Stream and Creek fording

tmorton23's picture

By tmorton23 - Posted on 09 March 2017

Given that the 16/17 winter is proving to be quite prolific, what are the thoughts of everyone about stream and creek fords from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows?

I checked the CDEC snow survey site the other day and saw the Bond Pass snow sensor was reading 192 inches, Grace Meadow at 199, and Wilmer Lake at over 190. My trip is planned for August 11-19, which is pretty late in the season, but this is not a normal season.

This will be my first time on this trail, and I'm wondering if there are any particularly hairy fords that I will need to be careful about. I will obviously exercise caution, but I would like to mark on my map the ones that I should pay extra attention to.

Alex Wierbinski's picture

Hey T, You are asking the 64,000 Dollar Question!

All things considered, I figure early August could be akin to late Spring river crossing conditions with high soil-moisture levels supporting substantial skeeter populations. In other words, both could still be running high in early August, but do-able.

I'm thinking that even with all factors that could extend a long and heavy Spring Thaw, such as we are facing today, that fording conditions will moderate into "Late-Spring" levels by August 11, which I consider mostly safe.
But, maybe not! This depends on the trajectory of Spring storms and temps. Only time will tell, but we can estimate how various scenarios will play out. Almost all of them have heavier than normal, but passable, conditions for early August.

About all of the potentially challenging fords will be in the North Yosemite Backcountry, and can be identified on this map:

Clicking areas on the map above links to detailed maps of that area. Clicking the red dots on the detailed maps links to trail guide entries for that location.

Starting with Falls Creek in Jack Main Canyon.

Stubblefield Canyon double ford

Kerrick Canyon Ford

Matterhorn Canyon Ford

Virginia Canyon Ford

I am not ignoring Grouse Creek feeding Relief Reservoir, but it should be fairly easy even when flowing hard.

This list is incomplete. I left off the fords of Piute and Wilson Creeks, among others. The key info will be how much water is moving through these fords between your hiking dates.

We are going to observe how Spring works out to determine the timing and character of when massive flows begin and when they taper off to reasonable conditions. There IS going to be a big surge this Spring, but exactly how and when it sets up are still up in the air. The specifics of Thaw timing and character will be determined by how Spring works out.

I will be using all my powers of observation to understand how this all comes down this year, and now I have another observer to compare notes with. Keep me posted!
All of you observing the trajectory of Spring let us know what you see.
I've been tracking the evolution of Sierra Seasons on the Backpacker's Calendar here, with snow depth, temp, and storm tracking:

The calendar is supplemented by the Backpacker's News, which is tracking the trajectory of weather & wilderness related news here:

And of course we have the weather page. The weather page tracks the snowpack and river flows as well as conditions and forecasts. Here's the snow information:

Here's all the snow sensor data:

It would not surprise me if substantial snow decorates the Sierra Crest all Summer long.

PCT hikers are going to be attempting to penetrate the Sierra long before the snows melt out of the High Passes (if the snow melts out...) and cross the river valleys before the main surge of the thaw begins in earnest. This is the most potentially dangerous year for PCT hikers since the big Winter of 10-11.

We are going to be scouting and tracking conditions for these PCT folks, reporting their experiences, and polling the resupply folks as possible. We should be able to generate good status reports as this thing cuts loose.

Happy Trails!

Alex Wierbinski
Alex Wierbinski's picture

Fording Conditions at this point in time, May 15, 2017 are crazy dangerous. This is not a good time to be crossing rivers or the high passes along the Sierra Crest between them, in the High Sierra Mountain Range.

But, the birds, bugs, chippers and squirrels are all going batshit crazy right now, where they can. An explosion of life, an unparalleled festival of life (and death) is winding-up to follow the wave of fertility exposed by clearing snow under the quagmire of blooming grass and mosquitoes and flowers moving up the flanks. Are beautiful and dangerous synonymous?

Alex Wierbinski
tmorton23's picture
Alex, Thanks for the input. I'll mark those fords on my map. I appreciate the heads-up information! Ted

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