 inches (73.7 feet) Tamarack, 1906-07

Greatest snow depth: 451 inches (37.6 feet) at Tamarack, Mar. 11, 1911 (US record)
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That lat/lon leads to this place, Tamarack Lake, I had long suspected as possibly being the true location measured:

http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=38.61130,-119.90174&z=15&t=T

Another web site of historical Sierra natural research information noted:

(3) Tamarack, Alpine County, 8,000 feet elevation, lies on the headwaters of
the Mokelumne River in a glaciated region Avith many small lakes, the largest
being the Blue Lakes, two glacial basins, each about one-half mile long. The
station is distant from Summit about 50 miles to the southeast and is in the
upper part of the Canadian life-zone.

If one looks at the topography of Tamarack Lake it is believably the site of the record. The elevation of 8k is far more likely to have deeper snows than 7k. It is shallow valley at the Sierra Crest on the lee side of a gentle mountain where blowing snow is likely to fill in deeply. Deer Creek is a south to north canyon to the southwest that would tend to funnel storms up and over the gentle rise southwest of the lake.
Last edited by SSSdave on Sat Jan 23, 2010 4:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Jan 23, 2010 2:38 pm

SSSDave:

That map link sent me to General's Grove- double check, thanks. I think the essential "clue" here is that Camp Tamarack, (also called for many years by locals as Tamarack Lodge for the lodge and store that has been operating on-and-off, mostly off, for a long time) was not the correct location is that it is indeed in Calaveras County, not Alpine.

I have camped a number of times at Tamarack Lake (friends like to 'party' there, it is a car-camping kind of place) and can believe that it gets heavy snow. The lake is really more of a reservoir, in that the outlet is dammed, but a decent jumping-off place for Raymond Peak/Lake area. Other than that, not much to recommend it, like a lot of hard-hit car camping areas.

But the real geographic big picture is that storms from the Pacific channel through the coast range at Carquinez Strait, and heading west and spreading out, come up the Mokelumne, Cosumnes and Stanislaus drainages. The peaks, such as they are, are not especially high, but harvest a lot of snow.
Last edited by mokelumnekid on Sun Jan 24, 2010 1:04 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby SSSdave » Sat Jan 23, 2010 4:57 pm

Thanks mokelumnekid, fixed that link. Forgot to set the link to function on the page haha.

I've had season passes at nearby Kirkwood many years so am well aware how that region seems to pick up heavy snows. I'd suspect if Tamarack Lake was actually the site they measured in 1911 that it wasn't actually the deepest snow in that zone since it is rather difficult moving around anywhere when snows are really epic. If the lake is actually the location, I'd also then like to know why anyone had a reason to be there and subsequently measure snow depths?
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby gdurkee » Sat Jan 23, 2010 9:01 pm

if Tamarack Lake was actually the site they measured in 1911 that it wasn't actually the deepest snow in that zone since it is rather difficult moving around anywhere when snows are really epic. If the lake is actually the location, I'd also then like to know why anyone had a reason to be there and subsequently measure snow depths?


What the world needs is a good history of the snow survey in California. It's pretty epic and impressive. Early survey work and establishing of standards was done by a Dr. Church working out of Reno in the very early 1900s (http://wsoweb.ladwp.com/Aqueduct/snow/history.htm). People like Orland Bartholomew were surveying out of Florence lake in the 20s & 30s, skiing as far as Muir Pass and through the Ionian (he soloed the JMT in 1929 on skis -- find a copy of High Odyssey by Gene Rose).

On skiing in general, there was some incredible trips starting as early as the 1850s in the central and northern Sierra. From the 1850s to 1870s, the famed Snowshoe Thompson delivered the mail between Placerville and Markleeville on the east side of the Sierra.

Gnarly dudes.

John Dittli may weigh in here -- I think he was putting together such a history. Gene Rose also was trying to publish one, but never got a publisher.

g.
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:48 pm

Good points everybody! Like SSSDave I used to assume that it was the Calaveras Tamarack, simply because of the location by the road and that indeed, snow gets pretty heavy there too. Tamarack Lake is not anything special, not especially significant from the standpoint of watershed capacity. I'm not sure why it would merit a long over-land snow survey back in the day before Hwy. 88 was open year round, in fact if it was much of a highway at all.

A related issue is when did PG&E initially dam the lakes in those basins: Blue Lakes, Meadow Lake, or even Highland and Kinney for that matter...and start snow survey's in that neck of the wods.
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby SSSdave » Sun Jan 24, 2010 12:00 am

Thanks gdurkee some excellent info.

Indeed mokelumnekid it may be that there were snow surveys in that area because of the Blue Lakes reservoir storage. If those lakes predate 1911?

Actually for some of the reasons I briefly touched on it does appear to me to be a location where I would expect to see high snow depths. I'll elaborate some more. As a long time fresh powder skier especially in tight trees, I've had good reason to notice how and where snow deposits on mountains. Where snow scours and windpacks firm and where it gently lands, is fluffy, light, and deep. Since the best powder skiing is always during storms themselves before flakes sublimate and set up I also spent alot of time noticing how storm winds blow on mountains.

On the topo link one can see the Sierra Crest is just 3/4 miles west where on the map is the ranger district border. Tamarack Lake itself is within the West Carson River basin while Deer Creek is in the Mokelumne River drainage. As noted it has a small dam on it. Years ago I was out on those very dusty dirt roads and recall stopping to take a brief look at the lake that had car camping 4wd vehicles along the shore. From the map one can see a number of smaller natural ponds about the zone that is often a signature of the Sierra Crest of the northern Sierra sparsely forested glaciated bedrock zones as the small ponds indicate snow lasts into summer enough that such ponds retain water all year without drying out. My suspicion is it was actually a smaller natural shallow meadow lake or marsh like the one just downstream.

To the southwest is the Deer Creek drainage with a south to north orientation that allows the southwest to south usual storm wind direction of our Pacific counterclockwise rotating storms to flow right up that drainage with higher speeds. Those higher speeds would allow for more blowing snows and ground blizzard carried snows. The gentle mountain 8445 between the drainage and Tamarack lake is not at all steep on the windward side of the slope allowing ground blizzard snows to more easily blow up over that ridge and become deposited on lee slopes. If the lee side is steep, then it will tend to pile up on those steeps whereas if the gradient is more gradual it will tend to blow snow further from the crest until it finds a more wind protected landscape depression further below. Such in this basin where the little Tamarack Lake basin rests between 8123 and 8110. Additionally to the north where the Blue Lakes Road passes through a pass and there is an unblocked to winds west to east canyon of Meadow Creek, I would expect the stronger crest winds to blow more eastward and some of that would naturally find its way up over 8123 into that small wind protected basin.
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby mokelumnekid » Sun Jan 24, 2010 12:57 am

SSSDave:

Interesting- makes sense to me. (Off topic) Since you know the area you might appreciate the following anecdotes- my family has an (old) real log cabin in Hermit Valley right across the Mokelumne from where the Deer Creek 4wd road (the old emigrant road that connected Carson Pass with Murphys) intersects Hwy. 4. One day my uncle was walking up that old road with my grandmother he found a 10 dollar gold piece, I believe from the 1860s. Some pioneer must have been unhappy with losing that! We tried to contact the owner but only his ghost showed up to claim it, but then couldn't carry it home ;) (the first part of that is true).

And just last summer where Deer Creek itself crosses the Mokelumne below the Hwy 4 bridge I found this doozy:
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby SSSdave » Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:12 am

$10 gold was of course worth a lot more back then. Wow what a perfectly shaped white arrowhead in what is obviously not the usual obsidian! Over the years I've have found three nicely crafted obsidian arrowheads.

I usually drive up through Hermit Valley enroute to the Ebbetts Pass area where I've backpacked 8 times cross country over the years into the volcanic areas. One area I've dayhiked a bit and want to explore further is on your side west of the crest up Elbow Creek and down around the northwest flanks of Reynolds Peak.
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Re: Where in Alpine County was Tamarack?

Postby mokelumnekid » Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:49 pm

SSSDave- you've got mail.
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