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When will the PCT-TYT, High Altitude Sierra Trails open in 2015?
NOTE on STUPIDITY
The Transition to Summer Conditions
The unprecedented drought we've experienced from 2011 through 2015 has been drawing backpacker's attention to the High Sierra Trails earlier and deeper into Spring each year.
This entails dangers.
Heck, the trend of Spring beginning earlier and eariler in Winter has been building for a couple of decades, until the weather finally evolved into this "drought!"
This trend has been drawing Summertime backpackers earlier and earlier into the High Sierra to explore these dry Spring conditions.
I actually read a PCT journal complaining about snow in the Sierra in May. Incredible.
The question of when the trails will open for Summertime backpacking from Echo Summit to Ebbetts Pass was broached by Ty during March in the permits section. This is a critical question for the Sierra Crestline trails generally.
Check out Ty's inquiry opening up the issue, and my response beneth.
I have traditionally seen early to mid July as the average time when the trails along the crestline and through its high passes open in SUMMER CONDITIONS. Prior to that point in time the passes and their approaches would be stuffed with snow.
I considered storms after that rough point in time as "late," and storms prior to that point as Spring storms. The Sierra has a long history of many seasons with substantial Spring snow depositon, as well as many "late" blizzards well into July.
May and June would typically be in Spring snow travel conditions in the Sierra, with sloppy fading snow into July.
It has also had many years when the trails opened by July first, or earlier.
Despite this natural variability, the "opening" date for Summer conditions on High Sierra trails has steadily been coming earlier and earlier over the past twenty years, with Summertime backpackers now venturing High Sierra trips in late May and early June.
That is crazy early in the seaon by traditional standards.
Though these early dates of "Summer" entry are currently possible due to low snow and high temperatures, these early season trips are subject to very real specific hazards. It is still Spring in the Sierra, which means snow and rain can come at about any time, despite the unusual hot and dry conditions.
Threats from the NW and SW
Spring backpacking trips are subject to both "late" season Winter storms blowing in from the Northwest and great flows of tropical moisture pushing up from the Southwest. The earlier we begin our trips in May and June, the greater our chances of encountering snaps of Winter-like, and even actual Spring-type snow conditons.
Great series of unexpected snow storms have traditionally rolled in every few years during Spring. Spring has traditionally been a great season for snow shoeing, and extensive snow trips.
Despite our unsettled weather and drought conditions two feet of snow can fall quickly during Spring If temps at our altitude are cold enough. This can be disastrous if we are not properly geared, and ready to find our way without exposed trails. Er, I'm talking to a whole load of improperly prepped PCT hikers...
Note on May Conditions
The funny thing is that we are presently not even late enough in Spring where a storm blowing in now would traditionally be "late." It would normally be a Spring storm, falling on a fifteen foot base. Such is the strange state of our current atmosphere and expectations when light snow falling on a thin base is complained about..
Folks' expectations have changed with the weather, but despite their unreasonable expectations, it is still Spring to, and in, the mountains.
That's why Spring storms should be expected at this time of the year, and the fundamental safety precautions for unexpected weather be included in our kit.
As opposed to the average insufficient gear kit carried by the average PCT hiker...
The answer to when the trails will transition to Summer conditions is unique for each season. It actually includes our skill level. The mountains never close for some hikers.
Put simply, the mountains open when the weather's potential cannot exceed the protections our gear, skills, and fitness provide.
Right now, May 20, PCT hikers unprepared for snow travel and conditions are hitting the wall in the Southern Sierra, and bailing out like fleas off a dog on fire!
Those with Winter skills and gear are crossing Highway 108. It is scary to see hikers who have absolutely no idea about snow travel, the nature of Sierra Nevada weather, and who are carrying no tent, enter the snow covered South Sierra in tennis shoes.
There are fifteen feet of snow missing from the Sierra while mis-informed PCT hikers are crying about too much snow. It happens every year, and a few of these deluded souls either have to be rescued or will die due to their ignorance, on a regular basis.
Don't be that crying or dangerous person. Be informed, trained, geared, and skilled.
All that aside, the day we can approach and cross a find-able trail across the mountain passes changes every year.
Presently a trail will open up one day in the North Sierra, then be gone the next, under a few inches of fleeting snow.
The South Sierra is holding up to three feet up at the top. Each skilled PCT hiker crossing the South Sierra is forging a path across that snow that is quickly dissappearing under the currently falling snows.
The route will remain and grow when the snow stops falling.
The last remnants of TS Blanca have blown East and a heat wave is building which is bringing the end of the South Sierra Snow Pack. See the June 18 Report below.
This year's evolution of the complex sets of atmospheric forces transitioning from Spring to Summer is skewed by persistent drought conditions. Will an El Nino break the drought, or at least throw some unexpected weather across the Sierra?
No. It is too late for a snowpack sufficient to offset even this year's loss.
Will a deep low form in the Gulf of Alaska and come barrelling down across the Sierra?
Not likely this year, but not totally impossible. At this point (May 20), the chances of tropical flows from the Southwest are increasing with increasing sea surface temps.
But, the El Nino is already starting to indirectly feed in some hot moisture into the North Sierra.
Only carefully monitoring the conditions on the ground, the trends in the sky, and the temps of distant ocean waters will determine if our level of gear, skills and fitness are sufficient for the worse-case scenario the observed and expected conditions can throw at us.
Late May to Mid June
Conditions are unstable and changable right now. How and when they break into Summer conditions is unknown. What is sure, is that it is very early in the Spring season with very little snow on the Sierra Crestline.
HEAT WAVE BUILDING
Right now we would traditionally be looking for the inflection point when the increase in temp-driven snowpack melt starts to supercharge the creeks and rivers. Nope. Conditions are not even close to that... What a freeking weird year.
The Environmental Threat
We must be preped sufficiently with the gear, skill, and fitness for the worse case possible. If it snows, rains, and then snows hard, we must be able to deal with it.
The greatest danger to Spring backpackers and hikers (besides a freak Winter storm blowing in) is the rise and fall of temps bringing weak storms shifting between snow and rain.
This cycle of temperatures gets us wet then freezes us, demanding that our insulation works even if we have somhow gotten saturated internally and externally. Everything will eventually get wet, if it rains long enough.
I have a three day rule. After it rains for three days, everything is wet. Except my extra layers, which live in zip-lock bags. Those will come out when the Sun does, while my wet layers dry.
This requires that our insulating layers must keep us warm even if we get saturated by freezing rains, the rain hardens to snow, and temperatures plunge.
That scenario can kill unprepared backpackers.
Therefore, the key "external" considerations for early season backpacking trips are determined by tracking the temperatures, weather trends, and snow status/conditions. We will determine the potential worse case scenario conditions from our observations of the current trends, and make sure we have the gear, skills, and fitness to survive that degree of difficulty.
This a physical calculation balancing the weather and terrain against your personal resources.
Weather conditions are historically unsettled and unstable during the middle and late stages of Spring, and this year is no exception. Yet this year's transition from Spring to Summer is happening under extraordinary drought conditions within a higher range of temps than ever experienced before.
We are through the looking glass here, folks. Uncharted territory within the scope of human records and experience.
My utilization of the "Precautionary Principal" impells me to warn you not to be pulled out into a "sucker hole!" It is still very early in the year for Summertime backpackers.
"Sucker hole" is a fishermen's term for a patch of good weather surrounded by storms and peril that draws out the inexperienced, apparently to gain some experience when the storms dispel the sucker hole.
Good conditions early in Spring can collaspe into sucker holes. This knowledge spurs the wise to anticipate the range of possibilities and prepare carefully for the worse of them.
Well, there's not much good weather out there now, so we don't have to worry about that.
See the 2015 Backpacker Calendar for more updates and notes.
In the meantime, the April El Nino Advisory was enhanced by its May and June upgrades, which inspired me to put out a BACKPACKERS ALERT. This pulls our attention out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to observe this El Nino's trajectory.
This hot water can direct substantial tropical flows across the Sierra Nevada if properly configured. We've got to watch that all Summer and especially into Fall.
Then we have "The Blob" off the coast of North America. Strange times.
The High Sierra Weather Page was designed for four season High Sierra backpackers to ascertain and track both the weather and snowpack status across the Spring transition to Summer conditions.
Something a lot of PCTers should look at before they put one frigging foot on the trail, especially if they are hiking into the snow covered Sierra without proper gear and skills.
Weather Page resources are especially tuned for observing the changes from Spring to Summer, and from Fall into Winter conditions.
These are the times we must exercise extra caution in determining when gear must be thickened, and when it can be lightened.
Study that Weather Page and become familiar with its resources.
These are particulairly helpful:
Now is the time for prospective early season High Sierra backpackers to begin tracking the weather and snowpack to determine when the weather will improve and the snowpack declines to your definition of acceptable Summer-like conditions.
The Sierra North of Sonora Pass currently looks clear of snow with patchy remnants.
This type of seasonal observation is necessary for early-season backpackers everywhere, but is especially important for high elevation backpackers where precipation can fall as snow. As snow and rain at the present time.
It is important to remember that even during these warm, dry, drought times that powerful storms can blow in unexpectedly off the Pacific Ocean. These storms can dump two feet of snow on the mountains overnight. I know, it's happened to me a couple of times.
Expect the best-be ready for the rest.
The earlier in the season we venture out, no matter how sunny the present day, the more the risk of unexpected weather blowing in.
Such as PCT hikers hitting the Sierra in May, even during this drought year, have learned.
Send in your Updates, Reports and Observations!
MAY 21 SEASONAL OUTLOOK UPDATE
2015 Drought Page.
3 Ohioans rescued on Pacific Crest Trail, May 18.
Rescued Alpine County hiker, May 5.
“It seemed like a fun experience,” Driscoll said. “To my surprise, this trail was very rugged and difficult.”
(Quote from the Idiot rescued on May 5 from the Sierra Crest at the top of Alpine County.)
NOTE on STUDIPITY
I am harsh because folks who have not even taken the time or effort to inform themselves of the nature of High Sierra terrain or weather, let alone train or prepare themselves for either, put themselves into intense situations that they are not ready for, which then puts real mountain folk at risk pulling their pathetic asses out.
I have experienced REAL backcountry emergencies (not self-induced emergencies created through inexcusable stupidity) and dealt with them without assistance. Or I would have died.
I am for banning SPOT devices. If you are not sure you can make it, don't do it. Banning SPOT will stop idiots from putting themselves into dangerous situations because they feel they have the safety net of being rescued when things go wrong.
I am not really for banning SPOT devices, but I am intent on pointing out SPOT devices have become insurance policies for inexperienced idiots intent upon putting themselves into places they should not venture.
"I'm safe, I have a SPOT."
I hopt their batteries run out.
And oh baby jesus, this boy who was rescued walked past the frigging East Carson River!! Yup, that unmarked trail led down to a BIG RIVER! Apparently he missed Boulder and Wolf Creeks too... I could go on. What a frigging moron.
The unnecessary PCT-JMT hiker suffering I have seen in the High Sierra over the last two decades inspires me to offer as much information to prospective PCT hikers about the nature of the hike through the Sierra Nevada during the potential harshness of its annual transitions from Spring to Summer conditions as I possibly can.
If you search for information about Sierra conditions, you will find it. If you look for information about the challenges, you will see what you are in for.
If you don't inform and prep yourself sufficiently about the hazards and requirements, you will suffer, and maybe die.
That lack of prep marks you as not just normally stupid, but potentially fatally stupid.
4 Army Ranger Candidates Die in Chilly Florida Swamp, NYT, Feb 17, 1995.
These Ranger deaths could have been avoided by wearing the proper synthetic insulation layers, even in fully saturated conditions.
Nobody though Rangers could freeze to death working hard in semi-tropical swamps, but at that time we were not aware of just how effectively saturation drains heat from the body.
The current conditons in the Sierra are much more dangerous than those that killed these Rangers, the players on the chessboard are much less experienced, and most of these PCT hikers are much less fit than late-stage Rangers.
Some are not. There are some true badass PCT hikers. There are true idiot PCTers. Educate and train yourself into the former, don't bumble onto the trail as the latter.
I have been meeting Cold-Weather Marines in the Winter mountains around Sonora Pass for decades. Everyone is mutually aware of the dangers of snow covered mountains.
The Pentagon also started gearing our troops better after the Ranger tragedy.
I am focused on informing PCT-JMT hikers how to prep themselves properly because a significant percentage of each year's crop stupidly puts themselves into unnecessarily dangerous situations that could be avoided with just a little bit of research, information, and preparation.
Luck: The Last Resort-Not the First
Without a reasoned approach to dealing with the Sierra Nevada Mountains your life depends on luck more that wisdom, skill, or will. Luck is not the correct gear for the Sierra, or any challenging natural environment at any time, but especially during a High Sierra Spring.
I am, and always have been a "lucky" backpacker, let me tell you. But my luck always played out after my skill, fitness, experience, wisdom, gear, and will all had failed. Then I was lucky.
I would not venture into the Sierra during an unsettled Spring (or Fall) with luck alone, unless I was stupid, and wanted to become an expample of Natural Selection in action, due to Human Brain Failure.
Thus I end this note on stupidity with the same harshness for stupidly I began it with.
You may be devoid of skills, experience, gear, and fitness. But you will be fine if you see the necessity to build these assets in balance with your backpacking trips.
You will endanger yourself in proportion to your ignorance of this balance.
The key is to know and stay within our personal limits.
Don't become a stupid statistic.
Or do. We have way too many idiots, way too many "self-arranging" deck chairs on this spiritual Titanic of ours. Let them hit the "iceberg" of the Sierra, and either find or lose themselves.
If uninformed, or even stupid folks need information, I will inform them, and I do my best to balance their stupidity with common sense to assure their safety.
But if an un-prepped individuals stupidly and unecessairly puts themselves and others (SPOT) in danger, I will complain that their ignorance was not properly rewarded by the mountain gods, who show great beauty and power, but little mercy.
It is us humans who display the luxuries of stupidilty and mercy.
Me? I will give you all the info, training, experience, and skills that I possibly can, then point you into the mountains to set you loose in Nature's Wonderland, without a seat belt or safety harness (SPOT).
I think you will do just fine, with the proper evolution of training, fitness, and experience behind you.
In fact, I think you will do better the tougher it gets. You are really a human, beyond contemporary social self-identifications as an "urban consumer idiot.", as you've be deluded into believing.
In fact, your external cultural and social identifications are irrelevant in the High Sierra.
What's important is that there is a human inside of each of us with the inherent capacities to deal with this Earth across all its environmental expressions. There is a diamond in the rough inside each idiot consumer.
We got that.
Well, we had that.
Before we externally explore the rigours and beauty of the High Sierra Mountains let's go internally exploring to find and activate our hidden internal assets and capacities.
Let's develop some experience by putting the skills and fitness capabilities we were born with into operation before putting ourselves into potentially dangerous situations.
This especially applies to folks hiking the PCT and JMT
Most folks hiking the TYT are experienced backpackers, due to the challenging unmaintained segments of trail along the way requiring some route-finding.
Observations and Reports
June 28, 2015
All trails open and clear.
Heat wave building bringing T-Storm daily activity cycle incredibly early in season. The Summer T-Storm cycle depends on sucessive days of 103 in the Valley, which is currently building in the heat wave.
In addition to a heat wave building we are experiencing a low pressure trough transporting moisture-rich air North from the Eastern-Central Pacific.
Mosquitoes very heavy.
Sierra trails open in Summer-like backpackpacking conditions long before Spring conditions should have terminated.
June 18, 2015
Check the Sierra Snow Status for more snow pack information. Make sure the date on the reporting tool is current! We can see the snow pack on the South Sierra is old, degraded, and about to disappear.
Here's the link to this sat view and much more on
The High Sierra Weather Page
A high pressure zone is currently building over the West Coast which is building a heat wave that should quickly melt the remaining snow off the crest.
I figure a trail across all the South Sierra Passes got etched into the remaining South Sierra snow pack in early June, while the North Sierra has been virtually snow-free for the past two months.
Snow free "Spring" conditions now exist in the North Sierra and the last remnants of snow will soon be melted off the South Sierra.
Read the real-time and past temps here:
Read 7 Day Temp Forecast here:
June 12, 2015
For some context on the severity of the change in weather patterns the East Pacific and Western US have experienced we need to look at more typical snow conditions in early to mid June.
See these two Videos of less than typical early June
Snow Backpacking Conditions shot during June of 2010. I've got to finish the videos for that trip, especially as June snow seems to be a thing of the past.
Also see the Sierra Snow Status reports. Note that the report generator can be adjusted to review the past few year's snowpack evolution. The reports are bad news for California, as the historical record shows a dramatic plunge in High Sierra precipitation and snowfall over the past 12 years.
The scattered unstable tropical remnants of Blanca are blowing East as a high is building in off the West Coast of the US. This bodes well for clearing weather over the Sierra, but strengthening El Nino conditons across the Central Pacific heighten my alert for unexpected tropical flows out of the Southeast.
News and Observation
The shrinking snowpack and rising temps (Late May saw the last of overnight freezing temps in the Sierra, see the 2015 Backpackpacking Calendar.) assured that a track would appear and remain over the snow in the high passes in the South Sierra.
The rainy tropical remnants of TS Blanca have likely scoured most of the remaining snow off the South Sierra Crest, and as the North Sierra has been mostly snow free for over a month, it appears as if the totality of the trails from Tahoe to Whitney are now at or very close to Summer Conditions.
Blanca breaks up hitting Southwest US,
NASA, June 10, 2015.
Tropical Storm Blanca broke up and and its tropical remnants have been swept up and circulated by a low pressure zone into the Sierra from the East and South.
This has brought Rain, Thunderstorms, and unsettled conditions to the Sierra Crest. This tropical weather has also rapidly scoured the remaining snow off the South Sierra Crest.
We have a forecast for 1.1 inches of rain in in the Sierra from June 10 to 17.
The Sattelite Animation shows the shattered remnants of TS Blanca scattered East across the central US, If you viewing this on the 11th or 12th of June 2015.
Tahoe to Whitney
We can see the clear outlines of the snowpack. Click the image above to see the current sat view open in a new window.
Here's the link to this sat view and much more on
The High Sierra Weather Page
Also see the
Sierra Snow Analysis
The Inflection Point
It appears to me we are at the inflection point when temperatures rise above freezing during nighttime.
This would be when the traditional Spring Thaw begins in earnest. It would be the inflection point if we had a snow pack to thaw, and charge the rivers and reservoirs. We do not.
If I am correct the rate of melting will increase from this point on, no more snow will fall on the Sierra, and Summer conditions will soon be established across the length of the Southern-exposed Sierra.
Read the real-time and past temps here:
Read 7 Day Temp Forecast here:
The last week of May and the first week of June are shaping up towards optimal backpacking conditions, for all of you planning trips then.
I will wager dollars to dimes that PCT hikers have tromped-out a continious line of trail across the North Sierra snow by now...
Shaded and Northeastern facing aspects will hold snow longer.
Lake of the Sky Outfitters
South Lake Tahoe
Peter reports the first through-PCT hikers on the 21st at LOTS, and suspects that many PCTers are skipping the Sierra due to the weather.
We had our first 3 on the 21st. They had been on the trail the entire way. They said that there was morebr / snow than they anticipated, especially on the high passes.
They were soaked and tired, but glad to be able to take a couple of zero days in SLT.
I am amused (?) at the hikers that are crying about " all the snow" in the Sierra. What did they expect in April and May?
Usually the less experienced and less serious hikers are weeded out by the time they get to Tahoe. But I think this year it will be a mixture as more people are leap-frogging sections.
These hikers are obviously a big part of my summer business but I get a little irritated with people who are woefully unprepared for hiking the PCT and then complain about trail conditions.
You would think that with all the information available on the internet they would have a better understanding of what they are getting into. When I was young I was in the Boy Scouts and I earned how to be prepared when I go into the backcountry and that has stayed with me.
Oh well that is my two cents worth.
Below are the maps depicting where Northbound PCT hikers hit Highway 50 at Echo Summit.
Echo Summit lays between Desolation Wilderness to the North and Meiss Country to the South.
From there it is an easy hitch down to the hospitality at Lake of the Sky Outfitters.
Check in with Peter to assure the status of your resupply package, then ask him about local resources and he will direct you to the best local rest, reharge and recovery resources for hungry and tired backpackers in South Lake Tahoe.
You will find lots of resources at LOTS.
Tahoe to Whitney
Sonora Pass closed due to snow and Ebbetts Pass closed on the 19th in anticipation of snow.
Bloom at Kennedy Meadows reported on May 19 that PCT hikers were hiking down Highway 108 from Sonora Pass, rather than easily hitching a ride, due to road closure.
See his report below.
I am sure that these closures will abate when this weak system departs, and be closed again when the next appears, if temps remain low.
The opening and closing and opening and closing of Tioga has my head spinning!
Trying to keep updated on FB posts of Bishop Creek, Rock Creek, Saddlebag, etc.
MATT BLOOM, PROPRIETOR,
KENNEDY MEADOWS PACK STATION
Weather has been unstable. Rain in afternoons.
PCT hikers started coming thru.
Some finding 108 closed and having to hike down to do resupplying.
Old snow is very minimal and lakes are thawed out.
We are open with all services.
Fishing has been outstanding.
Kennedy Meadows Backpacking Map
Matt reports Highway 108 closing intermittently due to snow conditions!
Highway 108 Road Conditions
&nbsnbsp; terrain against your personal resources.p;
LAKE ALPINE LODGE
the weather has been crazy!!
The last storm the weather guys said a foot of snow, well we got about 1/4 inch but the 2 storms before the weather guys said 3 to 6 inches and 4 to 8 inches and both times we got 20 plus inches!!
It's raining now and got a dusting of snow last night at 42 degrees.
The Resort will open this weekend then the restaurant will be open weekends only until around Fathers Day then 7 days a week same with the bar.
The store will be open 7 days a week starting this weekend as well as cabins. We're putting boats in the water tomorrow weather permitting.
Don't have tent cabins up yet due to weather. Hopefully in the next week or two. The lake is full and fish are biting.
Thanks for the update.
PREPPING FOR THE TYT
I did get out last weekend!
I went to Penner Lake in the Grouse Ridge area off of highway 20. It was a snow/rain mix all Friday through the evening. It was pretty cold and miserable! Not too fun to sit out in it, either keep moving or hunker down in the sleeping bag.
I stayed dry, slept well in my Eureka Solitaire, it was it's maiden voyage. The morning was calm and the sun poked out for an hour or so then it started spitting again.
I'm headed out again this weekend and expect scattered Thunderstorms. I just hope there will be breaks in the weather to dry out my stuff, I'm worried about non-stop moisture.
But then again, mother nature always apologizes with a break in the weather at some point.
I sure hope I don't see a weather pattern like this during my trip, but if so, I'll deal with it and it'll be great.
A T-MOM EPIC DAYHIKE,
Went up to Virginia Lakes on May 2...
and hit patchy thigh high snow heading up to Summit Pass.
Still some pretty deep drifts.
Really wanted to get to 11,500 at Summit/Burro Pass.
T-mom postholing to Virginia Lakes on May 2, 2015.
M & J BACKPACKERS,
GLACIER POINT ROAD
Read the full Trip Report
ALEXJONB, DAY HIKING,
On Friday, April 8, 2015 we hiked up the Horse Canyon trail from Highway 88 and made it within 1/4 mile of Scout Carson Lake before finally encountering consistent snow.
Another 100 vertical feet and we could have peered down into Summit City Canyon -- all of this two days before Easter, with only hiking boots and trekking poles. Strange times!
Horse Canyon/Summit City Canyon Map
Send in your reports!
Hit the comments link below...