SNOW CONDITIONS

April 1 Backpacker Alert–SPRING THREATS ON FULL DISPLAY

By: Alex Wierbinski, Tahoe to Whitney
April 4th, 2017

 

SPRING THREATS ON FULL DISPLAY

April 1, 2017
The most important topic of this date is the massive snowpack on the Sierra Crest and the extreme danger it poses to PCT hikers. The dangers of High Altitude Snow Travel will soon be supplemented by very dangerous fording conditions when this snowpack begins to thaw.

These conditions require skills, gear, and fitness to assure any level of safe travel as of this date. Undercutting and safety along the banks of creeks emerging from snow cover is currently increasing, as will the difficulty of travel conditions increase as the pack softens under the increasing heat of Spring.

Extremely difficult travel conditions will soon shift from hard snow that defies traction to wet snow offering no foundation. We will shortly transition from barely clinging to the mountain-side to sinking up to our waists with each step. As Spring progresses cold mornings will bring the former condition, warm afternoons the latter.

The same temp shift driving the changing character of the snow pack will soon drive even the highest elevation river fords to levels unsafe for fording, and make the major rivers raging torrents of destruction. These temp shifts change the character of the Sierra.

The snowpack itself will become sopping wet, saturating anything and anyone in contact with it. These are the times that hikers without sufficient insulation can find cold combining with exhaustion to degrade decision making as well as technical execution & style to create very dangerous situations.
I see wet, cold, and tired PCT hikers surrounded by a sea of deep, wet, cold, energy-sucking snow fields all divided-up by an endless series of raging torrents of typically tiny High Sierra creeks surging like rivers, each supercharged by Spring’s mighty flows.

The trails will be flowing like creeks, when we get down to them. And they will lead to the mighty rivers draining the Sierra, which will be downright scary, once this massive snow pack begins to melt in earnest.

Take Care and Bee Safe

for

Happy Trails,

Alex

More Information

All Backpacker Alerts

http://tahoetowhitney.org/forum/high-sierra-backpacking-topics/high-sierra-backpackers-news-health-science-environment-and-m-1

Latest (April 1) Snow Course Measurement

http://tahoetowhitney.org/content/backpacker-news-april-may-2017#10

All Tahoe-Whitney Snow Tracking & Links: Backpacker Calendar

https://tahoetowhitney.com/2017-high-sierra–backpackers-calendar.html#4

Weather Page: Snow Links

http://tahoetowhitney.org/content/fall-2011-backpacker-weather-trail-conditions-reports#8a

Weather Page: River Flows

http://tahoetowhitney.org/content/fall-2011-backpacker-weather-trail-conditions-reports#4c2

PCT Hiker Snow Accident & Conditions Report

https://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php/124075-Fuller-Ridge-Mile-178-190

High Sierra Mountain Safety: Wrecks & Rescues

http://tahoetowhitney.org/content/high-sierra-rescue-disaster-index#2

Early season snow has now covered section D

Sections:
By: Adda
October 26th, 2016

Recent storms have dropped significant early snow on this section. Snow line seems to be ~5300ft, so most of this section is now under snow. Some patches are only ankle deep, but a few days ago it was up to knee deep in other areas. There is enough snow to make spotting the trail challenging. Cut fallen logs are still visible, so that helps spot the trail. Blazing is so-so, and combined with limited visibility conditions to spot topographical landmarks non-GPS navigation could be challenging through this area. It has been raining on the snow so it’s heavy and wet currently. Melting may occur near 6000ft, but there is enough snow I think likely this section will not melt out again before true winter. Plenty of water from snow and snow melt streams. Forest road 60 up to windigo pass PCT trailhead has over a foot of snow on it near the pass, making trailhead access difficult. High-clearance 4WD vehicle with snow tires required.

Section J Stevens to Park Lakes

Sections:
By: inchworm
July 19th, 2016

The summer is coming very late this year and both natural conditions and trail maintenance are not yet to where they would be for a July hike. Several pieces of the trail have significant amounts of large downed trees, notably south of Deep Lake to Waptus Trail 1310, and from Lemah Creek south to Spectacle Lake. While most are passable by hikers (only once did I have to remove my pack), it will slow travel time significantly. Between Waptus and Escondido Ridge, the brush was thick enough to slow you down also. This stretch is impassable by stock.

Water levels are high for this time of year. The “potentially treacherous” ford just south of Deception Pass is still quite high and I have no idea how one hiker we met barely got his feet wet (he said he went far downstream). Everyone else got a thigh-high soak in cold, swift water. Many streams and creeks required knee high wet crossings where normally you could boulder hop or wade ankle deep.

Snow is still sitting in patches and in some cases in 1/8 mile traverses in the bowls at high elevation (Chickamin Ridge especially). You can see the trail, so you won’t get lost though, and it is crossable and good condition midday if you are comfortable with snow.

Bugs were really not bad with recent rain and cold. Deception Lake was awful, plan not to stop there yet. Temperatures were in the 50s by day and 40s at night.

All in all, this section’s challenges are as though it is late June, rather than July.

Oregon Section D –

Sections:
By: alex
June 27th, 2016

Recently did a section of PCT from Oregon Section D to E. June 10-20, 2016
From Miller Lake (Mile 1863) to Windigo Pass (1876) and then we followed the old Oregon Skyline Trail up until it connects back with PCT at Odell Lake (1905).

– Expect serious slow navigation with lots of downed trees that haven’t been cleared for the season yet. We were averaging only 1-1.5 miles per hour navigating up/under/around all the debris.
– Expect patches of snow up to 1′ in depth particularly south of Odell in shaded areas that also obscured the trail.
-From 1906-1920, the trails have been cleared, however we hit a small storm window which dumped 3+ inches of snow, where made for slow going and we weren’t prepared as our minimal mesh hiking shoes and lack of winter gloves made for cold+wet conditions. Weather cleared up by June 20, but we were on a schedule and had to stop the section thru hike.

Dangerous conditions north of Sonora Pass

By: frank gilliland
June 21st, 2016

Dangerous Trail Conditions: I’m a triple crown trail hiker (trail name Starman) and have been long distance hiking for nearly 20 years. I have never seen conditions more dangerous than what I’m experiencing north of Sonora Pass, in particular north of Hwy 4. I’m at mile post 1059.2; Coordinates 38.6187, -119.8436 and can see a pole and ice axe part way down an ice chute. [Editors note: A PCT hiker was rescued from this chute on Sunday.] I don’t see anyone so they may have self evacuated. However, I want you to know this is a very dangerous section of trail at the moment. It’s so dangerous that I recommend no-one walks it. If you don’t have an ice axe or crampons, you’re going to hit the bottom fast.

There are three snow chutes in the area. I crossed the first two chutes, then chose not to continue across the third chute. I turned around, scrambled back, and am hiking back to Ebbetts Pass.

If you don’t have an ice axe or crampons, you can’t cross that chute. The melt is happening so fast, that the steps are melting out and turning icy.

[Editors note: Conditions change. We’ve heard from others who say this area isn’t that bad. Be careful and cautious. Turning around is always better than hurting yourself.]

Raymond Peak

Bucks Lake to Middle Fork Feather River bridge

By: David Greenleaf
May 27th, 2016

Did an overnight trip to the PCT bridge on the Middle Feather River, 5/11 – 5/12.

Trail Condition: Starting at Big Creek Rd the first few miles to Lookout Rock have moderate amounts of snow and a number of trees on the trail (8+), none are too bad to get over or around. Trail is well marked and easy to follow despite the snow. Large amounts of branches and debris on the trail.

From Lookout Rock down into the Middle Feather River Canyon the snow disappears. However the amount of trees on the trail and debris increases. The hiking is rough going due to the amount of stuff on the trail. Past the Bear Creek Bridge (in good condition, no issues) the trail goes along a super steep hillside and is covered in leaves, which can be very slippery, in sections the trail has eroded away and the leaves have accumulated enough to completely cover it, making it a bit sketchy to cross sections. Would be super scary with a horse due to the steepness of the slope the trail is on. In the last mile or so before the river, the trail is getting very overgrown.

The PCT bridge of the Middle Feather is in good condition, didn’t notice any problems with it. Camped at the nice sites just past the bridge on the North side of the river.

Insect Note: Below 6,000 – 5,500ft this section is absolutely infested with ticks. Due to the amount of debris on the trail and overgrown sections, the ticks were able to easily attach to me and my dog. Was stopping every 15 minutes or so to remove ticks, easily 50+ ticks taken off both of us while hiking and another 20 or so that I missed and removed at home.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton