High Sierra conditions continue to be impacted by record snow

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park rangers tell PCTA that most people are wisely changing their Sierra plans. This week many, if not most, northbound PCT hikers have been turning around before reaching Forester Pass. They have been exiting instead at Cottonwood Pass. Few others have even attempted entry into the high country at this point.

If you do intend to travel through the Sierra, please be prepared with extra food as self-evacuating can add days to your trip should you need to turn around.

Rangers report that Forester Pass is currently sketchy, the melt pattern is making travel “tedious at best,” and conditions are only going to worsen for the next few weeks. That will make the “value versus risks of hiking this section dubious at best” for much of July. Various incidents have already occurred with reports of accidents and injuries on the PCT – including falls on steep snow.

“Take It Easy”, “Motorboat”, and “Ranger” south of Forester Pass in the morning glow of the Sierra in 2019. Photo by Connor McClelland.

A heat wave is passing through, and creeks and rivers are expected to be raging. The bridges across the South Fork and Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River are still broken and require detours.

The region is home to dangerous stream crossings when water is high. To name some, but not all: Rock Creek, Tyndall Creek, South Fork Kings River, Evolution Creek, Bear Creek, upper crossing of North Fork of Mono Creek, Silver Pass Creek, White Fork, Return Creek, Spiller Creek, Matterhorn Creek, Piute Creek, Kerrick Creek, Stubblefield Canyon, and Falls Creek.

Seriously dangerous stream crossings exist up and down the Sierra, but people should be on special alert in the long water courses of Northern Yosemite as they are acutely dangerous in times like this.

This region also includes steep snow slopes that present a real risk of long falls. To name a few notorious ones: Forester Pass, Glen Pass, Mather Pass, both sides of Sonora Pass, Raymond Peak, and Dicks Pass.

PCTA staff have heard from probably thousands of people who are changing their trips because of the challenging Sierra Nevada situation, and we’re seeing many people spread out further north on the trail. While snow is rapidly melting, and remains deepest in the Sierra, it’s not gone everywhere yet. Our page on when to hike the PCT presents good information on where summer snow typically lingers. Pair it with the regularly updated satellite imagery on our interactive map.

We’re happy to hear that so many are turning around and making safety-first choices. We all walk that delicate balance between discouraging ill-advised plans of the unprepared and letting people make their own informed decisions as part of their wilderness experience.

We continue to discourage the average hiker without serious mountaineering and wilderness travel skills from attempting the High Sierra for the time being. If folks are determined to attempt it, they should be prepared with multiple extra days of food and all the other necessities for the current conditions. As there is still a lot of snow, we expect it to impact travel through July.

We also note that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have a backcountry safety alert page here.

Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Manager, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.